Reading the title of today’s challenge, Rita Pearson’s Ted Talk, “Every Child Needs a Champion”, gave me reason to look up the word champion. Apart from the expected references to sporting champions, the online dictionary also defined a champion as “a person who vigorously supports or defends a person or causes.” To champion is to promote, defend, stand behind, uphold, or support, with fighting words like battle, crusade, ally and campaign associated with championing a cause. A champion is an advocate.
An advocate may be a parent, grandparent or other family member who knows the gifted child’s strengths and interests intimately. Or an advocate may be a teacher who has identified a child’s special abilities and qualities, or a senior leader in the school who understands the unique learning, social and emotional needs that characterise giftedness. There are advocates who may not know each and every gifted child, but advocate through their daily work - educational psychologists, researchers, politicians, academics, counsellors, social workers, government employees, and any one else in any other role that touches the life of a gifted child. Advocates work in the homes, early childhood centres, schools and communities of gifted children and young people.
And every advocate needs evidence-based arguments to champion for the rights of the gifted child, as the current discussion and debate amongst professionals in New Zealand, in response to the Draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan, is proving. Advocates need to provide clarity of what it means to be gifted, in order to dispel myths that ‘all children are gifted’ or ‘no children are gifted’ - and, anyway, what does it matter because we all know ‘the cream rises to the top’ and ‘the gifted are privileged’ kids who will succeed, and, in doing so, ‘make other kids feel bad’ about themselves.
Giftedness in New Zealand’s educational context has been conceptualised inclusively, acknowledging academic, creative, cultural, physical, social and artistic abilities and qualities. Rather than taking a prescriptive approach that boxes in identification and provisions, potentially limiting the gifted to an elitist group of high achieving students who meet a set of standardised criteria, assessed using normed tests and provided with a one-size-fits-all gifted programme, New Zealand’s Ministry of Education has taken a much more liberal approach. However, even within this approach, Ministry-funded research, over a decade ago, showed that many schools relied upon teachers to identify intellectually gifted students for enriched and accelerated mainstream classrooms. We don’t know what is provided in classrooms or schools in 2018, but similar studies by ERO and independent researchers have confirmed these early findings, with little change.
The inclusion of gifted learners in the Draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan challenges the status quo of gifted education, as described above, by proposing universal screening between the ages of 6-8. The purpose in screening, in addition to identifying learners who are gifted, is for the collection of data to enable better tracking, support and intervention for gifted students. Advocates need this information, so that we are armed with a much more clear understanding of who is identified as gifted, how their needs are met, and the outcomes of their identification and provisions. These data will, I am certain, dispel the myths related to the experience of being gifted - and enable much smarter decisions to be made for gifted students in New Zealand. But how will these learners be identified, who will identify them, and, most importantly, what provisions will be put in place to support and encourage the ongoing development of their strengths, abilities and interests, cultural identify and social and emotional health and well-being?
This blog was written by Tracy Riley, as part of the 2018 giftEDnz Blog Challenge, and expresses her personal views.