What are the key issues in Global Gifted and Talented Education?

Welcome Dear Reader!

I thought it might be fun to begin with an initial analysis, to prompt comments from others in the field and to serve as a baseline statement that I can revisit over time as this blog develops.

As I see it then, there are three broad and overlapping issues impacting on gifted and talented (G&T) educators worldwide.

Each issue can be defined as a polarity. Practitioners position themselves at some point between each of  the two extremes, influenced by their personal beliefs and the context in which they operate.

The first polarity is familiar territory – it’s  Nature versus Nurture.

At one extreme, there are those who  see giftedness as predominantly inherited

  • G&T learners are typically a small fixed percentage – an elite
  • Attention is focused on identified G&T learners rather than on effective G&T education
  • And the G&T concept is static – once identified as G&T a learner is always G&T
  • And the emphasis is almost exclusively on academic ability

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who see giftedness as largely achievable through effort

  • All learners are potentially G&T
  • Attention is focused on effective G&T education rather than the G&T learner
  • The G&T concept is dynamic – learners may move in and out of the G&T population over time
  • And the emphasis is typically on the widest possible range of abilities

The second polarity is Excellence versus Equity.

At one extreme, there are those who see  G&T education predominantly in terms of higher standards

  • G&T learners are supported to achieve the highest possible educational outcomes regardless of background
  • Strong emphasis is placed on academic achievement and
  • Identification of G&T learners tends to select in those who are already high achievers.

At the other, there are those who see G&T education primarily as a means to to narrow achievement gaps and strengthen social mobility

  • Disadvantaged G&T learners are supported to overcome performance gaps that are attributable to factors such as gender, ethnic and socio-economic background
  • Strong emphasis is placed on holistic support, often to strengthen motivation and self -esteem and
  • Identification is concentrated on spotting untapped potential.

The final polarity is Special Needs versus Personalisation:

At one extreme, there are those who regard all G&T learners as having a special educational need

  • As a consequence, G&T learners are typically educated separately rather than in ordinary schools
  • Acceleration is the guiding principle of provision and
  • It is common for G&T learners to be regarded as very different, even to the extent of having social and emotional problems.

At the other, are those who conceive of G&T education as a compartment of personalised education, designed to meet the needs of all learners

  • As a consequence, G&T education is typically based in a standard classroom setting in an ordinary school
  • Enrichment is the guiding principle of provision and
  • G&T learners are typically regarded as normal.

It seems typical for G&T educators to incline consistently towards either the first or the second set of statements within each polarity – ie towards Nature, Excellence and Special Needs or towards Nurture, Equity and Personalisation, but their profile may be spiky, eg they may be relatively more ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ on one polarity than the others.

The polarities influence each other significantly: for example,  a G&T educator who is focused on highly/profoundly gifted learners will find themselves more aligned with the first set of statements than they will the second.

But my sense is that, over the last few years, the international community of G&T educators has been shifting significantly towards the position described by the second sets of statements. This may continue, or there may be a backlash in due course.

Any community of G&T educators needs to understand these tensions, so as to accommodate the very different perspectives that may be held by its members.

Do you agree with this analysis? Where do you stand on each of the polarities?


16 May 2010

5 thoughts on “What are the key issues in Global Gifted and Talented Education?

  1. I’d say the first is clearly a mix: nature matters, but so does nurture, especially for success. Curie, Franklin, many of the scientists who made strides and discoveries, had families who were able to provide them with schooling situations (or tutors) who nurtured their ability and determination to pursue their scientific interests. Bill Gates had access to thousands of hours of computer time by the time he was an early teen. The second, excellence vs. equity, I have a harder time commenting on. There are many profoundly asynchronous scholars who do not perform well in schools and on tests/in assessments; they are just too different from those whom these settings and tools are created for. And the third I think is also affected by the degree of asynchrony in the child: The more asynchronous, the more their learning needs differ from the norm.

  2. Excellent post! After several weeks of research on global approaches to gt ed, I believe your perspective is very much in sync with worldwide thinking in this area. I also agree that the second set of polarities are absolutely the direction being taken by most countries; especially within the EU. However, I’m not so sure that the U.S. has the same approach. I think this is one of the reasons the American gifted community is so fixated on coming to a concensus on defining ‘gifted’. Rather than seeing the points you made as polarities, we are following all of them at once. Another difference in the U.S. is that gifted education seems to transcend politics (one of the few things the right and left agree on), but the schism comes due to economic factors. How much is the government willing to spend on gifted education in light of the recent global economic recession?
    I think it is very important that we all work together in learning from each other. It could advance the cause for gifted education if we don’t all try to re-invent the wheel. I look forward to sharing whatever resources I find on this issue.

  3. I think this is an excellent analysis and perfectly articulates the conflicting perspectives held amongst teachers and other education professionals. This often leads to ongoing debate within schools of how to best ‘handle’ the gifted students in the school, i.e. Create specific programmes to meet the students needs, such as goal setting, progression skills, masterclasses, etc, or to approach it as another tranche of personalised learning, to be integrated within all learning environments (although I’m not sure how well this is currently being done anywhere).

    For my part I favour an approach considering and amalgamating all perspectives:

    Giftedness is most probably a combination of both nature and nurture. Any G&T structure needs to recognise those that already highly achieve, supporting them to maintain and improve their standards, regardless of socio-economic background. However, in addition, excellent G&T provisions should also recognise that there will be many individuals that could be capable of highly achieving, but may not have the appropriate cultural or home environment to support this to happen, therefore these individuals needs must also be met through a more holistic approach, helping to ‘narrow achievement gaps and strengthen social mobility’.

    In regards to the 3rd polarity I believe that some needs can be met within the standard classroom, at the very least they must be acknowledged by their teachers, placing a very different perspective on possible behavioural challenges. Many young people however desperately need a dedicated and committed programme, recognising that they have individual requirements that cannot or will not be met through the standard curriculum delivery, (however good the teacher), especially in relation to advanced learning technique, self-awareness, esteem and various progression skills.

  4. Yes, I agree……… this is a great discussion and could bear fruit if folk all do work together. Great and consise post.

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