More needs to be done for gifted children
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > UNSW says more needs to be done for gifted students in all spheres of education

UNSW says more needs to be done for gifted students in all spheres of education

by Freya Lucas

June 08, 2023

An absence of specialised training leaves teachers ill-equipped to identify and cater for gifted students whose untapped potential equates to a cost for all Australians, according to University of New South Wales (UNSW) expert in gifted education, Associate Professor Jae Yup Jared Jung. 


Associate Professor Jung, who is the Director of UNSW’s Gifted Education Research Centre said that some gifted children may be identified from as young as two years old, meaning early childhood teachers (ECTs) should also be aware of the traits and signs of gifted children, in order to best support them. 


Research has shown that the earlier teachers intervene, the better children will perform in the long term. However, common – often negative – perceptions of gifted students can deter their identification.


“All students, regardless of their circumstances, have the right to an education that meets their learning needs. This includes providing appropriate support to help gifted children aspire to and achieve excellence,” said Associate Professor Jung.


“Our brightest students are those who are most likely to make a real difference to society; they’re the ones best placed to find cures for cancers, solutions to global poverty, and to address today’s climate crisis. And yet, they’re the most neglected group within our education system.”


Teacher training ensures that NSW teachers complete compulsory units in working with students who have special needs, such as those living with disabilities, learning difficulties and/or autism, but most pre-service teacher training programs in Australia do not incorporate a unit in gifted education.


“This is despite the fact that the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers explicitly require all teachers in Australia to be able to differentiate their teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities,” Jung added.


“This gap in teacher training dates back to the early 1990s…so for the last 30 plus years we have largely ignored the educational needs of a section of the student population who may have made significant and substantial contributions to Australian society.”


There is an urgent need to intervene, he continued, with research showing that up to 50 per cent of gifted students are underachieving; 20 per cent drop out of high school; and, 40 per cent fail to complete tertiary education.


“We group students together by age and we expect all students of the same age to be working at the same level. But that’s simply not the case,” Jung continued.


“This egalitarian approach to education we have in Australia is like saying everyone who is the same age, regardless of their height, weight, or body-type should wear the same size t-shirt.”


Misconceptions about gifted students can mask their identification


In Australia, gifted children are defined, following the Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent proposed by the French-Canadian academic Françoys Gagné, as those in the top ten percent of ability or potential within their age group.


Gifted children have the capacity to transform their abilities into achievements – across intellectual, creative, social-emotional and/or physical areas – faster than their same-age peers. 


“Teachers are usually well-intentioned but if they don’t have training in gifted education, they may rely on common myths and stereotypes about gifted students and gifted education,” Associate Professor Jung said. 


Creating a learning environment that is conducive to the educational needs of gifted students requires additional support, he added. 


“A common misconception is that gifted children can take care of themselves, and that they are guaranteed academic achievement and success.


“Gifted students can require support to manage their self-perceptions, confidence and motivation or self-efficacy, their attitudes towards teachers and school, as well as their anxiety, emotional engagement and goal orientations.”


Teachers also need guidance in identifying ways to enrich or extend the curriculum and learning opportunities. Highly gifted students, for example, may require specific and significant curriculum adjustments to meet their learning and wellbeing needs.

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