Gifted and Talented Young People

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There is at present no policy for Gifted & Talented Education in Northern Ireland. This paper unravels the implications of this in terms of the quality of our education system in preparing our students for 21st Century life, the consequences of students needs not being met and the potential future impacts on our economy if this continues. Although some slow progress is being made, it is argued that change must happen at a Governmental level for any lasting progress to be meaningful.

Key words
Gifted, talented, education, selective, Northern Ireland, policy, 21st century skills, identification, provision, collaboration, learning, personalization.

Within the field of Gifted and Talented (G&T) Education, the concept of ‘giftedness’ is a complex one. Definitions are broad and varied with no apparent consensus internationally. White et al. (2003) has stated that there are over 200 working definitions of ‘giftedness’, and while clarity is important in terms of identifying and providing for G&T students, we must be careful to remember the uniqueness of each child and not create generic categories in our quest for the ‘perfect’ definition.

The terms ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ are often used synonymously, although evidence shows that experts in the area disagree with this usage (Freeman, 2001; Gray-Fow, 2005), choosing instead to see ‘gifts’ and ‘talents’ as abilities that are demonstrated differently in separate domains. An example of this is the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) definition, 2005 (cited by the Council of Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), 2006a, p8) which defines ‘gifted’ students as showing actual or potential high ability in one or more of the main curriculum subjects, and ‘talented’ students as those showing actual or potential high ability in sport, music and performing or visual arts. While this definition could be broader in taking into account other less recognized types of giftedness such as emotional or spiritual intelligence (Goleman, 1996; Vialle, 2007), and in clarifying giftedness more as a process that can be developed and influenced by environmental factors such as friends and family (Merry, 2008), for the purposes of this paper on G&T Education in the Northern Irish context, it will serve as the most broad and useful definition since Northern Ireland has often taken it’s lead from the UK in terms of policy and legislation (Ryan, 2007a).

The argument to be examined is that G&T Education is considered important on the world stage but not in the context of education in Northern Ireland due to the high quality of grammar education available. This paper will suggest that G&T Education is indeed important internationally in terms of identifying and providing for G&T students, and will briefly outline practice in the USA, Europe (specifically Austria) and in the UK to demonstrate this. We will go on to argue that due to a lack of a Government policy for G&T Education in Northern Ireland (NI), it would appear that this area is not given priority within the educational context, and the idea that G&T students are naturally provided for within the grammar system is a misjudged one. Themes addressed in this argument include a brief analysis of the Northern Irish education system, the implications of having no policy or framework for meeting the needs of G&T students, and an examination of whether our education system in general is appropriately preparing our children for life in the 21st Century. Some recommendations are outlined for future good practice in schools.

At this point it is appropriate in the interests of objectivity to outline my professional and personal paradigms in this area. My professional experience lies in non-formal/informal, faith-based youth work and not in formal education in a school setting. Since youth work is concerned with the holistic development of the child, not excluding academic achievement but focusing...
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