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Fund talent development, urges gifted education champion

New Zealand is at risk of wasting creative and innovative talent because of a lack of government funding for educational support for gifted students, says a specialist in gifted education. 

Associate professor Tracy Riley, from the Institute of Education, has just received giftEDnz’s Te Manu Kotuku – a prestigious award to recognise “exceptional involvement in the gifted and talented education field of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Dr Riley says she is baffled that the Ministry of Education (MoE) has cut its $1 million in funding for gifted education support to zero for 2017.

“Given the urgent and serious issues facing New Zealand and the world right now – from environmental threats to security, child poverty and housing – we need to ensure the best minds of the next generation are being nurtured to be able to come up with intelligent solutions,” she says.

Dr Riley, who has won numerous awards for her work and leadership in gifted education both in New Zealand and internationally, says there is an urban myth that gifted learners will make it on their own and don’t need special attention or support. But this attitude is incorrect as gifted learners can become dis-engaged and disillusioned with learning without the right kind of encouragement and guidance, she says.

“Many people don’t realise that gifted learners cut across all socio-economic, geographic and ethnic backgrounds,” she says. While the focus on lifting the achievement of priority learners is important, Dr Riley says it is also essential to dedicate the appropriate resources to potential high achievers through pre- and in-service teacher professional learning and support. Dr Riley believes some potentially gifted learners may be among those in the tail of underachievement, but will “go unrecognised because of low teacher expectations, which result in lack of challenge for students and low ceilings for learning.”

The MoE requires schools to identify and provide for gifted learners, with some doing so through accelerated learning classes or specialist programmes. Schools are able to determine what concept of ‘gifted’ means to fit the culture and context of their school based on core principles. A broader concept includes students gifted in cultural qualities, artistic creativity, sport, and leadership, and an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the population could be defined as gifted in this broader sense, she says.

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