Gifted children are extremely valuable human capital. However, cooperation between schools, the non-governmental sector and the wider community is necessary in order to develop their full potential. It is the responsibility of society to care for gifted children and its own future. This has been pointed out at the round-table discussion titled Challenges and Opportunities in Developing the Potential of Gifted Children – Associations and Schools as Allies in Education.
One to five percent of children are gifted, while recent research has shown that there are 9,500 gifted children in Croatian primary schools alone.
“Gifted children are individuals with significantly above-average general or specific abilities, highly creative and motivated, which allows them to develop outstanding competencies and consistently achieve results or produce works in one or several areas that are well above average. They can be identified by their parents, educators and teachers based on their curiosity, the need to do things their own way and early interest for abstract concepts, including love, death and justice. They are usually extremely interested in one particular area that they study intensively until they become little experts. They ask many questions about how things work. Gifted children are often very imaginative and creative,” says Ksenija Ranogajec Benaković, an ECHA expert for organising and designing education programmes for gifted individuals, a psychologist at the “Mali Princ” kindergarten and Vice President of the “Vjetar u leđa” association.
Even though it is good for gifted children to develop their abilities through extracurricular and leisure activities, the greatest responsibility for them falls on the school system. Gifted children spend most of their time in school.
“We identify gifted children as soon as they start school. To develop their potential, they must be given a challenging and emotionally safe environment as well as diverse and enriched activities. It is our obligation to provide guidance to gifted children according to their giftedness and needs, as well as to encourage them to achieve higher goals,” says Tatjana Bračun Haddad, the principal of the Stjepan Benceković primary school in Zagreb.
School for Life works in the gifted children’s favour. Such an approach to the curriculum allows teachers to design classes autonomously, which brings about changes in learning and teaching. To make students active participants in that process, different approaches, methods and strategies can be combined. That way, the teacher is no longer the only source of knowledge and the classroom is no longer the only place to learn.
“If classes are not challenging, encouraging and appropriate for their needs, if they are based on lower cognitive processes, such as copying texts, retelling and listing things, gifted children will get bored. They see no point in learning what they already know. However, if the teacher creates a positive, encouraging, playful and creative environment in the classroom, where diversity of each student in the class is respected and progress and achievements are valued, with clear, consistent and high expectations, each student will progress at their own pace and develop their potential,” says Tatjana Orešković, a classroom teacher and a member of the Mentor Work Group, the Work Group for Classroom Teaching and the Work Group for Expert Associates and School Principals at the Ministry of Science and Education.
Considering that schools have been educating teachers, expert associates and principals about gifted children, she noticed that there are examples of good practices of working with gifted children across Croatia, but also that some members of education staff need additional training.
“Working with gifted children is a motivating and challenging experience for most participants, which makes them feel happy, satisfied and proud. However, some teachers feel fear and insecurity, have doubts and find themselves in awe… To them, working with gifted children is a challenge and they must be encouraged to provide adequate support to such children. Working with gifted children does not mean providing only intellectual support. Sometimes, socioemotional and even psychological support may be more important,” Tatjana Orešković clarified.
Working with gifted children drives schools to cooperate with associations such as Bioteka – the association for promotion of biology and related sciences.
“Schools and associations must work as allies in education. Gifted children must be identified as early as possible, preferably in the preschool years and during lower grades of primary school. Afterwards, it is important to identify what gifts they have and to design activities appropriate for them to develop their full potential. Our association has considerable experience in working with children gifted for STEM and cooperates with schools in Zagreb and other parts of Croatia. Our educators transfer their knowledge to children and develop their passion for research. Gifted children are so curious that they can learn many things by themselves. Our obligation is to encourage them to do so,” says Kristina Duvnjak, head of the education programme and Executive Director of the Bioteka Association.
Over the past few months, Bioteka has worked on the PANDA 4 project, concerning project-oriented teaching for gifted children. About 30 primary school children from Zagreb were included in the project. Thanks to interesting experiments, the children had a chance to apply their theoretical knowledge in the STEM area.
PANDA 4 is financially supported by Ministry of Science and Education of Republic Croatia.