Treasure gifted children as future hard currency;Letter

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
I cannot agree with Peter Marshall's conclusion that there is little justification in devoting funds to research and intervention in the cause of gifted children (TES, May 9).

In my own research into this group (reported in the North Warwickshire Project, 1981 published by GCIC and TES, Sept 17, 1982) we identified several hundred intellectually gifted children in what was then a government-designated priority area. Many of these children were not recognised as having high ability by their teachers or parents.

Professor N Tempest and GH Gear, researching the same subject, in the 1970s discovered that, on average, teachers only identified half the gifted children in their schools. The reason for this was that many such children did not show outstanding abilities in mechanical reading, spelling and arithmetic, which unfortunately were, and still remain, the usual methods by which teachers assess children's abilities. Those who came from deprived backgrounds and those who suffered from specific learning difficultydyslexia were at a particular disadvantage.

In our study, which lasted for several years, every child was tested by a qualified and experienced educational psychologist, and both verbal and non-verbal or visual-spatial and constructional abilities were taken into account.

In assessing whether a child could be classified as falling within the intellectually gifted category, the whole profile of abilities on the Wechsler Scales were examined together, with other test results and interpreted in a diagnostic, comprehensive and sensitive way. This is a far more reliable and valid approach to assessing high ability than mere aggregate IQ scores or percentile ranks of tests or membership of MENSA, which appear to have been employed in the research referred to by Mr Marshall.

The latter also appears to have overlooked the many valid reasons for identifying and providing for gifted children. Here are three: * Individual differences: These children are no better and no worse than other children. They are just different. Educationists have long told us that individual differences should be catered for.

* Economic and social: We live in a society that is becoming increasingly complex. Those who will eventually solve our problems in politics, education, health and the environment will be gifted individuals. What they have to offer is far out of proportion to their numbers. Gifted brains are our best convertible currency. Japan has few natural resources, but over the years it has capitalised on its most important human resources, namely human ability, and has long been a leader in the economic race.

* What happens if you do not identify and provide for gifted children?

Some, no doubt, will lead a perfectly satisfying life. Others will lead a wasted life and, in some cases, a life of massive under-achievement. Still others will turn their very real abilities into anti-social or even criminal activities. There are many gifted criminals in society today.

PETER CONGDON (Educational psychologist) Director Gifted Children's Information Centre Hampton Grange 21 Hampton Lane, Solihull West Midlands

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