The next Research on Tap – Should gifted students receive special attention?

“There’s a common attitude that gifted children don’t need extra help in school,” says Dr. Carla Di Giorgio. “But gifted students get bored easily if their intelligence isn’t being stimulated. Gifted kids may even drop out or turn off of true learning if their needs aren’t met by school.”

 Dr. Di Giorgio is an Associate Professor of Education at UPEI and Director of the Centre for Education Research. She’s leading the discussion at the next Research on Tap event, "Do gifted children really need special attention?  Addressing the high end of the educational spectrum in PEI's school system."    

 “Prince Edward Island has a great reputation in Canada and around the world for inclusion,” says Di Giorgio. “It is community-based education. Students with all types of learning needs are together in regular classrooms and neighbourhood schools. There is the potential for great social diversity and interaction.” 

Di Giorgio says inclusion on the surface can have economic advantages – it can be cheaper to have all students grouped together in one classroom if the appropriate supports for teachers and students are put in place. However, she says it’s not always helpful to students with above or below average learning abilities to be taught the same way as the others. 

“Some students require special services, and a teacher with particular skills,” says Di Giorgio. “Gifted students fit into this category, and they often lose interest if their needs are ignored. The irony is, many unidentified gifted students may not fully explore their potential in post-secondary years because they’ve already been turned off by school.” 

Di Giorgio says it is very easy for smart students to get very high marks in high school without too much effort. 

“They’re not being challenged,” she explains. “Those who go to university can be in for a shock as suddenly the expectations for study skills, organization and critical thinking skills are much higher.” 

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is meant to shake this up. The program, which graduates its first classes of Prince Edward Island high school students this spring, imposes strict international standards and testing for high achieving students. 

“It has evolved through a steep learning curve, but many students and staff are glad they took the initiative and dove in,” says Di Giorgio. “Students are heartened. They feel like they can be smart without being intimidated. Although facing constant demands, they’re engaged, they’re thriving, and they’re becoming global citizens and local leaders.” 

IB isn’t for everyone. The program’s high standards means students have to be very focused and organized to manage school and extra-curricular activities such as clubs or teams. Di Giorgio says the real test of the program comes this summer when the test results of the graduating classes are known. 

Local elementary schools have also tried to implement various enrichment programs in their repertoire. The Western School Board has opted for Advanced Placement (AP) courses for high school students who want a challenge. The notion of these programs being elitist is being questioned by the public and by schools looking to improve their services for students needing more than the regular curriculum can provide. 

Sound interesting? Join us for the next Research on Tap on Tuesday, January 11 at 7 pm. in Mavor’s in the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Dr. Di Giorgio will lead the discussion. 

For more information, contact Dave Atkinson at datkinson@upei.ca, or (902)620-5117.

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