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Identifying and nurturing giftedness

India’s National Education Policy 2020 advocates for the early identification and support of gifted students in an inclusive manner.
Last Updated : 28 May 2024, 02:34 IST
Last Updated : 28 May 2024, 02:34 IST

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In our society, where high marks are universally valued, giftedness is rarely discussed among parents or in education. Many countries have systematic programmes to identify giftedness among children by their early teens and provide structured opportunities to nurture it.

India’s National Education Policy 2020 advocates for the early identification and support of gifted students in an inclusive manner. However, for this policy to be effectively implemented, individuals and institutions must understand what giftedness entails and collaborate to make India a gifted-friendly country.

What is giftedness?

Educational Psychologist Joseph Renzulli developed the widely accepted “three-ring conception of giftedness,” which posits that giftedness is the interaction of three clusters of traits: above-average ability, high levels of creativity, and high levels of task commitment. According to this model, individuals who exhibit high performance in these areas and rank in the top 1-2% based on performance are considered gifted.

This model highlights that high ability is defined precisely and measurable, especially in academic fields where identifying the top 1-2% of the population is possible. However, high ability is only part of the picture: creativity and task commitment (the ability to stay focused and persistent even on challenging tasks) are equally important.

Investing in talent

While the value of developing giftedness at the individual or family level is evident—consider the case of a bright student from a lower middle-class family securing admission to an IIT—its value at the societal level is often overlooked. This oversight explains why we have not yet implemented systematic giftedness programmes in schools.

Nurturing giftedness yields significant rewards. Our IITs can be considered a giftedness programme, identifying and nurturing bright students (though giftedness is best identified around ages 12-13). According to a study, every IIT graduate has, on average, created 100 jobs. Additionally, 54% of the top 500 companies in India have at least one IIT alumnus on their boards. Internationally, the founders of companies like Facebook and Google, international artists like Lady Gaga, and some Nobel prize winners are products of systematic programmes for the gifted.

A common myth about giftedness is that the gifted can care for themselves, and only weak students need support. However, gifted students may excel in one area (such as language or science) but struggle in others. They might have difficulty fitting in socially or making friends. Therefore, they need specialised support just as much as academically weak children.

How do we identify giftedness?

Historically, IQ tests were used to identify giftedness, but this practice has been problematic. A more scientific approach is to test students around ages 12-13 using assessments two grade levels above their current level.

Since an average 7th-grade student would find a 9th-grade test difficult, only the top 10-15% of students are invited to take the higher-level test.

Students who score in the top 10-15% of that test (corresponding to the top 1-2% of the entire population) are identified as gifted. Tests are typically conducted in regular school subjects like English, mathematics, science, etc.

Nurturing the students’ need

Different students may need different types of support, but some aspects are common to all gifted children. Firstly, the opportunity to work and stay with other gifted peers provides a connection and bonding beyond their subject of interest.

Secondly, guidance by mentors trained to work with gifted children is extremely important. Finally, exposure to challenging problems at a higher level than typical school material and are also meaningful is crucial. For example, projects to create something new or learn a new subject are highly engaging for such students.

What can parents do?

If you believe your child is gifted, first consult with your school to see if they have a programme or a counsellor for such children. As early as grade 4, you can formally have your child tested to identify an area of giftedness.

Provide them with exposure to reading and other materials in their area of interest. Encourage them to attend if they are selected for a credible gifted programme.

Finally, connect with communities that provide support, information, and a forum for gifted children and their families.

(The author is a co-founder and chief learning officer of an edtech company)

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Published 28 May 2024, 02:34 IST

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