13 September 1994

Doc. 7140

1403-12/9/94-1-E

REPORT

on education for gifted children

(Rapporteur: Mr HADJIDEMETRIOU,

Cyprus, Socialist Group)


Summary

      The Assembly reaffirms education as a fundamental human right. Although education systems are designed to provide adequate education for the majority of children, they should be flexible enough to allow all children without exception fully to develop their potential. Most ordinary systems however, do not provide adequate conditions for the full development of highly gifted children.

      While suggesting some principles and measures for educational policy-making with regard to gifted children, the Assembly points out that such measures should not be taken to the detriment of other groups of children.

I. Draft recommendation

1.       The Assembly reaffirms education as a fundamental human right, and believes that it should, as far as possible, be appropriate to each individual.

2.       Whereas for practical purposes education systems must be set up so as to provide adequate education for the majority of children, there will always be children with special needs and for whom special arrangements have to be made. One group of such children is that of the highly gifted.

3.       Gifted children should be able to benefit from appropriate educational conditions that would allow them to develop fully their abilities, for their own benefit and for the benefit of society as a whole. No country can indeed afford to waste talents and it would be a waste of human resources not to identify in good time any intellectual or other potentialities. Adequate tools are needed for this purpose.

4.       Special educational provision should however in no way privilege one group of children to the detriment of the others.

5.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers ask the competent authorities of the states signatory to the European Cultural Convention to take account of the following considerations in their educational policies:

      i.       legislation should recognise and respect individual differences. Gifted children, as other categories, need adequate educational opportunities to develop their full potential;

      ii.       basic research in the fields of "giftedness" and "talent" and applied research, for instance to improve identification procedures, should be developed in parallel. Research on the "mechanisms of success" could help to tackle school failure;

      iii.       meanwhile, in-service teacher training programmes have to include strategies for identifying children of high ability or special talent. Information on "giftedness" should be made available to all those who deal with children (teachers, parents, doctors, social workers, ministries of education, etc.);

      iv.       provision for specially gifted children in a given subject area should preferably be arranged within the ordinary school system, from pre-school education onwards. Flexible curricula, more chances of mobility, supplementary enriching material, audiovisual aids and project-oriented teaching styles are ways and techniques to foster the development of all children, whether gifted or not, and enable the identification of special needs at the earliest possible point of time;

      v.       the ordinary school system should be made flexible enough to enable the needs of high performers or talented students to be met;

      vi.       any special provision for highly gifted or talented students should be administered with discretion, to avoid the innate danger of labelling, with all its undesired consequences to society.

6.       There is a need to clarify the notion of "giftedness" by an operational definition that is accepted and understandable in different languages. Therefore the Assembly further recommends that the Committee of Ministers consider the setting-up of an ad hoc committee for this purpose including psychologists, sociologists, and educationalists of all relevant specialisations.

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Mr HADJIDEMETRIOU

Introduction

      The purpose of this report is to initiate discussion on the general issues involved in the topic of education for gifted children.

      The paper does not try to give specific answers, as we believe that there are no recipes for such a broad topic. There are today many challenges and different approaches towards educational issues and the role of formal schooling in many countries of the world. New programmes based on research are continually being tested and implemented and therefore new data is also being produced in the field of giftedness.

      The issue of giving gifted children greater opportunities can be approached from the angle of securing individual human rights. More specifically it can also be approached as a matter of "equal opportunities for all children".

      In the preparation of this report "Eurotalent" and other non-governmental organisations active in the field of gifted children have been consulted. Although the comments and the wishes expressed by such organisations have been duly considered, it was impossible, for definition and other reasons, to satisfy them all.

      It is important to mention that although some countries have started efforts to identify gifted children and capitalise on their abilities, interest in the issue varies and discussion continues over a wide range of the different aspects involved.

      In February 1994 your Rapporteur asked national delegations to the CDCC Education Committee whether there was legislation or special provisions for gifted children and whether the government or educational services were in contact with non- governmental organisations concerned with gifted children. Only thirteen replies have been received (out of forty countries) from Belarus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

      Five of the countries stated that they had no special legislation or provision for gifted children. In Slovakia such legislation was in preparation; in Switzerland grade skipping is permitted in some cantons (we know that this possibility also exists in some of the countries that did not mention it in their replies); in Estonia there were special provisions, mainly in the fields of arts and sport; in Belarus there were individual programmes and in the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal there was special legislation for gifted children. It is interesting to note that although seven replies came from western and six from eastern Europe, the issue was much more developed in eastern than in western Europe.

      Eight countries replied that there were no contacts between educational authorities and non-governmental organisations. In Estonia a working group on gifted children had been set up in the University of Tallinn which was in contact with the Ministry of Education; the Czech, Lithuanian, Polish and British authorities had close contacts with (and sometimes gave financial support to) NGOs concerned with gifted children.

Tools to measure ability and the notion of "giftedness"

      A problem mentioned in the many reports presented at a CDCC workshop on gifted children (Nijmegen, July 1991) is that of not having adequate tools to measure and evaluate gifted children's abilities and also having to deal with a wide definition of the term "gifted child".

      Another point which still needs elaboration is the exact meaning of what a "gifted" child is and agreement on terminology in English and French. The Richert report1 says that a definition which will be universally accepted has still to be found. It seems that whatever definition is applied has to take into consideration a variety of abilities and skills.

      A definition accepted in the United States of America is as follows: "Gifted and talented children are those whose extraordinary abilities enable them to have high performances". These children need differentiated educational programmes and/or services beyond those usually provided by the ordinary school curriculum, to enable them to achieve things that will benefit both themselves and society as a whole. Children included in this group are those who show extraordinary abilities in one or more of the following fields:

      —hi       gh intelligence in general (IQ);—

      —ex       traordinary school grades/performance;—

      —cr       eative and productive thinking;—

      —le       adership ability;—

      —ab       ilities in the visual and performing arts;—

      —"p       sychomotor" abilities.Th

      The above six-category definition of "giftedness" has helped move us away from the élitist concept of giftedness as being limited to intellectual and academic abilities. As scholars and educationalists develop programmes in all of these areas we see that more and more children are included. Nowadays we see that new categories are devised apart from the more traditional ways mentioned above. The understanding is that every society needs a set of values, thus we identify children as having special gifts and talents in the following areas: moral responsibility; compassion; humour; statesmanship; sensitivity; independence; courage; manual dexterity; talent for innovation and improvisation (Roderick and Lemanieu, 1981).

      Some European organisations active in the field of gifted children do not agree with the definition given above which makes no distinction between "giftedness" and "talent". For such organisations "giftedness" is related to the child's potential and "talent" to its fulfilment. Additional problems come from the difficulty in translating these concepts without changing their meaning.

      We see that new procedures for identifying and nurturing gifts and talents are continually being refined and sharpened. There is also today the suggestion that identification of gifted children should take place in a broader context than the school and which includes home, community and other group life. This means that both parents and significant others should be involved in the process of identification and follow-up programming. A partnership should therefore be developed amongst children, parents and teachers in the process of achieving a match between programme options and children's talents and gifts. In this way the whole system is mobilised. In the United States there are schools in which both this partnership and diversity of options and programmes have been set up.

      On this model the school population is seen as a microcosm of the society at large in any country; we thus need to recognise the complexity and diversity of the multi-talent resources available and so the concept of "educational equality and opportunities" is merely a slogan. It is indeed much healthier to acknowledge social and economic inequality and the school by itself cannot eradicate these inequalities, but it is all the subsystems that are required to undertake the work of change.

Different explanations of school failure — the traditional paradigm

      The issue of gifted children that occupies today's European societies appears to be a new field of exploration, but in fact has its roots in the beginning of this century, that is ever since the first IQ tests (Binet-Simon) made their appearance.2 These tests were first used in 1916, mainly in America, where they have been since amended and diffused.

      The concept of the natural division of people into clever and not so clever conceals the unacknowledged classification of abilities into manual and intellectual3 with the result that not so intelligent children were pushed into abandoning school to train for a skill from which they would earn less. This concept and the consequent division of work into manual and intellectual (blue and white-collar jobs) is based on the admission that people's abilities contrast, that it is nature that has provided people's abilities and that people are born with one or the other ability.

      According to heredity and biological theories, school failure was due to the child's individual characteristics: intellectual insufficiency, brain disfunctions, negative organic factors, psychological instability or other psychic disturbances, inadequate development of learning or other psycho-intellectual functions and mechanisms.4

      After the democratisation of education and the open entry of all children to all levels of schooling in the 1960s, the phenomenon of school failure started appearing on a mass scale in large comprehensive schools which had replaced the élitist private schools of the pre-war period. The theories of biological super-definition of intelligence along with the veritable invasion of tests in the educational field, were responsible for the use of the "normal pathological" biological model to explain the phenomenon of school failure.

      Thereafter followed the division of school structures for children who could not learn/absorb school concepts and who were labelled as suffering from various forms of "retardedness", "inadequacies", "disturbances". We were thus at a stage where children were given a series of labels that indelibly stigmatised them and of course defined their identity and future both within and outside the education system. Children become dyslexic, dysorthographic, dysanagnostic, etc.

      This labelling and school categorisation neither solved the problem of school failure nor helped the children themselves to overcome all their "dys-s" with which they were burdened as a result of the interpretative model that was designed to explain their inability to proceed within the education system at their own pace of development and learning.

      This explanation of school failure is referred to in the relevant bibliography as the student's stage of individual "pathology".

      Stagnation, absenteeism, bad school grades were, according to this interpretative model, the result of the absence in certain children of those talents/gifts which, on the contrary, other children did possess. However, nothing could be done to "cure" this illness, since only nature was to blame for the gift or its absence.

      Research carried out during this period based its findings on observations made by children who failed at school and IQ tests came to certify the children's inadequacies and backwardness.

      Special subjects, special classes, special programmes, special teachers, etc. known as corrective education, which was devised for the elimination of all the "dys-s" that tortured children, did not solve the problem. School failure percentages were still high and the phenomenon was reaching alarming proportions.

      At the same time, some countries started more systematic research. Many doubts were cast on the correctness and accuracy of intelligence measuring tools (that is tests) and especially after the 1969 publication of Arthur Jensen's theory that 80% of human intelligence is genetically determined and genius is therefore almost exclusively hereditary.5

Coleman's report "A challenge of pre-existing theories"

      After the first large scale research by Coleman6 in America in the 1960s, research conducted in European countries, mainly in France and Britain, showed that performance at school, success or failure, was largely determined by the student's socio-economic background. In all countries where research was carried out, it was found that the children's performance (excellent, good, fair) correlated with the father's socio-professional class/category. Research has shown that students and their performance, their academic choices, possibilities and opportunities for further study improved as one went up the social scale of professional categories.

      As a result, it has been established in all countries for the past thirty years that "bad" students come from poor families and "good" students come from privileged ones. It has been shown that the social pyramid is accurately reproduced in teachers' evaluations, in test and exam results and in the student body's social composition.7

      This stage of interpreting performance on the basis of socio-economic characteristics is often referred to as the "family environment pathology". Research has led to the formulation of "socio-cultural disability" or "defect" including lack of cultural capital. Children from lower social classes generally fail at school, not because they are genetically inferior, but because they have developed in a deprived socio-educational family environment.

      Thus the intention to offer equal educational opportunities to all children might constitute an unrealisable ideal on the grounds that it disregards the objective social inequalities that children bring to school. Children, therefore, carry a differentiated cultural capital on which the school often does not capitalise.

      As a result of the above findings, "zones of educational priority" were established in some countries (such as in England and France). The purpose of this approach was to provide disadvantaged areas with schools that would offer those children who came from socially deprived homes all the opportunities and facilities that other children were given in their families.

The role of school

      A third approach to the school failure phenomenon looks into the role played by the school itself without doubting the socially determined source of school results. In this case, the school comes under scrutiny and its probable "pathology" is investigated as a possible cause of school failure. According to this view, the problem faced by socially lower class children is not their deprivation of values, abilities and skills, but the fact that these are expressed and organised in ways that are different from those of the school culture.8 The theory of cultural differences underlines the fact that school practice is mainly based on the culture and language of the middle and upper class.

      The vitally important responsibility of the education system for causing school failure has not only been proved by theoretical research in the last twenty years; it has also been proved by research which has showed that by changing learning conditions and pedagogical practices, success in education for all children is not a utopia but an attainable goal.9

Why concentrate only on the gifted?

      The above short review on school success or failure is a necessary basis for the understanding of the issue of gifted children that we are examining.

      Without disagreeing with the principle of providing opportunities for quality education and appropriate learning conditions for all children, we believe that any moves that systematically privilege a group of children, for example the gifted, is unacceptable.

      One way of addressing this issue is in a general system perspective which considers the group of gifted children as one part of the societal system and, therefore, whatever is done to either include or exclude them will definitely have an impact on the whole system. From this perspective, neither the viewpoint that all young people have special gifts and talents nor that there are children who are more gifted than others, and therefore constitute a significant educational and economic resource for their society, are being underplayed. Both viewpoints can co-exist and can be a challenge to both curriculum development professionals and teachers and practitioners. How does one create a school programme that is inclusive and at the same time addresses the needs, gifts and talents of the different groups of children in the school system? As the sociologist Durkheim (1893) explained in his organic solidarity theory about the division of social labour, there is an interdependence between and amongst the different social, professional and labour groups in an advanced type of society. Not to speak of the existence of gifted children (and therefore of their appropriate treatment) in order to avoid criticism of being élitist, denies their right to be offered the necessary opportunities to explore and develop their special skills and talents.

      It seems to us that this latter point is part of what could be called social bias: it is a construction that has been created to serve other ideological or political purposes than the interests of gifted children. So let us find ways to overcome the social bias regarding the correlation between gifted children and their needs and élitism. In the era of high technological development children are exposed to so many channels of education other than formal schooling that it is often difficult, even for the most inspired and creative curriculum designers, to keep up with such a plethora of information resources. Today we are also being challenged to face the question of the re-definition of the role of formal (and often rigid) educational systems.

      Children often come to school having absorbed so much learning and adopted types of behaviour that it makes it difficult for the teachers (and also for the evaluators) to set specific standards and criteria in assessing "giftedness".

      Pedagogical practices discussed in various approaches to enhance the abilities of gifted children, are in fact the appropriate learning conditions for all children and especially for children from less privileged social strata. Some of the suggestions which appeared in the texts discussed at the Nijmegen workshop include the following:

      —sm       all number of children in the group;—

      —ed       ucational and technological resources;—

      —in       dividualised teaching/learning;—

      —in       itiative development programmes;—

      —pa       rallel exercise for body and mind;—

      —sp       ecially trained staff;—

      —fa       vourable learning conditions.Th

      These conditions will undoubtedly contribute to the development of all children's abilities because we are convinced that all children have abilities. Someone has however to unveil them and help them develop for the child's own benefit and for the benefit of our societies.

      It would be a waste of human resources not to identify in good time any intellectual or other superiority, especially in this century of utilitarianism and of the highest possible profit.

      But it is equally a waste of human resources for any child to carry on at schools which prove "ordinary" but produce no results. If our schools do not seem to help children considered gifted, then let us imagine how little benefit might be drawn by children who enter these schools with deficiencies.

      It is urgent and imperative to adopt measures for carefully tailoring education for each and every child because all children can learn, but they cannot learn by themselves.

      We take Joan Freeman's10 view of the situation of gifted children in Britain with reference to British teachers: "teachers are generally wary of any form of 'élitism', whether of wealth or ability, and are unhappy about categorising children into ability groups; this is often because they have serious doubts about the validity of tests of ability and what may be concluded from them. (...) They see children primarily as children and not as potential saviours of the nation."

      Education, the most valuable good which people should enjoy, is also established as one of the most fundamental human rights in the 1948 International Declaration on Human Rights (in Article 26.1) and in the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (in Article 2 of Protocol No. 1). Since then, this basic right has been repeated in many international conventions and its significance is constantly analysed and emphasised. Every person has the right to learn to read and write, to think and study his/her surroundings and write its history, to use all educational sources and all existing means for the development of his personality and his abilities.

      However, to turn the above declaration into action and for humanity to rid itself of the multiple problems threatening it — as for example the immense problem of illiteracy which affects 25% of the world's population — drastic measures should be taken and huge sums must be invested in the field of education. But this should be done not for a selected group of children but for all children.

      The conditions envisaged for gifted children are the ideal learning conditions for all children and we should claim them for and apply them to all our children; because who knows how many geniuses, how many Mozarts and Einsteins we overlook day by delaying dealing with the problem as a whole.

      There is accumulated evidence for our positions both from research and practice so that we can proceed with a rounded examination of issues.

      Before we start making special provisions in our legislation for gifted children — as some countries such as Austria have already done — let us first ensure that such provisions do not marginalise other children or remove possibilities that we do not have the luxury or the right to ignore. It is the Assembly's responsibility to contribute towards this direction.

      It may be invaluable to recognise the individual's abilities, but it would be wrong to isolate them from those of the population as a whole. Indeed we should help gifted children; but we should also know that all children are part of a miracle called life and we do not only protect life in superior beings.

      Reporting committee: Committee on Culture and Education.

      Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

      Reference to committee: Doc. 6247 and Reference No. 1858 of 26 March 1993.

      Draft recommendation: adopted unanimously by the committee on 6 September 1994.

      Members of the committee: Mrs Fischer (Chairman), Sir Russell Johnston, Mr de Puig (Vice-Chairmen), MM. Alegre, Arnalds, Bauer, Berg, Berti, Bonnici, Bratinka, Decagny, Deniau, Mrs Err, Mrs Fleeetwood, MM. Galanos (Alternate: Hadjidemetriou), Baroness Gould of Potternewton, Mrs Guourova, Mr Gül, Mrs Hawlicek, Mr Hint, Mrs Hjelm-Wallen, Baroness Hooper, MM. Ivnov, Karas, Kouck, MM. Lopez Henares, Małachowski, Mangakis (Alternate: Sofoulis), Maruflu, Mocioi, Monfils, Muehlemann, Müller, Paunescu, Rivelli, Mrs Robert, Mr Roseta, Mrs Ryynänen, MM. Scaglioso, Schmidt, Schreiner, Seeuws, Serra, Siwiec, Školč, Soell, Stefanopoulos, Ms Szelenyi, MM. Tummers, Upton, Vajda, Verbeek, Vogt, Zingeris.

      N.B.       The names of those who took part in the vote are in printed in italics.

      Secretaries to the committee: MM. Grayson and Ary.


1 1Richert E.S., Alvino J.J., McDonnel R.C., "National report on identification: assessment and recommendations for comprehensive identification of gifted and talented youth", 1982. Educational Improvement Center, Sewell, New-Jersey.

2 1A. Binet et Th. Simon, Les enfants anormaux, Paris 1907.

3 2Anna Frangoudaki, "Sociology of Education — Theory on social inequality at school", Athens 1985.

4 3"School Failure", Cyprus, Ministry of Education, Nicosia 1990.

5 1Anna Frangoudaki, "Sociology of Education — Theory on social inequality at school", Athens 1985.

6 1J. Coleman et al. "Equality of educational opportunity", United States, Dep. of HEW, Office of Education, Washington, 1966.

7 2"School Failure", Cyprus, Ministry of Education, Nicosia 1990.

8 1Bernstein B., (ed) "Class, codes and control: Applied studies towards a sociology of languages", Vol. 2. Rontledge and Kegan, Paris, London 1973.

9 2CPESAS — Research centre in France dealing with school adaptability to research-action.

10 1Joan Freeman (President of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA), Institute of Education, London University) — Recent developments for the highly able in Britain, Nijmegen (DECS/Rech (91) 16).