Mulling special treatment for the intellectually gifted

Intellectually gifted children make up some 3 to 5 percent of the school population. Though they learn much faster than their classmates, they are only moved up a class along with the rest of their classmates at the end of the academic year, which can lead to psychological problems. Such children may become anti-social and even leave school, Professor Ilias Matsangouras of Athens University told Kathimerini. There are an estimated 40,000 intellectually gifted pupils in Greek primary and secondary schools. How can they be identified and what can the education system do to provide for them better? Is any special policy needed for these children? Will setting them apart from other children lead to discrimination, albeit indirect, within the education system? «A specific policy must be adopted for these children,» said Matsangouras, «because we have a moral and pedagogical duty to respond to the needs of these pupils and offer them education geared toward to their level. Otherwise, we put them into a school setting that is completely indifferent to them, and which often leads to psychological problems and even to them leaving school.» Locating such children is a difficult process that requires specialized staff (teachers and psychologists), and evaluation by their teachers, school advisers and parents. Once it is established that a pupil is intellectually gifted as well as psychologically and socially mature, Matsangouras suggests that they be enrolled early in the first year of primary school (though not before the age of 5). Older pupils can be promoted one or even two grades in exceptional cases. But no child should be placed in a class with pupils who are more than 18 months their senior. Another option is to have reception classes for intellectually gifted children, so they can study with their peers but join a special class for some hours a day. Matsangouras does not recommend creating independent classes or schools for the gifted. In reception classes – which would have to run first on a trial basis – the role of a specially trained teacher is crucial. And additional, enriched educational material needs to be prepared. Pavlos Haramis, president of the research center of the OLME senior high school teachers’ union, does not support special treatment for intellectually gifted children, he told Kathimerini. Haramis believes schools should be organized in such a way that they can deal with all pupils – gifted or not – in the same class. «The correct way is to adapt teaching and learning to all children according to their individual needs,» he said.