Our brightest kids are being left to fend for themselves

May 8, 2018 by

By Cynthia Fenton –

Last week Gonski 2.0 promised to overhaul Australian kids’ learning, again. This week it’s all cursing over NAPLAN, the only compulsory tests our kids do to give us some idea of how they’re tracking individually, and as a group. With all the noise, anyone would think we were resurrecting the cane. But as in typical laid-back Australian style, we are simply in denial that our children will be competing for jobs in the Asian century. If we were serious about our education, Australian kids would be NAPLAN-ing four times a year.

How did we get here? Gonski 1.0 brought increased support for learners at risk needing specialised classroom support. But there remains little funding for classrooms that are unprepared for talented kids at the other end of the bell curve.

Fortunately for the teacher, bright kids can often work with little approval or guidance. In reality they are left to cruise along and fend for themselves. It is a disgrace that those who are academically gifted or even just talented and hardworking are disparaged for their success.

We all know of kids who are accelerated up the football grades to play in a harder team. Next thing they’re training 20 hours a week, on track for an international sports career. Our community backs these kids in a heartbeat and mainstream schools make exceptions for them all the way. If talents in the arts and sports are supported beyond the classroom, then why wouldn’t academically talented kids thrive on the same?

A bright child in the preschool years often presents as the precocious one. They have an excellent command of spoken vocabulary, comprehension beyond their years and speak two or more languages with ease. They are the kid building adult Technic Lego at four and are motivated to learn. They absorb new information about anything, the first time.

Keeping up with these kids is actually really hard work. Just ask their exhausted parents who are raising an intense and often emotionally demanding very bright child. Teachers need to know and care to seek out these children. They require assistance and time support to extend them, and training to identify the “sleeping gifted”, those who aren’t from families that encourage a love of learning. With all the talk of “differentiation”, it is the strugglers that are well catered for, not those who crave knowledge from the start.

We dismiss talented children with the perception that “they will always be OK” at our peril. Unless these children are extended early, their boredom quickly turns to disruptive behaviour. These children’s anger is palpable. They don’t understand why they are left to educate themselves by a teacher who is supposedly the expert in their field.

Children flourish when an adult welcomes their curiosity and recognises that they are prepared to commit to a high standard of learning. And both the teacher and the student have the support of the parent all the way.

Selective schools provide the learning environment academically talented and hardworking kids need. For primary aged children that are three years ahead in maths or up to their fifth language, the external coaching college is their only option. This is an argument for academic selective schooling to begin at the primary school level. Gifted children in the classical arts and sport are often identified by age 10. The challenge for Gonski 2.0 is to cater for the academically talented student. In the meantime, coaching colleges will fill the current education gap and NAPLAN tests will come and go.

Cynthia Fenton is a high school teacher in the humanities and performing arts.

Source: Our brightest kids are being left to fend for themselves

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