Everyone in gifted education in New Zealand will have been thrilled at the news that the new Government is planning to provide funding for gifted education. This has been a greatly neglected area, for as long as any of us can remember. Some funding was made available after the Ministerial Working Party in the early years of this century, and this had a significant impact, helping to lift awareness amongst teachers. But it was still limited in amount and duration, and since then, there has been very, very little funding available. So this is extraordinarily good news – and it wasn’t even a public campaign promise!
As yet we do not know how this funding is to be allocated. It is to be hoped the Government and the Ministry will consult with experts in the field before making any decisions – and if you have an opportunity to air your voice, please do so! But meanwhile there are four clear areas where support is needed:
Each of these areas has specifics attached. For example, funding for programmes includes both out-of-school programmes and programmes within schools, and within schools that is likely to have other requirements - there are of course various ways of arranging this and all have administrative and resourcing implications. Research might benefit from a coordinated overview, not limiting individual research interests, but ensuring priorities are identified and addressed. Support for parents means ensuring that no gifted child is denied help because parents can't afford an assessment by an appropriately qualified expert and/or can't afford counselling which is sometimes very necessary for gifted children struggling to cope with the consequences of their differences from other children.
All of these areas are vitally necessary. BUT we will not make real progress in this area until we address the fundamental issue for gifted education in New Zealand - our comprehensive failure over many, many years to ensure our classroom teachers and our school managements are knowledgeable and skilled in this area.
It is an absolute measure of our failure to value or care for our gifted children that our teachers, our cousellors, our educational psychologists – none of them – routinely are educated in the knowledge and skills required, not only to identify, but also to understand and support these youngsters. The teachers who do come to us or seek other professional development in this field deserve praise for recognising their own needs in this area – but so often they do so paying out of their own pockets and working in their own time.
This has to change. In other words, whatever else we do, professional development is central to our hopes for these children and must be part of the promised new Government initiative.
Wherever you make representation to MPs or Ministry or even to your own school management and professional networks, please mention all the four areas above, but help us to emphasise the most basic need of all, training our teachers.