Gifted Children Get Ignored in School Despite Huge Future Contribution to Society

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Are exceptionally gifted children being failed by the education system?

The authors of the largest ever study of the profoundly gifted question whether the education system is providing enough support for highly talented young people.

The US study, published in the journal Psychological Science, identified gifted children by their SAT scores, which placed them in the top 0.01% of the population, either in maths or verbal scores (Hill et al., 2013).

The 320 children were tracked from the age of 13, until they were 38, to see how they did in their chosen professions.

Notable careers

As you might expect, the exceptionally gifted children were more likely to gain Master’s degrees and PhDs, compared with less gifted children.

Many also went on to have notable careers: they wrote books, composed music, started companies, conducted scientific research, became senior business leaders, and excelled in other worthy occupations.

Even at age 13 it was possible to see in which direction exceptionally children might head:

“…mathematically more able individuals tended to focus on achievement in inorganic fields [e.g. computer science, engineering], whereas verbally more able individuals tended to invest their talent in organic fields [e.g. the arts, social sciences, education]; incorporating motivational dimensions, such as interests in people versus things…” (Hill et al., 2013)

Nurturing talent

However, the thing which stood out for the authors, based on previous research, is the roadblocks which gifted students often face in the education system.

Instead of flourishing, they argue, extra skills are often wasted as educators automatically move their focus to other less talented pupils.

The study’s lead author, Harrison Kell, explained:

“There’s this idea that gifted students don’t really need any help. This study shows that’s not the case. These people with very high IQs–what some have called the ‘scary smart’–will do well in regular classrooms, but they still won’t meet their full potential unless they’re given access to accelerated coursework, AP classes and educational programs that place talented students with their intellectual peers…”

They argue that talented children need to be placed in environments that challenge them, so that they can fulfil their true potential:

“…adolescents with extraordinary talent in mathematical and verbal reasoning profit from learning environments that present abstract-symbolic material at a level and pace commensurate with the atypical rates at which these students learn.” (Hill et al., 2013).

These types of environments are much more likely to increase the psychological well-being of exceptional students and help them achieve more in the future.

If exceptional students are our future, why do many societies automatically provide extra help for those with learning difficulties, but not for those with exceptional learning facilities?

Image credit: Thomas Hawk

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 9 January 2014

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