Educating the Gifted (and the place of information and communication technologies)

This morning, I was involved in an outreach to the School for the Gifted in Gwagwalada on the outskirts of Abuja. It was most exhilarating to finally be in a school for the gifted. I had learnt about gifted children in educational psychology classes at college and the imperative for providing them with specialised educational opportunities which are tailored to enable them achieve their full potential. However, I have never been to one of such schools until today, so being in this school was quite naturally, a very important (and exciting) exposure for me.

Gifted children are marked by their exceptional aptitude and academic performance, and owing to the special attention they require, it became imperative to make provisions for specific curriculum for them. This kind of specialised education became formalised in Nigeria in the 1970s and was contained in the 1981 national education policy, and targeted both gifted and children with special needs. It is noteworthy that selective recruitment of exceptional and talented children might have begun much earlier in Nigeria in the 20th century.

As we alighted from the bus, the first thing that caught my attention was a Schoolnet sign post. I walked-up to the designated block and saw that many computers were in the room but it was under lock-and-keys (I wonder if this was temporary or it was permanently locked, and it will be quite disappointing if the latter were the case). I first heard about Schoolnet in 2003 at a UNESCO Forum in Kaduna and later referred to it in my presentations at various fora. This particular Schoolnet centre was supported by Multi-choice (a South African Satellite TV company operating in Nigeria) and is an example of how the private sector can support Nigeria’s educational development processes. I am wondering whatever happened to the adopt-a-school programme initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education, as ICT support by the private sector could be a key component of such an endeavour. Learning from this Schoolnet project could serve as a model and galvanise such partnerships towards the development of the education sector.

I am an IT enthusiast (though not a particularly good user!), and I have always used IT as a tool to advance my work. In 2003, I worked (with other young people) to mobilize youth from over 100 countries to work together to promote the youth profile at the XV International AIDS Conference held in Thailand a year later (2004) through an online forum. During the same year, I was involved in a seminar to mobilize computers for the Rivers State College of Education, where I was a student, and to raise awareness of ICT among the students and staff. In 2004, I developed and launched an IT Counselling initiative in Port Harcourt which was used to provide anonymous counselling to vulnerable individuals. I believe in the potential that ICT provides for young people in a society like ours, and certainly one place for such ICT facilities should be a school for the gifted.

The politicisation of access to schools for the gifted in the 80s and 90s certainly compromised the aims for their creation (particularly the institution of a quota system by the National Planning Committee on Education for the Gifted and Talented Children in Nigeria in 1986). Nevertheless, if fully supported the current generation of talented and gifted children could be Nigeria’s next generation of ‘geniuses’. What is not clear however, is the modality through which this aim will be achieved. Do we really need ‘special schools’? Where does this fit within discourses of inclusive education? Should we rather focus on providing personalised educational services to ensure that the needs of individual kids are met? What about closing the teacher student ratio by employing and training teachers?

This would require investments in and innovative use of learning tools and novel methodologies of recognising and supporting outstanding students and those with special needs. It also requires the development of measurement tools or the adaptation of existing ones. The reinvigoration of processes to meet children’s special needs is one that states should take the lead on and like TVET (technical vocational education and training, which I will write about in the future), this should be a major priority for education policy making.

This article was originally posted at http://www.blog.developmentpartnership.org in 2007

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