Educating the Gifted & Talented: Reality or Chimera? An insight into the Lebanese education system

With #PEDAGOGY & #AL-Fayhaa Association

 Farah El-Halawani wrote :

Some children are blessed at birth with a gift that distinguishes them from the rest of the population. It is however the interplay of several external and internal factors that determines the fate of the gifted student population. They are either fortunate to get involved in programs that support the development of their gifts into talents, or they suffer cognitively, socially, and emotionally, and remain cursed for life. This article explores some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Lebanese education system and presents strategies that could possibly close the achievement gap between culturally and economically diverse gifted learners.

 

The State of Gifted Education in Lebanon

 

Within the immensely diverse student population at Lebanese schools, stakeholders tend to focus on intellectually high achievers who are offered informal enrichment programs to challenge them past their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978).  The other students however, underachievers and moderate achievers, are automatically opted out of these programs because they do not have the academic record (i.e. grades and reputation) that qualifies them for participation. Hence, they feel alienated and demotivated which impacts the optimal development of their natural abilities.

 

Evidently, Lebanese school settings favor bright students who excel in all disciplines and teachers are very conventional, do not encourage differing behaviors, and are not equipped with strategies to nurture the needs of advanced learners. Indeed, situational research findings corroborate that Lebanese primary teachers are not aware of the practices which are effective in identifying gifted and talented learners (Antoun, 2016). Despite the fact that teachers are not trained to identify and provide services for the gifted, they have expressed their desire to receive assistance and attend trainings to better understand and cater for the diverse gifted student population (Sarouphim, 2015). Whether exceptionally gifted, underachieving gifted, or twice exceptional, gifted and talented learners deserve to be appropriately identified and involved in programs that ensure their cognitive, social, and emotional development.

It is evident that the Lebanese education system necessitates a lot of founding effort to establish suitable programs grounded in current research for gifted and talented learners. Essentially, the movement towards changing conventional paradigms rooted in common myths and misconceptions that hamper understanding and acceptance of the gifted and talented requires the active engagement of advocates and professionals to induce transformative learning among the community. In fact, more studies should be conducted in the Lebanese context to create an enabling medium for the growth of abilities and the development of talents. School stakeholders should be aware that gifted learners are characterized by their asynchronous development and autotelic personality which makes them greatly resilient in face of challenges and highly efficient in solving problems (Renzulli, 2012). This implies that enabling environments that focus equally on cognitive and non-cognitive skills should be constructed to allow gifted learners to develop to their full potentials. Therefore, teachers should not be reluctant in testing and duly placing gifted learners in educational programs.

From Fables to Spherecards: modifying the current state

 

Determining identification procedures is an essential step towards establishing elaborate programs for the gifted and talented. Researchers need to examine the diverse gifted and talented population present in Lebanon to create a bank of strengths which should be used as a benchmark for subsequent phases of development.

 

Factually, Lebanon is an active hub in the MENA region attracting millions of refugees who have fled their homes due to civil war and other living shortcomings. Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, has been a central point for Syrian and Palestinian refugees, in addition to its local inhabitants who altogether experience financial issues, violence due to unemployment, and instability due to the deteriorating political situation. Clearly, the Lebanese education system has to cater for all these groups of learners who underachieved or were forced to drop out of school, but still deserve to be academically challenged and nurtured up to their full potentials regardless of these adversities. It must be acknowledged however that proper identification of strengths takes into consideration learners’ multipotentiality, refrains from steering and directing passion areas towards normative and traditional domains, and allows for the exploration of multiple pathways before learners decide to focus and specialize in one or more talent areas (Gross, 2006).

 

To reflect back on the state of gifted education in Lebanon, although there are clear policies and regulations regarding special education (learners with intellectual and physical disabilities) that call for their inclusion and the provision of continual support and nurture of their disabilities, gifted and talented learners are excluded from these policies. Therefore, the advocates of gifted education should set clear goals, have an understanding of what is possible to change about the current state, establish a rationale and a long-term plan detailing the characteristics of gifted and talented learners and explaining why they need continuous challenge to be successful.

 

Notably, teachers and parents are essential contributors to the quality of gifted programs, hence the growing need to train them to enhance their self-efficacy and reliability. Correspondingly, because most of the cognitive development occurs before school-age, parents are actually more successful at identifying gifted milestones (e.g. abstract reasoning, sense of humor, intense curiosity, speech precocity, literacy precocity) that will not be expressed in a classroom where children learn to conform to peer pressure and mask their abilities. Thus, a mutual partnership between school and home needs to be established to increase validity of teachers and parents’ estimation of abilities.

 

Biography

Farah El-Halawani is a postgraduate student at The University of New South Wales. She has an MA in Curriculum Design and Educational Management and is currently specializing in Gifted Education. She works with Al-Fayhaa Association and PEDAGOGY to transform communities through Education.

Farah can be contacted at:

farah.helwani@pedagogycenter.com 

alfayhaa.association@gmail.com

and welcomes any questions.

 

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