The definition of a gifted child is regarded as the most appropriate point for the planning of their education. It is an internationally accepted notion that a definition of this nature should include all children who consistently perform at an exceptionally high level in any worthwhile field of endeavor covering scholastic and cultural activities.
Everybody is gifted in the sense that he or she excels in others in certain areas, therefore, it is difficult to define giftedness. Even mentally retarded children can be gifted, for instance, those that can sit down in a place for hours without abandoning or whose place is gifted.
How giftedness is defined
There are many definitions of giftedness in the literature and one of them quoted by Heward and Orlansky (1980) states:
‘Gifted and talented children means children, and whenever applicable, youth who are identified at the preschool, elementary, or secondary level as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of high-performance capacity in areas such as intellectual, creative, specific, academic or leadership ability, or the performing and visual arts, and who by reason thereof require services or activities out ordinarily provided by the school.’
Withly (1972) defined the gifted as those whose performance in any valuable line of human activity is consistently or repeatedly remarkable.
Agreeing with this same philosophy, public law 81-230 section 506 of the United States defines the gifted as follows:
Gifted and Talented children are identified by a qualified person who is well-professional and who by virtue of understanding abilities, is capable of high performance.
These children require programmed educational programs and services beyond those normally provided by the reprogramming program to realize their contribution to self and society.
Giftedness is a multidimensional concept and for our purpose, we may regard it as consisting of three major categories:
Intellectual giftedness denotes the possession of potential intellectual powers at a high level in productive and evaluative thinking.
Talent refers to special aptitude in practical areas of humanities such as music, creative arts, sports, and manipulation of mechanical devices. Creativity is the capacity to reflect on past experiences and use them to provide new ideas and products.
Contributory Factors and Prevalence of Giftedness
Evidence from some longitudinal studies and the study of outstanding individuals has led to the conclusion that giftedness has a genetic basis.
A study of seven hundred identical twins and five hundred fraternal twins reported by Nichols (1965) found very high correlations to justly his conclusion that up to 70% of performance in gifted children is due to heredity.
There is also considerable evidence of the importance of the environment. The influence of the parents, teachers, and the school is also very important.
On the part of the gifted individual, willingness to invest time, and effort and the ability to learn new things rapidly are very important.
Mba (1995) has suggested that we base our estimates of intellectually gifted children in Nigeria between 3 and 5 percent of our school-age population.
This is similar to earlier estimates made for American children by experts in the field.
Characteristics of the Gifted
Attempts have been made to identify the peculiar characteristics of the gifted. Uyanwa (1996) has stated that gifted and talented persons are generally superior physically when compared with their counterparts.
Indeed, at birth, they are usually heavier in weight and they reach developmental milestones earlier than other children. Intellectual characteristics include the ability to learn to read before the age of three years.
They are curious and learn rapidly and easily. Socially, they are said to be happy, honest, and trustworthy and are willing to help others. Such qualities, as it is believed, make them good social leaders.
Identification of the Gifted and Talented
The process of identifying gifted persons is not an easy one. The procedure used to identify children is determined by the type of gift we are concerned with.
For instance, the method used to identify intellectually gifted children is different from that used for identifying talented football players. Mba (1995) has suggested the use of a combination of the following measures:
Educational Programmes for Gifted Children
Once gifted children have been identified, they can be assisted to reach their maximum potential through some educational procedures.
Adesokan (1987) identified the four procedures as home tutoring, acceleration, enrichment, and special classes. The role of the parents in the identification and nurturing of giftedness cannot be over-emphasized.
Alvine (1987) stressed the need for parents of gifted children to provide a nurturing home environment, sensibility to the child’s uniqueness, and plenty of opportunities for the child’s self-discovery.
Home tutoring is one means by which this could be achieved. Where the parents do not have much time to spare or do not have the necessary skills required, they could employ a tutor for their gifted child.
Another procedure is through acceleration of the gifted child’s formal education. This could be achieved either through early enrolment or by allowing the child to skip classes. Arguments can be from the literature in favor and against such practices.
However, Reynolds (1962) in a review of research and practices on early school admission of mentally advanced children concluded that such practices are to the advantage of such children.
The procedure of educating gifted children by giving them advanced work while retaining them in the same class with their peers through vertical and horizontal enrichment of the curriculum has been attempted and found to be feasible.
This calls for the individualization of instruction which requires that the teacher be very versatile and willing to encourage the gifted child to proceed at his own pace.
Where the resources are available, gifted children may be enrolled in special classes where they are provided with appropriate facilities and specially trained teachers to enable them to pursue their lines of interest and develop their potential to the maximum limit.
Finally, special schools which may be residential and where specially trained staff are available may be set up. The Suleja Academic is a good example.