Enabling gifted children to reach their potential in Uganda
Jane Antonia Ichapo
Gifted or talented children are those children who are outside and above the range of ‘average’ learners. They often need individualised attention and support. Yet many teachers think inclusive education means providing only for individual needs related to a disability, chronic illness or other disadvantages. Little is thought about gifted children; they are often not recognised in the classroom or at home. This article draws attention to gifted children in Uganda and highlights how to ensure they are not excluded from regular classrooms.
Most teachers feel gifted children do not need special attention and they may give them tasks far below their capabilities. Such children are often misunderstood, considered rebellious, disobedient and disruptive, as they attempt to relieve their boredom, express themselves, quench their curiosity and exercise their creativity. They become frustrated and emotionally stressed, lose interest in learning, and even drop out of school – their potential remains undiscovered and unused in their communities. Therefore, teachers need to become more sensitive towards gifted learners when planning their teaching methods and differentiating their learning materials, and thus developing responsive learning environments for all learners.
“He was the most active, always full of unending questions and energy.”
This is how Jacintha, Okoden’s mother, described him. Okoden is her fourth of six children. His father nicknamed him ‘Obebera’, meaning eager for everything. Halfway through primary school he started to show signs of withdrawal and his attendance became irregular. He would say: “I am not going to school today” and “Sometimes I like school, sometimes not. Home is good and I do many things I like.” His grades always varied from high to below average.
In the middle of grade 6 Okoden completely refused to go to school. “Our efforts to convince him were fruitless. Nevertheless, he is doing well. He is the master planner in our household, without him there would be chaos.” said Jacintha.
My own experience – Otingole’s story
As a teacher Okoden’s story makes me ask:
“What is it that the school and the teacher did not offer Okoden? Did the teacher try to identify and understand his needs? Was Okoden helped to see the relevance of school life?”
My first teaching job was in a poorly developed area; its inhabitants were low educational achievers. I taught a grade 5 class and met Otingole, a 12-yearold pupil. He was notorious in the school. He fought with older boys and there was a plan to take him away to a remand home. Every year he was bottom of the class and was advised to repeat the year, but he would just move to the next level.
I started by building a rapport with Otingole. The head-teacher and other teachers wondered how I managed to get his respect and obedience. Not even his parents could achieve that. In the classroom I would always recognise and praise the slightest improvement from Otingole, even when this was not as good as other children. I remember coaching him to recite a poem I had written about the value of education. When he presented this on Parents’ Day, he was a star! Under my guidance he became a prefect in charge of the library. This was a magical moment for him and by the end of grade 5 Otingole beat 10 children in the end of year examinations. Grade 6 was a year of hard work for him. I was transferred to another school, but later heard that he made it through school and became a qualified teacher himself. Otingole was later tragically killed during rebel activities in the north of the country.
How to help gifted and talented children
Teachers are rarely taught how to teach gifted children. Yet these children need to be taught by teachers who understand them, give them welldesigned tasks, and stimulate and stretch their intellect.
Children working together
Based on my experience, I have the following advice for teachers:
- Don’t just teach for the ‘average’ learner: all children can learn and every child has his/her own ‘special’ characteristics and needs.
- Develop lesson plans with different levels of activities (‘differentiated learning’), presented in a logical order for every type of learner.
- Use interactive approaches. Open-ended questions help children to think critically, creatively and laterally; gifted children can often take a discussion a step further.
- Respect your pupils and be a role model, this can stimulate a desire for life-long learning.
- Encourage learning beyond the classroom, e.g., school clubs, sports, music/dance or science clubs. Listen to and help gifted children to express their interests and talents and support them to achieve their full potential.
- Link learning to children’s daily lives; build on what they already know, so they understand the relevance of education and attending school.
- Promote social interaction and peer-to-peer learning in the classroom so that children learn to work together and depend on each other. This helps address discrimination in the classroom and promote sharing of experiences, ideas, problems, etc. Sometimes gifted children can help teachers to help other children, but it is important that all children help one another and that teachers recognise the strengths in every child.
Jane Antonia Ichapo is a tutor at St. Mary’s Primary Teacher College, Bukedea, Uganda. Contact Jane at:
St. Mary’s Primary Teachers’ College,
P.O Box 690