Local child prodigies, their parents and those who work to teach and guide them will have a chance to liaise with international experts this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Conference on Giftedness at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
It is the first time in 12 years the conference, which is being organised by the Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance, has been held in an Arabian Gulf country.
The gifted child
A gifted child is generally considered to be one who has a higher than average intellectual, creative or artistic ability, beyond their physical development. But Dr Manahel Thabet, a member of the award's organising and scientific committee, steers clear of labels that can "limit by defining". Instead, those in the field try to focus on identifying such children and developing their potential.
"There are children who demonstrate high performance, or who have the potential to do so, and we have a responsibility to provide optimal educational experiences for talents to flourish in as many children as possible," she says.
The conference this weekend will tackle a host of issues, including whether and how to home-school gifted children, how to handle pressure to perform, how to protect and nurture the gifted and talented child and developing local programmes in which they can thrive.
The conference is being held in Dubai for the first time as part of an effort to bring the region's experts together, develop programmes for gifted children, present the latest research and, says Dr Thabet, to "raise awareness of the importance of gifted education at the local, state and national levels".
With the recent introduction of new programmes and awards by the UAE Ministry of Education, teachers are encouraged to obtain the necessary certification to teach gifted students, according to Thabet. "Last month, we witnessed the graduation of the third batch of giftedness teachers, 18 females and two males," she says.
The conference will bring together 1,500 delegates from 45 Arab and Asian countries, as well as Australia, alongside families, children and teachers. Among them will be Thabet, believed to be the only Arab to have earned a doctorate in financial engineering and an active member of Mensa International. Her research in quantum mathematics has attracted the attention of Nasa and various US universities.
Some of the speakers include Dr Howard Gardner, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the senior director of Harvard Project Zero, and Dr Albert Ziegler, the chair of educational psychology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.
Dr Ziegler has published 350 books, chapters and articles in the fields of talent development, excellence, educational psychology and cognitive psychology and is secretary general of the International Research Association for Talent Development and Excellence.
Help for parents
Joining the conference will give parents in the UAE rare access to resources and a chance to network with a cross-section of experts in the field. Gifted children can sometimes have a hard time fitting in with their more average peers. And it is not unusual, Thabet adds, that a parent of a highly gifted student can at times feel isolated as well.
Among the root causes of this isolation, she says, is the absence of education and training for parents, which can leave them feeling that they lack the knowledge they need to handle and develop a gifted child.
"But if it's identified and treated, they can merge into society and have no social issues at all," says Thabet. "This conference can help connect them to a network to reduce this sense of isolation."
Saturday until July 18, ICEC, Dubai. For details, visit www.giftedness2012.com