x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Search on to find gifted children for Abu Dhabi 2030

The problem, teachers and officials say, is that the tests for talented individuals were developed elsewhere - largely in the West - and are not appropriate to Emiratis.

ABU DHABI // The emirate's most gifted children will soon receive extra help to develop their full potential - but first, teachers need a way of singling out the children who would benefit most.

The problem, teachers and officials say, is that the tests for talented individuals were developed elsewhere - largely in the West - and are not appropriate to Emiratis.

This can result in the wrong children getting through, or allow parents to "game" the system by giving their offspring extra tuition.

Adam Hughes, the head of disability education at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), said the council was reviewing diagnostic tools.

"We are researching the best way to identify [gifted and talented children] in this region," he said.

Teachers said the psychometric tests used do not give a good assessment of Emirati children.

"We need to define intelligence in this culture and not use Western tests," said Simon Donges, the learning support coordinator at Al Nahda National School.

"Toefl [Test of English as a foreign language] is biased, other IQ tests are biased."

The approach to timed tests, for example, is very different. "Here we are not rushing - that doesn't go with the culture in the West. There, children are tested on speed."

Language can also be a problem, she said. "A child can answer very well on the non-verbal part, but not in the verbal - because English is not their first language. This does not mean they are any less than other people."

Not only that, exams are often culturally specific. "Some situations of scenarios in the exams are not recognisable to people in this area in the world. They would need to know about the culture, background and environment of the country the test is coming from to score well," she said.

Bridin Harnett, the guidance councillor at Al Nahda National School, wants the new exams to test children's creativity. "Through psychometric testing you will only discover pupils with high cognitive ability, not the creative ones."

Dr Clive Tunnicliffe, Adec's senior specialist in gifted and talented children, suggested that in the absence of useful tests, a less formal approach might work best, with teachers assessing their pupils.

"When students make responses to work, then we will get a culturally appropriate identification," he said.

Once children have been identified, they will be put through a new curriculum, with additional programmes aimed at keeping them engaged. These, though, are still being drawn up.

"Gifted and talented students need to contribute to Abu Dhabi vision 2030," said Dr Tunnicliffe.

"We need to support the aspirations of society - there is a wide range of talent that can emerge in society in different fields."

osalem@thenational.ae