When Pavel Špryňar’s son started speaking in coherent sentences at the age of just six months and was able to read when he was two years old, the parents were sure: We have a young genius at home.
“We went for a walk once and our son started fluently reading notices in the neighbourhood,” Špryňar said. “We did not teach him letters: He learned them on his own. At that moment we started thinking how difficult it will be to develop his talent.” However, the parents of the gifted child did not have many choices.
“There are not many schools in the Czech Republic that would focus on gifted children,” he said. “We had to therefore pay for our son’s talent in the private primary school, Cesta k úspěchu (Road to Success), which is the only school in the Czech Republic that specializes in teaching gifted children.”
According to a recent study by the National Institute of Children and Youth, the Czech Republic ranks among the states in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development with no scheme on how to educate talented youngsters.
“The study showed that there is no conceptual approach to the gifted in the ČR,” according to researchers, who examined approaches to teaching talented pupils in several European countries. “No monitoring regarding the need of supporting the gifted has been made. Extra payments for gifted pupils are not allowed.”
More money is needed
The authors of the study give several examples of areas in which the Czech Republic is falling behind: The Education Ministry has no exact concept how to support geniuses, for example. Moreover, subsidies allocated by the state to schools per pupil do not take into account whether the child is “normal” or a genius. And a gifted child can become a “brilliant brain” in adulthood and boost the economy.
“The ministry intends to spend more money on the gifted ones,” Education, Youth and Sports Ministry spokeswoman Kateřina Böhmová said, adding that the ministry would like to find more money in the budget for assistants who would help teachers of geniuses. “A gifted pupil needs an individual approach and tools similar to pupils with disabilities. However, the solution is not special classes for the gifted children: They should be part of a normal group of children, but the teacher should pay more attention to them.” Such practice has been working very well in Finland, where students achieve the best results on the international level.
The study shows that the most important thing for educating talented children is teachers, who should also be able to advise the parents on how to develop the aptitudes of their geniuses. The survey has shown that 85% of teachers in the Czech Republic are able to identify a gifted child.
“We make it possible for gifted children to study two years at once,” said Ivo Mlejnecký, the principal of the Letohradská primary school. “However, ensuring an individual approach to pupils is also about money – and there is not enough of it.” The study shows that half of Czech schools consider financial conditions very bad.
Good practice abroad
Teachers also have only a few opportunities to further educate gifted children. “Teachers are, for the most part, open to furthering their training to become better at identifying gifted students. But there is no comprehensive training system and no financial incentives,” the analysis says.
If special classes or schools for gifted pupils come to exist in the Czech Republic, then it won’t be on the ministry’s initiative, but thanks to teachers or parents. “Parents saw no other way to help their gifted children, so a private school for the gifted came to exist from their initiative,” said Zdeňka Dostálová, the principal of the Cesta k úspěchu primary school.
The Czech Republic could take inspiration from abroad. In Great Britain the government finances the Young Gifted and Talented programme, which provides materials for teachers of talented children. “Leading teachers” from YG&T also help teachers directly in schools and make sure they are further educated. Moreover, the support of gifted children concerns every school.
Neighbouring Germany also has an interesting strategy. Like the Czech Republic, it organises national contests and holiday stays for talented children. However, schools for extraordinarily gifted pupils are common there, as well as scholarship programmes to improve their education. Slovakia is also doing better in this. If children do an excellent job in contests and educational Olympics, the school gets financial support. Some schools got as much as half a million Slovak crowns last year.
what needs to be improved
– The per-pupil state subsidy should take into consideration whether the child is “normal” or a genius. More money should then be paid for the individual approach of teachers and for tools for talented children. A special fund could be created for this.
– To ensure and finance courses for teachers so that they know how to treat gifted children, pedagogical faculties should also educate future teachers for work with young geniuses.
– Teachers should be methodically supported by the Education Ministry; they should be given some teaching guidelines.
– Teachers should have an assistant at their disposal to provide individual care for children. Group work with children in the class is recommended, talented children don’t get bored.