The Current

Are gifted classes necessary?

Some Canadian school boards may soon do away with specialized classes for gifted students. While some parents are upset, critics argue gifted classes are elitists and research suggests students in gifted classes do just as well in regular classrooms.
'The whole kind of experience that children get in gifted programs needs to be brought to the regular class,' says Gordon Porter, director of Inclusive Education Canada. (Phil Roeder/flickr cc)

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The Ottawa Carleton school board is considering eliminating some specialized classes for the gifted and putting those students into regular classrooms.  

A report on the Ottawa board's gifted program suggests boys were over-represented in the gifted classes, as were kids whose parents could pay for private psychological testing.

But parents of kids in the gifted program say these classes are absolutely necessary. 

"It's all about having him in a learning environment where his social and emotional needs are met. Not just the academic ones," Julian Janes tells The Current's Friday host Dave Seglins.

His eight-year-old son Damian is gifted and in one of the programs that could be eliminated.

"There are lots of people I can actually relate with in my class," says Damian.  
Damian Janes is a gifted student in Ottawa. (Courtesy of Julian Janes)

Are gifted classes elitist?

Critics argue gifted programs are elitist, offering a level of education that is not available to kids in regular classrooms. But Julian rejects this.

"This is not about our kids at all being better, or worthy of more. Not at all," says Julian.

"This is about all kids having a right to reach their own potential ... and every child has a right to be in a classroom where their social and emotional needs are met."

But advocates for inclusive education say regular classrooms can meet the needs of all children, including the gifted and those with learning disabilities. 

"The problem is the resources that could be used to support teachers to do these things are going to standalone special ed programs," says Gordon Porter, director of Inclusive Education Canada.

"Every time you take a child out [of the regular classroom] ... you weaken the resources available to strengthen the core of our public education system." Porter tells Seglins.

"The whole kind of experience that children get in gifted programs needs to be brought to the regular class, and we should eliminate gifted classes and testing for gifted altogether."

'[Gifted students] need to see themselves in the people around them'

Principal Hal Curties of the Westmount Charter School in Calgary — a school for the gifted — argues gifted kids in regular classrooms can often mean social isolation.

"[Gifted students] need to see themselves in the people around them, and often times in an inclusive setting with all the best intentions these kids don't have peers in the classroom." 

Curties tells Seglins that often times gifted kids are misunderstood.

"The myth that they'll be fine if we leave them alone is really the number one myth about gifted kids."

"They will look like they're fine but they're not really fine."

Listen to the full conversation.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith.