Associate Professor Tracy Riley PhD, specialist in gifted education at Massey University in New Zealand, was passing through Ireland last week and we met her for coffee and a chat. Tracy hails originally from Mississippi but has been living and teaching in New Zealand for almost 20 years. It was a pleasure to meet her and very interesting to hear first hand, about the situation for gifted students in New Zealand.
Firstly, gifted and talented students are officially recognised under National Administration Guidelines. In 2004/5, the Ministry of Education Gifted and Talented Policy Advisory Group actively contributed to policy, funding, and initiatives established to provide for the identification and support of gifted learners in schools. There was professional learning and development for teachers, networking for schools, talent development programmes and all sorts. Unfortunately, since then things seem to have stagnated. Funding has been cut, the G&T Policy Advisory Group disbanded and, in the move to inclusion, it seems that the gifted and talented are no longer recognised as a group requiring particular provision. Until recently, Tracy taught dedicated gifted education modules to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Although these were some of the most popular electives amongst students, they are no longer offered. Giftedness, as all other special educational needs, is now simply covered as part of the general syllabus rather than as a distinct entity.
So, although in theory things in New Zealand are certainly further along than in Ireland, in practice we share some common problems. For an interesting account of the state of gifted education in New Zealand, here is a paper co-authored by Tracy Riley in 2013. It is somewhat disheartening to know that, despite having a Professor of Gifted Education of the calibre of Tracy Riley, and despite such promise back in 2005, gaining recognition and support for gifted students is still an uphill battle. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to meet such an important person in the international field of gifted education and to benefit from her experience. We would like to thank her sincerely for giving us so much of her time.
If you would like to hear Tracy talk about her experience as a gifted student herself, and her journey to New Zealand, here’s a nice video.