While there’s no universally agreed definition for 'gifted and talented' in schools (and in the UK, for example, it’s been widely replaced with the terminology ‘more able’), it’s a term that broadly applies to those students who are more advanced than their peers. They may be in the top 2% of their school for maths or science, have an IQ above 130, an advanced intellectual aptitude, or an exceptional talent in music, art or sport.
As Jacob Martin, Deputy Head at Dulwich College (Singapore), says:
“The definition of a gifted and talented student or a ‘high potential learner’ has three broad areas of definition. Able students show significant academic ability in one subject area; Gifted students are significantly more able academically in one or more subjects and Talented students are more able artistically, in sports, music or in performance.
“However, we recognise that there is no such thing as a typical able, gifted and talented student and the title covers a diverse group of students with a range of attainment some will be academically successful and others not. Passion and commitment are the truly defining characteristic.”
For these students, the ceiling needs to be set that bit higher for them to reach their full potential. With many gifted and talented students being ‘non-typical learners’ they often require a non-typical education, one that provides greater challenge in lessons, enrichment in extra-curricular activities, and opportunities to extend their talents to the very highest level.
Schools vary on when and how they support students who are ‘more able’ or ‘high achievers’, and what works for one gifted or talented student may not always work for another.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com looks at the gifted and talented programmes offered at international schools within Singapore – and asks how they can meet a child’s unique learning, social and emotional needs.
Children who show academic potential and individual talents can be identified early, from as young as four years old at some schools.
Many schools use the CAT4 test, one of the world's most widely use cognitive ability tests to identify if a student is achieving, or has the ability to achieve, at a significantly higher level than their peers; a mean score of 125-plus will indicate if a child’s cognitive ability is beyond that of their age-appropriate level. This is used alongside data from external progress tests, teacher assessments, conversations with parents, and discussions with the children themselves.
Mr Martin explains how Dulwich College (Singapore) identifies students with a particular gift or talent.
“For us the identification of students can come, of course, from academic aptitude on occasion but usually it is a child’s passion for an area of the programme which identifies them. Students really self-identify by appearing in all of the theatre productions and seeking even more opportunities to do so. By being the orchestra lead and also wishing to perform across the Island or by representing Singapore for sports as well as captaining our first X1 football team!”
Parents will often be the first to spot if their child learns rapidly, has an extensive vocabulary, an excellent memory for numbers or an exceptional musical talent. Parents can help identify a gifted and talented child by observing their child’s activities outside of school, and may be encouraged to support and respect their child’s interests.
Mr Martin at Dulwich College (Singapore) explains why.
“Research shows that, particularly with gifted students, academic success is not guaranteed; quite often, boredom and low motivation is more likely to be the characteristic which can lead to poor engagement or even poor behaviour.
"It is essential to engage directly with these students and discuss their relationships with the subject or the activity they are exceptional in and then to co design a programme for their advancement.”
Gifted and talented children learn at a much faster pace than their peers, which means they need to be challenged and supported to help them reach their full potential. It’s not simply about giving these students more work within the classroom; instead schools are giving them opportunities to take part in competitions, independent projects and extension tasks that recognise their abilities.
Specialist gifted and talented programme also offer these students an opportunity to socialise with like-minded children and have a sense of belonging that may be missing in the classroom.
We take a look at how four international schools in Singapore are offering gifted and talented students a unique learning paths.
Winner of the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com (Singapore) Best Schools Award 2022 for Best School for the Arts (Highly Commended for Best School for Sport), Dulwich College (Singapore) delivers an interesting and diverse education that stretches and challenges students of all ages – and has several programmes in place to champion students’ potential in all areas.
For example, the Ignite! programme creates opportunities for high performers to thrive and excel across the curriculum – not just in academics, but the arts and sport too. “High potential learners” are stretched and “challenge is championed” across the school; there’s a huge choice of CCAs for to provide enrichment (choir, techsperts, maths club, yoga, mindfulness or sports clubs from as young as two); various opportunities to lead (student council, house captains etc); and curriculum enrichment focusing on entrepreneurship, public speaking, coding and more.
Jacob Martin, Deputy Head at Dulwich College (Singapore), says:
“For gifted students we have enrichment in particular subject areas. Rather than accelerating children, we prefer to focus on more conceptually challenging content and unfamiliar contexts for learning to happen, which delivers breadth and depth. This is usually combined with competitive opportunities at a school, national or international level.
“We also have our flagship Ignite programme for a small number of students with outstanding ability and commitment in either sports, music or the performing arts. Students in the Ignite programme receive a bespoke programme of activities curated by a teacher who is their mentor.
"The programme deliberately develops these highly talented students by providing opportunities beyond what we as a school can offer, for example with collaborations with professionals in a particular field, leadership opportunities and additional activities to feed their passion in their chosen area.”
Known internationally as being selective and strong on academic attainment, North London Collegiate School (NLCS) opened its all-through campus in Singapore with the aim of being one of the most academically rigorous schools in the city-state. Winner of the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com (Singapore) Best Schools Award 2022 for Best New School, NLCS Singapore is niche, and only the most academically able students looking for an academically focused school will make it past its strict selection process.
Based on the traditions and practices of North London Collegiate School, UK, the curriculum here is designed to promote an atmosphere of scholarship and subject specialism here. Principal Paul Friend says:
"It has been wonderful to see how readily the NLCS ethos has become embedded into our school culture. The academic enrichment programme – whether the McCabe lectures, the seminar programme or the ongoing development of academic societies – is already a major strength of the school."
As one of only a few schools in Singapore to offer an inclusive education, Winstedt has a highly regarded reputation for specialising in differentiated learning for diverse learners. Its curriculum includes The Curie-Einstein Programme, which supports students who are “twice-exceptional,” also referred to as “2e,”; these students have the characteristics of gifted students with the potential for high achievement and give evidence of one or more learning disorder/s.
The school has a very nurturing learning environment with a focus on emotional wellbeing, low teacher to student ratio (1:7), and a support team for each student.
CEO Ann Yom Steel says:
"Unlike traditional international schools, The Winstedt School does not automatically assume all children of a given age are working at the same academic level. Instead, Winstedt looks at each student as an individual and places him or her into a year level based on a variety of factors including social and emotional development, learning profile, and academic skills."
Australian International School (AIS) is the Winner of the WhichSchoolAdvisor (Singapore) Best Schools Award 2022 for Best School for Sport, in part for offering opportunities for the highest performing athletes to be stretched and challenged and to mix with other elite athletes.
Here’s a school that invests in coaching and development for students with a talent for sport. Its non-sports-specific programme Athlete Development Programme (ADP) was launched in 2015 to develop potential and aspiring athletes; the focus is very much on the individual – on everything from psychology and training principles to nutrition and injury management. The school currently has 115 ADP students who are trained by eight specialist coaches over a two-year period.
The school says:
“The Athlete Development Programme is for students who show a particular talent in a sport. It's a rigorous training programme that covers strength, fitness, psychology, nutrition, injury management and coaching methods. They undergo training in the gym as if they were a professional athlete.”