Prepared by Mojca Juriševič, Head of CRSN at the Faculty of Education of the University of Ljubljana
On 21 and 22 September 2017 CRSN held the 2nd International Conference, which was dedicated to networking among institutions and individuals within the European Talent Support Network (ETSN). More than 200 pre-school teachers, elementary and high school teachers, school counsellors, head teachers, high school students, university students and their mentors attended the conference. At the conference, which was opened by Dr Janez Vogrinc, Dean of the Faculty of Education of the University of Ljubljana, and by Csilla Fuszek, Secretary-General of the ETSN, six ETSN Talent Centres from Slovenia, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Ireland and the Czech Republic, and twenty-three ETSN Talent Points from Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Hungary were presented.
The main aim of the conference was to focus on and critically discuss the latest key research and expert findings, and experience with gifted education, with particular emphasis on approaches to, contents, strategies, methods and forms thereof.
The plenary lecturers Dr Fani Nolimal, Dr Heidrun Stoeger, Dr Margaret Sutherland, Dr Colm O’Reilly, and Dr Željko Rački highlighted the important didactical, methodological, and psychological aspects of teaching and supporting gifted students in school and outside, in particular mentoring to encourage in-depth learning of the gifted students in specific fields and their further motivation for scientific research. The message delivered to the participants was that “the collaboration with the gifted students is necessary for wading them through learning about the novelties, and for providing them with a model of perseverance, meaningful adaptation and motivation”.
Within six sections, we listened to thirty-six presentations and discussed with authors of eight posters from the field of gifted education in preschool, elementary and secondary schools, as well as in other educational and research institutions, e.g. Association for Technical Culture of Slovenia (ZOTKS), the Višnjan Observatory, the ETSN Youth Platform, etc. In their presentations the educators advocated personalized teaching within mainstream education, which is possible, but requires thorough preparation, organization and evaluation; the researchers also highlighted the importance of collaboration with the local and wider communities, with a view to provide conditions for quality assurance in gifted education (i.e., ranging from formulating an authentic problem to gathering funds for the purchase of materials and aids).
At the conference, two high-profile roundtable discussions titled “Researching with the Gifted”, and “The Gifted about their Education and their Future” were held.
The first round table discussion was moderated by Dr Mojca Čepič; the participants were Mija Kordež (Association for Technical Culture of Slovenia (ZOTKS)), Alenka Mozer (the Vič Gimnazija), Dr Jure Bajc and Dr Boštjan Kuzman – both representatives of the CRSN and of the Society of Mathematicians, Physicists and Astronomers of Slovenia (DMFA). The speakers addressed their experience with mentoring the gifted pertaining to research (research camps, preparations for competitions and the Olympics), and highlighted some neuralgic points that hinder quality research work with primary school students and upper secondary school students, e.g. the unregulated mentoring system, a lack of systemic mentoring plans, as well as an unexpected low level of responsiveness and motivation of the gifted in general, which, in their opinion and experience, is due to the existing school system which do not value neither rewards appropriately the students’ extracurricular work.
The second roundtable discussion, which was moderated by Dr Gregor Torkar, welcomed the global gifted youth, and was held in English. Tim Prezelj (a student of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia), Lukáš Kyzlík (a student of FEKT VUT Brno, the Czech Republic), Marko Agozzino (Liceo Scientifico Marie Curie, Meda, Italy), Sara Oblak (the Bežigrad Gimnazija, Slovenia) and Polona Čebular (the Ledina Gimnazija, Slovenia) presented their views on education and experience therewith. The participants highlighted the importance of good teachers and mentors (i.e., a teacher who understands and encourages students at the first place), of a favourable school climate (i.e., no “nerd” name calling), and in the end agreed, that positive communication with each other, with classmates and teachers (“teachers should be more friendly to us and pay more attention to us”) is of utmost importance for their development.
In the framework of the conference, a special competition “24NADur” for gifted students was also held, under the leadership of Dr Gregor Torkar. Eight student teams from five Slovenian gimnazijas (Bežigrad Ljubljana, Brežice, Jurij Vega Idrija, Ledina Ljubljana, 1st Gimnazija Maribor), and one Bosnian gimnazija (Bihać) took part in it; all of them were gimnazijas from CRSN Talent Points in the ETSN network. The task for teams was to solve the posed sustainable development problem within 24 hours and to justify the solution before the international committee. Twenty-four students and their mentors considered the competition to be a big challenge, and worked on the project solution almost without interruption; they spent the night at the Faculty of Education of the University of Ljubljana that contributed to a good working atmosphere, and allowed all the necessary tools to be used in order to achieve optimum results. Although there was only one winner, i.e. the students of the Bežigrad Gimnazija, the participants believed the competition was interesting and worth taking every effort to solve a new problem, which required mutual connection and collaboration; they decided that they would respond to the invitation to such a competition in the future, as well.
The conference participants also listened to the performances of the musically gifted elementary students; Ilonka Krivokapič (mentored by Damjan Cvetko) played two of her own piano compositions, followed by the guitar player Miha Bregar (mentored by Mladen Bucić), the harp players Nika Kores Sraka and Adrijan Ignjatović (mentored by Anja Gaberc), the violinist Vito Bejat Kranjc (mentored by Sausan Hussein), and the pianist Tim Cergolj (mentored by Mirjana Kostic). The programme was demanding, the musicians did an excellent job, and the audience was excited.
What can be concluded based on the presented and addressed issues at the conference?
The gifted education in different countries is being developed and perceived more as the necessity and not as a capricious idea of a specific group of students or their parents, and at the same time the conceptual orientation of this education has become evident: the majority of the gifted do not predominantly need assistance in their education, but challenges and incentives for more thorough learning and more serious research. Institutions variously adapt the teaching of the gifted in mainstream programes as an inclusive approach, but it still seems that most gifted activities are carried out outside preschool and schools or the mainstream curriculum – such work is still performed as “additional” work for the gifted and their mentors, and often also for their parents, but lacking proper conditions and means of work. It is worth mentioning that positive professional attitudes towards the gifted education and the need for specific professional knowledge of educators, teachers and other experts about the characteristics of the gifted and about concrete ways of encouraging their learning and personal development are gradually strengthened. On the other hand, the participants emphasized the importance of such meetings (in their opinion, they should be organized more often to offer professional support), networking and transparency of communications, in order to maintain the achieved level of addressing the gifted. They agreed that specific knowledge is needed, and above all, time and space, to be able to understand in detail, and provide quality education of the gifted across educational sectors (starting in preschool), and in the wider cultural, educational, social and national contexts, and globally.
More info on the conference at https://www.pef.uni-lj.si/1301.html