Summary of the “Talent Management Practices for Children in Extreme Poverty and Risk” symposium of ECHA’s 2021 Thematic Conference on Closing the Achievement Gap in Gifted Education
János Gordon Győri
In the past decades, responsible and fair talent support striving to promote equality and justice gave special emphasis on the involvement and appropriate development of children labelled “disadvantaged” or “multiply disadvantaged” in the Hungarian terminology. A relatively large number papers, methodological recommendations and conference presentations has been dedicated to talent support and development for this group and, luckily, there are also many relevant best practices.
One group of gifted children, in an even more serious situation, however, remains practically unaddressed in the context of talent support: children living in extreme poverty and also vulnerability threatening their life and healthy development. The hungry, the sexually exploited or enslaved children, those who live in the streets, trying to survive on their own, and those directly threatened by the wars. Often, their vulnerability is not attributable to one or another of the specific risks or hindering factors, but to their complex and prolonged presence.
At the roundtable discussion that was part of ECHA’s 2021 Thematic Conference on Closing the Achievement Gap in Gifted Education, three internationally renowned professionals presented one talent education programme each targeting children living in extreme poverty and vulnerability, with Prof. Dr. János Győri acting as moderator. The participants of the symposium “Talent Management Practices for Children in Extreme Poverty and Risk” were Prof. Sheyla Blumen from Peru, Dr. Narayan Desai from India, and Ndondo Mulli Mutua from Kenya, who presented programmes driven by rather different philosophies each.
Professor Dr. Sheyla Blumen, University Professor at the Department of Psychology of Pontificia Universidad Católica Del Perú, highlighted the necessity of providing talent support to young people living under extreme conditions; in Peru, 20 percent of the population lives in poverty and 2-3% in extreme poverty. The COAR (Colegios de Alto Rendimiento; Residential Academies for High Achievers) centres present in 25 regions of the country have been active in talent support to the scientifically gifted in the social groups living in poverty and making up 20 % of the population since 2010. The programme which rejects the “one size (i.e. one type of training) fits all” approach builds heavily on the original culture of students coming from deprived environments and selected by a special complex talent identification method. They teach children self-advocacy skills and, at the same time, cultural sensitivity, inter-cultural cooperation, the ability to adapt to cultural diversity and commitment to social justice and equity, while enhancing their cultural competencies. This is all the more necessary since they generally come from cultural minority communities subject to disadvantages and prejudices on behalf of majority society. Concurrently, the programmes concerned develop also the research skills of the gifted, partly to make these underprivileged children able to pass the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBD) examination. Further special components of the programme are discussed in more detail in Blumen’s publication of 2021, (Blumen, 2021).
Dr. Narayan Desai presented the Indian Tribal MENSA Nurturing Programme that he had founded and of which he has been a decisive professional leader to this day. Dr Narayan conducted the first MENSA test (internationally applied IQ test to identify those in the highest IQ brackets) in his Tribal School in 2002 and, to his great surprise, identified foul girls students who excelled at the MENSA IQ test. Talent identification among Indian children in extreme poverty and vulnerability has been using similar non-figurative IQ tests to this day. The test is conducted with children aged 11-12, and those in the highest, 95%+, brackets can be admitted to the talent programme. Since intellectually gifted students from deprived environments usually encounter difficulties in demonstrating high performance, due to e.g. social, not intellectual hindrances, efforts are being made to enhance their personality, motivation, via pull-out programmes with different foci by age group. Children are also provided career guidance in the same context. The driving principle of the programme is to support the skills/abilities, not the lexical knowledge of the gifted child. For further details, see the programme website athttps://www.tribalmensa.org/.
Ndondo Mulli presented Mully Children’s Family programme founded in 1989 at the symposium. The foundation of the programme is associated with the name of Dr Ev. Charles Mutua Mulli from Kenya, who, from a wretched young child lift by his parents to the care of an aunt, became a prosperous businessmen , a practising Christian following the teachings of the gospel, a philanthropic public figure. Mully Children’s Family is a development centre targeting the most wretched, most exposed gifted children who meet a very high criteria set. The approximately 4 000 children currently selected there come from street children, orphans, abandoned, physically and sexually abused children, forced into child labour, physically disabled, HIV- / AIDS-infected, deprived children and child mothers. The purpose of the programme is expressed by the 3Rs: rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration. Children are provided quality education, training in technical and vocational and even agricultural fields, musical talent development and development opportunities in sports, up to the highest professional levels. The programme, however, goes beyond providing assistance to, and ensuring the social integration of gifted children: it covers also support and development for the communities from which they come. The children themselves are socialised to return, if possible, to their own community and put to use what they received at Mully Family there, by advancing their own community through their presence, socialisation efforts and support. (For more details on the programme see its website at https://www.mullychildrensfamily.org/.)
Although the programmes presented at the symposium have their critiques (Gordon Győri, 2021), this was the first time in the history of the ECHA when a symposium was dedicated to their efforts, work and absolutely commendable achievements, focusing specifically on the most deprived and exposed child groups of society, and on gifted children in an even harder situation than their disadvantaged or multiply disadvantaged peers. The programmes fulfil a mission both literally and in the abstract sense in the world of talent support, an environment that can often offer opportunities to the gifted in more privileged groups of society than to the children admitted to these development programmes.
Blumen S. (2021). Innovative Practices to Support High-Achieving Deprived Young Scholars in an Ethnic-Linguistic Diverse Latin American Country. In: Smith S.R. (Eds.), Handbook of Giftedness and Talent Development in the Asia-Pacific (pp. 223-238). Springer International Handbooks of Education. Singapore: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3041-4_10
Gordon Győri J. (2021). Globális tendenciák a tehetségnevelésben: tehetséggondozó programok (Global trends in talent education: talent support programmes). Magyar Pszichológiai Szemle, 76(1). DOI: 10.1556/0016.2021.00015 (to be published)