The new normality of students with high abilities


The pandemic generated after the arrival of COVID-19 has created an extraordinary situation that offers us an opportunity to change the rules of the game in education and the ways of doing things at school.

Some situations that represented an unfavorable reality in the educational system for a part of the students can now be reversed thanks to what has been learned during this time.

Reflections on inclusive education

Confinement and social isolation have created an unprecedented space to reflect on inclusive education and the response to diversity. Today more than ever we must be clear that the “new normal” must be accompanied by a new way of responding to the psychoeducational needs of all students.

The “normal” in school is diversity, and students with high abilities represent one of the greatest educational challenges of this “new normal”. What have we learned during this time about this part of the student body?

According to some sources , it is estimated that around 15% of the population has high capacities. Unfortunately, only 3% of people are identified as gifted. With the most up-to-date data published by the Ministry of Education , in Spain only 35,494 students with high abilities were identified during the 2018-2019 school year, which represents less than 0.5% of the total number of boys and girls in school.

How do we refer to them?

Identification problems come hand in hand with designation problems. There is no generalized criterion on how to refer to students with high abilities. The issue transcends the educational field, since different terms are used in both the scientific literature and the informational field to refer to talent.

Are they gifted and gifted boys and girls with high abilities, talents, geniuses, eminences, wonders or precocious? What is clear is that they are boys and girls with first and last names in an educational system that must respond to their idiosyncrasy, regardless of the label that qualifies their talent.

High capacity is a potential to be developed that does not have to be linked to either high academic performance or a high IQ. However, psychometric tests that determine IQ are still used to identify students with high abilities. And this is so because the IC, although it is not a sufficient condition for high capacities, it is a necessary condition.

Since the confinement began after the emergence of COVID-19 in our lives, the customs of children with high capacities have undergone great changes. These changes have had a full impact on their learning and on their socio-emotional development.

We must understand how the reality of high-ability students was responding from school before the pandemic and we must assess how this part of the students has developed their potential during confinement. In this way we can have a more precise vision on how to guide inclusive and respectful education with diversity in the aforementioned new normal.

The environment and the development of talent

The influence of the environment on talent development is a critical factor. From a negative perspective, the deprivation of an adequate educational context, the existence of hostile family environments, as well as the presence of physical, psychological or learning problems, can limit the development of cognitive potential.

Seen from a more positive perspective, talent development is intimately linked to environmental factors that have the ability to propel the person and boost their abilities.

Some authors relate these drivers to the training of psychosocial and cognitive skills, and define trainers as agents of the child’s environment with high abilities.

Families, schools, communities and society have the power and responsibility to create opportunities for talent development. Children with high abilities need an environment that propels them.

This period of socio-sanitary crisis has offered us an emergency learning space, and educational improvisation has shown us crudely the digital, social, emotional, cultural and economic inequalities.

We are now more aware than ever that widespread educational change is needed. Attention to children with high abilities must be a central part of this change in the school guided by an inclusive education .

They have learned better than before

In the current situation of teleeducation supervened by the pandemic, and according to our observations, a large part of the students with high capacities has managed to learn more and better than before. For many children with high abilities, tele-classroom education has been an opportunity and an open window to knowledge.

The teachers have acted as general guide in the distance, leaving time and space for students to investigate and learn cross-sectionally, awakening their interest from the other side of a screen.

The educational system was not the best scenario for self-learning for students with high abilities because it did not systematically contemplate this learning style. Instead, the space generated for self-learning during confinement has provided an opportunity for students with intrinsic motivation for learning and with good self-regulation abilities.

Thus, during this time they have been able to direct their own acquisition of knowledge. They have been able to build on what teachers proposed, thus taking responsibility for their own learning.

Beyond the limits of the book

What educational reality have lived many children with high capacities during the confinement? Alone in front of the computer for a large part of their time they have been able to develop a learning style without the rigid structure of schedules at school. They have been able to learn at their own pace. They have been able to satisfy their curiosity. They have been able to go beyond the limits of the book thanks to the virtual world.

But although the new learning spaces have provided an opportunity for the acquisition of knowledge by children with high abilities, we must be clear that this is not the ideal situation for the development of talent.

An individualistic learning context that neglects express attention to socio-emotional development is not the optimal space for comprehensive psychoeducational development. For this reason, we defend that the “new normal” in education derives from what was learned before and during the pandemic.

The response to the educational needs of students with high abilities must combine spaces for discovery and self-learning, spaces for cooperative learning and spaces for group play. These boys and girls must be able to build an adequate social support network, and this is something that the school offers naturally, since interpersonal contact is favored, thus facilitating socio-emotional development in a direct way.

The inclusive post-COVID-19 school has the opportunity to pursue a teaching-learning process that respects, fosters and responds to high capacities, leaving spaces for self-learning and intrinsic motivation, facilitating in parallel socio-emotional development through the interaction of all the students.

Now more than ever, professionals in the educational system must team up with families to rethink the education of children with high abilities. It is time to design educational change together with everything we have learned.

A real integration in schools

Families and schools have to integrate the different ways of facing learning within the inclusive education that people with high capacities need so much. This will allow them to optimize their psychosocial skills and learn everything related to their socio-emotional sphere, without neglecting self-learning and discovery.

A new era has begun. Society and school need people with high abilities, and people with high abilities need society and school. COVID-19 has come to remind us of this .

We must understand the high capacities and the role that family and school play as drivers of talent. We have an opportunity to reconstruct education based on talent development and the educational “new normal” must understand that respect and response to diversity must be the essence of that normality.

Author Bios: Jon Andoni Duñabeitia is Director of the Cognitive Science Center of the Faculty of Languages ​​and Education and Ana Fernández Mera has a PhD in Education and Cognitive Processes both at Nebrija University