This isn’t the style of blog I would normally post on Nature Babies but following an interesting conversation with my sister, a trainee Primary School teacher, I thought I’d share it with you and see what your thoughts were on the matter (add any comments at the bottom!).
At my school, and at most other schools today, we had the ‘Gifted and Talented’. These were the students who excelled in academic subjects, mostly Science, English or Maths, and were given special opportunities due to their high test scores. I was recognised as being Gifted and Talented at English. I was given the opportunity to visit the University of Cambridge where we were advised on interview techniques and how to pass the application stage (setting my aspirations very high). It was a status I could pop onto my CV to give me ‘the edge’. Now this isn’t an opportunity for me to brag, I want to explain why this status held me back and how children who aren’t listed as ‘Gifted and Talented’ can be negatively affected.
Whilst it was nice to be rewarded for working hard, I came to understand that English was my gift and my talent and therefore I should pursue only this. Frequently I was labelled as ‘the academic one’ and my sister was ‘the creative one’. I knew I couldn’t run as fast, or paint as beautifully, or that I wasn’t as musical. I wanted to develop these creative abilities, but I shouldn’t worry because I was ‘the academic one’, so I should focus on that.
I went on to pursue academia and completed a degree in Biological Sciences (thankfully I realised I enjoyed Science more than English!). It was an incredible experience – I loved my degree and subsequently loved learning about it. I perfected my revision techniques (after all, I am ‘the academic one’) and my grades were good. But when I graduated, I had no idea what to do next. All I knew was that I was good at academia and now that was over, I didn’t really know what else I could do. I didn’t know what I was capable of, or what my passions were. I’d had many interests but if they weren’t academic, I had pushed them to one side. If it didn’t boost my CV or enhance my learning, was it really worth my time? Time I should be spending revising?
It’s only months after graduating, a lot of trial and error and self-doubt later that I found actually, I can be creative and I’m not so bad at it. In fact, this blog is my favourite hobby so far – I have married my scientific and literary backgrounds and I am indulging my creative side. I’m learning a whole new world of online marketing and creating a media presence (still very much in the learning stage!) and I love it! It’s the first time since childhood that I have had the chance to explore my interests and talents beyond academia and I am re-learning how to be imaginative. As children, we all have wild imaginations but our education system does not always value individualism and creativity.
It’s like that famous quote by Albert Einstein:
‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’
We should not give children the label of being ‘Gifted and Talented’ in just one subject, or in academia alone, and stamp out all other options. My sister suggested renaming it as ‘high achieving’, so children who excel in a particular subject are recognised but not seen as the only gifted children in the class. Being musical, artistic, athletic or able to think outside of the box are all gifts and talents alike. These are the qualities that we must preserve in children. We must make sure creativity and individual thinking are praised and supported.
Playing outside in nature, without adult supervision, has endless benefits for children as I highlighted in a previous blog. Playing freely develops imagination, helps children understand risk, acts as a buffer to depression and improves social bonding. A child that has learnt to build a den has learnt to think outside the box, use resources wisely and appreciate benefits of hard work. These are skills that are essential for later life but that aren’t measurable in academia. By labelling children, we limit their potential and self-belief. A child has infinite capacity for growth in all areas and exploration in artistic and physical pursuits should be encouraged. Because in ten years time when they are asked to choose a career, or asked what their passions are, they will have an answer.
It sounds a little cliché, but it has taken me 15 years to have faith in myself that I can achieve something other than a good grade. The making of my personality has not been in education, it has been in the things I have achieved outside the classroom. It is important we acknowledge all gifts and all talents, both abstract and academic and do not categorise children. In most professions, you need a little bit of both anyway.
My biggest achievement outside of school was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro!
Watch Prince EA’s inspirational video about our education system here.