New term sees two more schools for gifted children

Summary

Two new private schools opening for the coming school year in Flanders provide education adjusted to the needs of highly gifted children

Through the magnifying glass

Two private primary schools for gifted children are opening in Flanders this school year: Ingenium in Tervuren, near Brussels, and Arkades in Herentals, Antwerp province. The founders are parents whose own gifted children didn’t receive the guidance they needed in regular education.

From 1 September, about 45 children are following lessons in the new Ingenium School at the site of the former Panquin barracks in Tervuren, near the Sonian forest. The children will partly receive the same classes as in regular education, like languages and mathematics, but they will be taught at a quicker tempo and in a more challenging way by teachers who are themselves gifted.

Alongside these regular courses, children will also have lessons in disciplines such as yoga, arts and philosophy. There will regularly be projects organised related to nature.

“In a narrow sense, being highly gifted is defined as having an IQ higher than 130, while the average IQ is about 100,” says Veerle Van Melkebeek, who founded Ingenium School with her husband, Mark Janssens. “But highly gifted children are also more sensitive to stimuli and they need calming activities.”

Potential pupils don’t have to take an IQ test before they can register at Ingenium. “We decide on the basis of intake interviews,” she says.

Bored in class

Van Melkebeek is driven by the experiences she had with her own daughters in regular education. “They were getting tired of school, frustrated and even depressed,” she says. “When my youngest came back from pre-school, she often had anger attacks because she felt so bored in class.”

Kathleen Venderickx, a professor at Hasselt University and co-director of the Exentra expertise centre on giftedness, confirms that such children can have emotional problems if they feel they’re not fulfilling their potential. “They are often perfectionists and are sensitive, have a critical mindset and rack their brains over issues,” she says. “It’s like they see everything through a magnifying glass.”

It’s important to challenge children enough

- Kathleen Venderickx

According to Venderickx, about 3% of children are highly gifted. She believes that for most of these children, regular schools can do enough by providing personal guidance and separate lessons at certain times. “Unfortunately, teachers are not yet sufficiently trained for this during their studies,” she says.

Exentra has therefore started its own courses for school teams, to familiarise them with the best techniques to help highly gifted children. “It’s important to challenge children enough, because if it’s too easy for them, they won’t learn how to study efficiently and how to acquire techniques for complex mathematical exercises, for example,” Venderickx says. Parents are also involved in coaching sessions.

Because many highly gifted children have it too easy in primary school, they often run into problems in secondary school. Many of them have to change study streams and some even leave school without a diploma.

For about 10% of highly gifted children, according to Exentra’s statistics, an adjusted programme in regular education is not enough, and they need separate education.

“These are often children who also have autism or another disorder, but not always,” says Venderickx. “They can also just suffer from demotivation, depression, burn-out or other social-emotional issues.” 

Interest and criticism

The new schools have attracted a lot of interest, but also criticism. Experts are especially worried that the children will not come into contact with children who have different cognitive capabilities. They point out that it’s valuable for highly gifted children to learn how to help children with a lower IQ. In separate schools, children will not be prepared well for the diversity in society, they fear.

“But these experts forget that there also is a large diversity among gifted children,” says Van Melkebeek. “The children also have hobbies, so they are not isolated.”

In response, Flanders’ education ministry has said that schools are already taking action for highly gifted children, through initiatives such as flexible study programmes. According to the ministry, pupil agencies (CLBs) are already working on guidance for these children. The M decree, which will move more children from special education into mainstream education, should also provide more guidance for the highly gifted in normal schools.

Both Van Melkebeek and Venderickx, however, fear the M decree may have a negative effect, because there will be more attention devoted to students with learning problems, disabilities and other issues. Van Melkebeek also feels CLBs mainly react when problems come up and says there is a need for more preventive action. She believes the government can learn valuable lessons from the policy of the Dutch ministry of education.

Both also ask for subsidies, Venderickx to make the courses of Exentra cheaper for schools and Van Melkebeek to lower the registration fees for parents at Ingenium, which relies on sponsorship from companies like Telenet and financial services group Ernst &Young.

In the long term, Van Melkebeek hopes to establish Ingenium schools in every province. “I also hope regular schools set up separate classes for highly gifted children, with adjusted programmes,” she says. “Too many parents now have to resort to home education, because their children don’t get proper assistance in schools.”

Since last year, a chair on giftedness at Hasselt University has been looking at how highly gifted children can be helped better in schools. Venderickx is co-ordinating the chair with professor Tessa Kieboom, director of Exentra.

Photo courtesy Ingenium School

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma