Mediocrity v Excellence


18 April 2016


What separates good from great? Deborah Walker, CEO from the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education says, “In the current education climate, money and, to some extent, bias.” She claims many gifted children in the mainstream system are misunderstood, misidentified, and missing out. TV One news (TVNZ Concern for bright Kiwi kids who are falling through the cracks) recently revealed that government funding for gifted children, primary through to secondary, has dropped over the past eight years from $2.7 million to $900,000. Walker states this means the three R’s are missing for this cohort, ”Recognition, Resourcing and Research, they are not acknowledged or valued in the system, there is very little to support them in the way of programmes, resource material or teacher support and we collect even less data on them to know exactly how they are faring.” Walker claims the focus on achievement and not progress disadvantages gifted children, some whom make little progress in their entire schooling although are deemed to be achieving.


But does it matter? Should we be concerned about gifted children in our education system? Aren’t they already advantaged? Can’t they do it all anyway? There are many fallacies and much confusion about gifted education. It is the only sector that makes people defensive regarding provision.  Len Ward, Chairman of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, reminds us that “we need to think carefully about the understanding of equity and acknowledge that equity in education means doing the right thing for each individual – not the same thing for everyone.”


There are almost 800,000 children in our education system; taking a conservative approach to giftedness, that means around 40,000 are intellectually gifted, not an insignificant amount. The Ministry of Education National Administration Guidelines state schools MUST identify and provide for these children. Walker’s concern is that gifted children’s progress is not measured. “It seems like if you’re at primary school and you can achieve at national standard level, or NCEA Level 2 at secondary that’s it - you’re done- for our gifted kids that’s mediocre. They are capable of excellence and they are capable of it earlier than other children.”


Walker leads a team of specialist educators who deliver programmes to more than 1,000 learners across New Zealand. The programmes they deliver have received no government funding since 2010 yet deliver predominantly to State school children. These children receive 20 percent of their schooling in NZCGE programmes, yet the Ministry provides no funding for them, nor directly to the 250-plus contributing schools who acknowledge they need support to cater for their gifted learners. 

Walker states this lack of funding increases their concerns as a charitable organisation because charging parents for programmes raises additional issues around equity of access. Education, states Walker, is the greatest social change maker of all.  We know there is unmet demand for the services we provide but without the necessary funding those in most need, those who cannot afford to pay for those services, miss out.


Gifted kids have talents and talent makes a difference. It invents, it creates, it leads, it provokes and questions. To not invest in talent at the earliest possible opportunity would seem to be short-sighted. To not aim for excellence when excellence is attainable seems a waste. Ward says, “It should be a matter of national importance that our extraordinary kiwi kids get the education that suits their individual needs.  That our precious resources, gifted children, are not, for the sake of a few hundred thousand dollars a year between all 40,000 of them, is a matter of national shame.”


The New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education believes greater funding needs to be allocated to gifted learners, to supporting their teachers in appropriate development and delivery of programmes, and to collecting information that truly lets the sector know the capabilities of these young people.


The New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education Ltd is a registered charity, providing services nationwide in gifted education. For more information please go to


Mediocrity v Excellence

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