Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the report of the Education and Training Committee on its inquiry into the education of gifted and talented students in Victoria. The report represents over 12 months work by the Education and Training Committee. The terms of reference were to look at ways to provide more educational opportunities for Victoria’s gifted and talented students as well as ways to enhance and support these students and their parents and teachers.
We have some 85 000 gifted and talented students in Victoria; that equates to 1 in 10 Victorian students being gifted. The group is an important cohort of students who have been sadly neglected over many years. There is a widespread misconception that gifted students will succeed without any assistance at all.
We know that these students need to be stimulated and to be provided with support and encouragement. They are our potential leaders of the future, and we are missing a huge opportunity by not investing in this cohort of students. Gifted students are young people who have natural abilities in a wide range of areas. The committee looked at gifts, including those in science, sport, language and leadership, as well as academic ability. Gifts need to be nurtured and nourished in order to become fully realised so that students can achieve outstanding performance.
The committee’s research shows that the education system plays a key role in transforming students’ gifts into talents. Gifted students who are not appropriately supported can become disengaged. The committee found that many students drop out at year 10 level as a result of not being properly supported and that these are missed opportunities.
It also found that students can experience social behaviours such as anxiety and bullying if they are not properly supported at school. These factors gave the committee even more reason to provide solutions in relation to the issue of gifted children. The first and foremost among these solutions is to have a statewide policy which supports gifted and talented students. We need to ensure that all kids are supported, no matter where they are, whether that be in rural or regional areas or in the city. Every gifted child in every school needs be supported by a program. Kids learn differently, and certainly gifted and talented students need to be supported on an individual basis with individual learning plans.
One of the committee’s recommendations involves accessibility — that is, the creation of a virtual school. Such a school could ensure that students who did not have proper access could be supported and could learn together.
Teachers are a powerful influence on the educational outcomes of students, as we know, and this report recommends increased education and training for teachers as well as increased access to information, expert advice and support. The committee also looked at supporting students with counselling. Importantly parents and families of gifted students also need greater support and advice.
The committee considered a number of pieces of evidence. We received 100 submissions, held 10 days of public hearings, visited six schools as part of the inquiry and held two forums: a forum for parents of gifted students and a forum for primary school principals. We had a huge amount of interest from a number of people. I would like to acknowledge two people who are in the house today: Susan Knopfelmacher, a representative on the World Council for Gifted and Talented Students, and Carmel Meahan, the president of the Victorian Association for Gifted and Talented Children. Both Susan and Carmel have been very passionate supporters of this research.
I also thank the committee members: deputy chair and a member for Western Victoria Region in the other place, Gayle Tierney; the member for Mildura; Nazih Elsamar, a member for Northern Victoria Region in the other place; and the member for Bentleigh, all of whom worked tirelessly. My particular thanks also go to our committee secretariat: Kerryn Riseley, the executive officer who oversaw the research and wrote the final report; Natalie Tyler, the administrative officer; Anita Madden, our research officer; and Maria Scott, the former research officer who did some preliminary research.
This is a very important area. These young people are the future for all of us, and we need to ensure that their abilities are harnessed, grown and supported. These young people are the leaders of the future, and it is an absolute shame that many of them are not supported and not provided with the encouragement they need. It was a pleasure to undertake this research. We found some areas that are performing very well; however, others need a lot of help. We need to do what we can to ensure that gifted and talented students in Victoria are supported in every way.