As I followed the three day global conference entitled “Sponsoring Talent,” which was hosted by Saudi Arabia and ended on 30 August, I recalled an incident that occurred mid-August. According to the news, a group of 17 Egyptian students from Al Mansurah University, north of Cairo arrived at JFK International Airport on 29 July 2006 to attend a one-month course in association with the state of Montana. On 31 July, only six students arrived at the university, the others however, had fled.
The American authorities were able to arrest the majority of the runaways and sent them back to their native country; however a few of the students are still on the run. I do not want to be melancholic and say that to stay in the United States would be the most efficient way to sponsor their academic talents rather than returning home.
The Jeddah conference had issued a serious proposal however; undoubtedly, the most important step would be its implementation. Delegates at the conference highlighted an important point, namely, the need for “a special kind” of teachers. This is the crux of the matter.
Do the teachers in our schools have the sufficient skills to deal with the talents of young people, develop these talents and send them in the right direction? Before answering this question, an important point must be tackled, that is the state of confusion that is amongst teachers with regards to the definition of “talent,” as the prevailing culture believes that the academically gifted is the one who is talented. However, it is possible for a student to be outstanding in one subject and not the other. A student may be distinguished in writing but weak in scientific subjects and so on. Therefore, to support the talented is different to supporting outstanding students.
Two stories come to mind concerning the methods employed by teachers in dealing with gifted students. During my time in high school, there was a student who was extremely talented and creative in art subjects, but fell short in other academic subjects. During a math class, his teacher saw one of his drawings and said, “if only you would show the same enthusiasm in other subjects that are more important than this scribbling!” I remembered this story in particular when one of the participants at the conference presented a paper entitled, “The excessive sensitivity of gifted individuals and their complex psychological needs.” Of course, I did not laugh.
The second story concerns a teacher of creative writing who requested an essay using embellishing figurative speech. One talented student objected to this and asserted that this is the wrong way to write literature and that it would be a waste of time. The teacher told him that if he did not want to complete the task, he would remain standing until the class was over. The student succumbed and wrote Gibran Khalil Gibran’s poem, ‘Give me the flute and sing’ and gave it to the teacher as if it were his own original work. The teacher was stunned by the beautiful poem and asked the student to read it aloud, for which he received full marks. Imagine that! An Arabic language teacher at secondary school level did not even recognize a poem by one of the Arab world’s most famous poets and sung by one of the Arab world’s most famous singers. Is it worth noting that this teacher is now a head teacher in one of the schools of the same city?
Where talent really needs to be nurtured is during extra-curricular activities so that every student takes part in what he/she loves and finds that he is capable of expressing himself/herself. Extra-curricular activity is suffering from a saddening cultural relapse, in which it has become an opportunity for some teachers to relax and for students to catch up on lost sleep.