Gifted students: What it takes to skip a grade

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Mathias Nkeeto, now a mathematics teacher in Kigali, says he initially found it challenging to cope after he was made to skip a grade because of his ability to grasp concepts faster than his fellow classmates.

“Generally, I was a gifted student, and I always found myself bored in every lesson because I always read ahead. By the time a teacher came to class, I most times already had the whole information, which made the lesson appear repetitive,” he says.

Nkeeto says although such cases are rare, teachers should always work with other mentors to help such children in their new level. He says since they are gifted academically, they will only require support and guidance for a short period.

What to consider before taking the move

Nkeeto says because it can be hard even for exceptionally intelligent children to easily fit in the new class, they should be assessed well to find out if they will manage.

According to Boniface Onyango, the head teacher of Riviera High School, Kigali, whatever the situation, it’s not ideal for a student to skip a grade without them completing the curriculum for the class they are in.

However, if it has to happen, he points out that the teacher should ensure that such individuals are more familiar with the content in the level they are supposed to go to apart from being comfortable with the move.

For Eugene Rukyeba, the director of schools leadership and management in charge of policy at Rwanda Education Board (REB), the immediate decision should not be to make a student skip a grade and move to another level. This, he says, is because the policy that exists indicates that teachers are supposed to cover the existing curriculum for each level, implying that the move is likely to make the student miss out on key information relevant for a specific level.

In cases where a teacher identifies an exceptionally gifted student, the best way to handle such cases, Rukyeba says is to give them more work to keep them occupied.

He, however, advises that this should only be done if the teacher has covered all the work that is supposed to be completed at that particular level.

“When they are through with that, I think the teacher can make such children to skip to another level as they continue revising what they have completed,” he says.

In other cases, Rukyeba points out that the teacher can put gifted students in one class, where it becomes easy to help them. He says this happens in other countries and would be a good strategy to adapt.

“This would be a good approach as all the gifted students in a certain level would be able to move according to their pace. This also doesn’t consume much of their time as they are always ahead in everything,” he adds.

Stanley Mukasa, a Kigali-based tutor, says skipping grades is less common because the teachers are held captive that they should first complete the syllabus before a student is moved to the next level.

He says it’s unfair to keep a gifted learner in the same class, adding that it should be at the teacher’s discretion to assess their students and decide if they already have certain skills they need to move to the next level.

The ideal situation is that such learners should be given more advanced and challenging work to learn, rather than giving them what they can already do or know about. This, according to Mukasa, is wasting precious time for such students, which makes them find learning boring.

“We should not be held back by the same system over and over. If the students have the necessary competence, that should be the next move rather than holding them back,” he says.

Just like Mukasa, Peter Gasinzigwa, who heads the examination items bank at Rwanda Education Board, says the best way is to assess those learners who are gifted so that a teacher can always give the more challenging work to keep them busy and motivated in learning.

“This prevents situations where a student may start doing other activities that are not given to them by their teachers just because they have already coevered what everyone else is doing,” he says.

Likely negative impact

A recent research published by Pearson, an international company that offers education publishing and assessment services to schools and corporations, noted that when making the decision to accelerate a child, many educators and parents feel confident about the child’s immediate ability to perform at the next grade level.

At the same time, they are also concerned with potential long-term consequences. The findings build on nearly a century of rigorous research demonstrating that acceleration positively impacts not only gifted students’ academic achievement, but those positive effects continue into the workplace underscoring both the short- and long-term benefits of acceleration.

Nkeeto says depending on the age of the student, skipping a grade can create some issues in future.

“For instance, if the child is young, when moved to the next level because they are gifted, their reasoning capacity might be affected. This is because they are forced into a situation where they have to reason like others at that high level,” he says.

Similarly, Onyango says skipping a grade can result in such students missing out important content that they should have gotten from the previous class, which may negatively affect their future learning curve.

For Gasinzigwa, skipping a certain grade implies there are also certain things these students miss such as the mental development for learners commensurate with the level.

Also, he adds that people who prepare the curriculum do so in a way that each and every student depending on their age, should be able to accomplish certain areas before being allowed to move to another level. This, Gasinzigwa says, is the reason children rarely skip a grade before the end of an academic year.

According to Nestor Niyitegeka, a teacher at Nyange 1 in Musanze District, to prevent boredom for such students, the best approach for teachers should be to ask them to role play as teachers, so that such students can help their colleagues to learn while feeling valued.

He, however, says although it might seem easy and possible to move such students to next class, the impact might only come to light in later stages. “But depending on the curriculum design, and the assessment done by the teacher, in some cases it can work and saves time too.”

Their views...

1503447614Donald-Munyeshuri
Donald Munyeshuri

Donald Munyeshuri, IT teacher

I think with the existing curriculum, it would be the best strategy because I believe by doing this the gifted student is motivated and inspired to even work harder.

This would also help cut down on time wasting for such students.

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1503447763Mary-Simbi
Mary Isimbi 

Mary Isimbi, kindergarten school teacher

Depending on the age of the learner, to help them best while at home, I think parents should try to give them different tasks that require them to act as a leader or help other siblings in academic work.

Also appreciating their efforts in whatever they do well is important.

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1503447940Patricia-Kayiteesi
Patricia Kayiteesi

Patricia Kayiteesi, parent

I think teachers should also be at the forefront when it comes to providing an accurate update on such students.

This can help parents find ways to also help them even perform better by providing the needed extra support and mentoring.

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1503448075Valens-Mushinzimana
Valens Mushenzimana

Valens Mushenzimana, in-charge of discipline at Lycee de Kigali

No matter such students’ ability in academics, it’s not advisable to make them skip a grade.

For instance, for those who are doing their O-level exams, it’s a must that they present their documents for previous classes.

This makes it important for them to pass through each level.