Venezuelan Gifted Children Navigate a Decaying Educational System

Photo: Descifrado

“It breaks my heart that he’s not exploiting his potential,” Gloria says about her son. “He has so much to give and I feel like I’m hurting him instead.”

If you take a quick look at Samuel, her seven-year-old son, you don’t see anything particularly interesting: He’s just another kid playing with his cellphone. But as soon as he talks, you notice his rich language and his wide-ranging awareness.

His IQ is 131 in the classification of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale. For context, the normal range goes from 90 to 110.

“He understands things that I don’t, he asks questions I can’t answer. He likes to investigate, to search, he’s interested in the universe, dinosaurs, mythology. He doesn’t like to play soccer or watch cartoons. The first time I took him to therapy, he was three years old; once he started interacting with children his age we knew something was odd.”

Although having a child with such an extreme potential would be a blessing to many parents, Gloria feels it’s a curse while living in Venezuela, where the educational system is in crisis. No school here has the necessary tools to deal with distinct cases like this.

No school here has the necessary tools to deal with distinct cases like this.

“Most of the kids get frustrated and end up drowned in a system that bores them and makes them think they’re the problem,” says Adriana Hernández, gifted children therapist. “I’ve talked to parents and visited schools, but it’s not easy and the system is unprepared. Years ago, there was one school dedicated to gifted kids, but today it’s closed.”

For Gloria, it’s not easy either: “I get calls from school saying he’s not interested in classes, he doesn’t talk to other kids, he corrects teachers during lessons. I try to explain everything, I show them folders full of tests and psychologists’ reports, but they just don’t get it. It’s heartbreaking.”  

According to Hernández, it’s not only about education. Any kid in this situation needs special support on a psychological level: “They need to understand that they have tools that people like us don’t have. They must learn how to use these tools the right way, to not feel superior and to interact with kids their age. For them, it’s tough.”

For Venezuela’s Education Ministry, gifted children are “Outstanding Social Subjects” that can be properly accommodated in Bolivarian schools, but beyond words there isn’t an actual program.

“It’s not about time, it’s about what we lose,” Hernández says when I ask her about the time we’ll need, as a nation, to build a proper system for gifted children. “The leaders of the future, the ones who will cure diseases or solve major problems are left to decay by ineptitude and ignorance.”

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