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  • Writer's picturePatrizia Corrada

Being Gifted in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South Africa: a literature review.

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

In the past few years, two sets of research stand out in the African literature on giftedness: gifted education, which is widely explored and find place aside of international literature, and the less developed and more isolated investigation on gifted awareness and on a culture-specific understanding of giftedness. In 2000, Taylor and Kokot wrote a comprehensive overview of the status of gifted education in Africa. They highlighted the necessity to link future research to national development and strengths as perceived in the African culture (Taylor & Kokot, 2000). Freeman describes the most common reaction to the idea of gifted education in Africa as a "hangover from colonial times" (2002, p. 152): top-quality education for a privileged minority and an inferior type of education for the majority (Thobejanea, 2013). This is undoubtedly the main reason why research in the field remains disregarded by public institutions. Except for some sporadic example in South Africa, African countries do not yet offer many gifted education opportunities (Taylor & Kokot, 2000, Mpofu, 2002, Ngara, 2017). Maree (2018) attributes the reasons African why gifted students do not reach full potential to adverse socioeconomic circumstances, war conditions, fragmented families, and inadequate education systems. He refers to giftedness as “the manifestations of performance at the upper end of distribution in a specific talent domain” (2018, p. 132) that is expressed in the developmental stages by potential, that need to be cultivated and can be measured by achievement only in later life stages. In Africa the concept of giftedness as academic achievement coexists next to a more practical manifestations that differ drastically from school-based cognitive traits (Maree, 2018, Mpofu. 2002) The African culture always includes the value of interpersonal relationship capacity and community harmony as fundamentals traits for gifted individuals (Ruzgis & Grigorenko, 1994, Maree, 2018, Mpofu, 2002). Giftedness is valued as a way to promote the interest of families and communities, and the individual is seen as one who serves the common good (Lumadi, 1998). Taylor & Kokot highlights how in urbanised areas of Africa individual achievement has become more and more valued in the past decades over traditional values (2000). Furnham & Akande (2004) asked parents in Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe to estimate their own and their children’s multiple intelligences. Results show that Namibians were more pessimistic in self-estimates while Zambians were the more optimistic. Interesting, mothers attributed to themselves higher estimates on all Gardner’s intelligence domains (Furnham & Akande, 2004). Another research applied similar methods in Nigeria and South Africa to compare White and Black South Africans self and relatives’ estimates of multiple intelligences (Furnham, Callahan & Akande, 2004). In this study emerged some gender differences and a more positive estimate of relatives by White South Africans compared to Black South Africans (Furnham, Callahan & Akande, 2004). Two different studies investigated the perception of giftedness in children by teachers and parents in Tanzania e Zimbabwe. Humble (2016) reports that teachers in Dar Es Salaam do not believe it possible that a child from an underprivileged context could be gifted. On the contrary, Constantine Ngara - who pioneered the study of giftedness in Zimbabwe – reports that "the most controversial aspect/view of giftedness widely held by Zimbabwean teachers is the belief that giftedness is more prevalent among students from low economic class families” (Ngara, 2017, p. 6). Local teachers declare that more gifted students in Zimbabwe come from low-economic class families than from high-class families (Ngara, 2002, 2010, 2017). These contradictory positions show that resilience is not valued as much in Tanzania as a gifted trait but appear to be essential in Zimbabwe. Numerous authors brought to light that the climate surrounding the issues of the gifted has been greatly influenced by the lack of national plans (Maree, 2018). Government have been called into action in Kenya and Nigeria but very little has been achieved (Kamau, 2005, Sambu, Kalla & Njue, 2014, Maree, 2018). The South African National Department of Basic Education in the Guidelines for Inclusive Teaching and Learning (2010) considers highly gifted learners as a category that requires differentiation in the classroom. This acknowledgement, while recognising gifted special needs, often lead to the exploitation of gifted learners in the classroom (Maree, 2018). The deficiency in public structures to support the needs of gifted children and adults have prompted the creation of private organisations and gifted self-organised communities. The African Federation for the Gifted and Talented provide advocacy, identification programmes and scholarships to Africa's Gifted and Talented individuals with the support of delegates in fifteen African countries (AFGT, 2017). Another successful example is the Gifted Children South Africa (GCSA, 2013), an organisation dedicated to helping parents and teachers of gifted children, that in a few years have contributed to the birth of a spontaneous community that offers support and information to its members.

  • AFGT (2017) Without Knowing Your Talent, You Are Wasting Your Time in Education.

  • Furnham, A., Callahan, I., & Akande, D. (2004). Self-estimates of intelligence: A study in two African countries. Journal of Psychology, 138, 265–285. doi: 10.3200/JRLP.138.3.265-285

  • Furnham, A., & Akande, A. (2004). African parents’ estimates of their own and their children’s multiple intelligences. Current Psychology: Developmental, Learning, Personality, Social, 22, 281–294

  • GCSA. (2013) Gifted Children South Africa

  • Humble, S. (2015). In search of human capital–identifying gifted children in poor areas of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In Handbook of international development d (p. 343-).

  • Kamau , R.W. (2005). A study of measures used in the identification of Gifted and Talented children in Three Districts of Kenya. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation).Kenyatta University, Nairobi.

  • Lumadi, T. E. (1998). Sociocultural factors in the family that are significant for the development of giftedness in Vhavenda children. [Unpublished dissertation] University of South Africa. Retrieved from

  • Maree, J. G. (2018). Gifted Education in Africa. In Pfeiffer, S. I., Shaunessy-Dedrick, E. & Foley-Nicpon, M. (2018). APA handbook of giftedness and talent. APA handbook of giftedness and talent.

  • Mpofu, E. (2002). Indigenization of the psychology of human intelligence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. (Unit 5, Ch. 2). Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, USA

  • Ngara, C. (2017). Gifted education in Zimbabwe. Cogent Education, 4(1), 1332840. doi: 10.1080/2331186X.2017.1332840 Maree, J. G. (2018). Gifted Education in Africa. In Pfeiffer, S. I., Shaunessy-Dedrick, E. & Foley-Nicpon, M. (2018). APA handbook of giftedness and talent. APA handbook of giftedness and talent

  • Ruzgis, P., & Grigorenko, E. L. (1994). Cultural meaning systems, intelligence, and personality. In R. J. Sternberg & P. Ruzgis (Eds.), Personality and intelligence (pp. 248-270). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.

  • Sambu, M. C., Kalla, J. S., & Njue, S. W. (2014). Educating Learners Identified by Teachers as Gifted and Talented in Primary Schools in Wareng District, Uasin Gishu County, Kenya. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 4(11), 1.

  • Taylor, C. & Kokot, S. (2000) The status of gifted child education in Africa. In Heller, K. A., Mönks, F. J., Subotnik, R., & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.). (2000). International handbook of giftedness and talent, 2nd Edition. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

  • Thobejanea, T. D. (2013) History of Apartheid Education and the Problems of Reconstruction in South Africa. Sociology Study, 3(1). P. 1‐12.

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