Gifted children, who asks bigger questions and pursue more advanced interests, often feel alienated in the school system. The Polish Children’s Fund addresses this problem by offering scholarships for talented pre-university students. Piotr Migdał has been a part of it, both as a student and as a supervisor.
There is a belief that talented children do not need any help. On the contrary, the exceptionally gifted have special educational needs. Their interests, and questions, are typically beyond knowledge of their parents and teachers, however well intentioned. Moreover, often such students feel alienated – as their passion for, say, molecular biology of mitochondria is not nearly as common as for sports or blockbuster movies.
“I was a fellow during my two last years of high-school, and it was a wonderful, life-changing experience.”
Polish Children’s Fund (pl: Krajowy Fundusz na rzecz Dzieci) is an NGO addressing this need. It offers yearly scholarships for gifted pre-university students, around 500 each year. However, instead of giving money it provides an opportunity to take part in scientific and artistic camps, free of charge. Most of the camps are specialistic (e.g. algorithmics or experimental physics), involving participation in research projects led by scientists. There is also one main, multidisciplinary camp, mixing high-school students with interests ranging from mathematics, through chemistry, to history and literature. It gives opportunity to taste other disciplines, participate in discussions on topics of general interest, and interact with peers.
I was a fellow in during my two last years of high-school, and it was a wonderful, life-changing experience. I remember what I said to my mother after going back from my first camp “There are so many people like me!”. Now, it’s been 10 years during which I’ve been volunteering as a tutor. Partly because I consider it an important mission for society. But mostly because I really love it – as it takes a spark to ignite their curiosity for a long time. And I like questions I have never anticipated!
Or, as Maria Mach, KFnrD director, likes to put it: students are like plants in a garden, with development being a gradual process. We should provide a fertile environment, but we cannot grow for them.
From what I witnessed, intellectual growth is not linear. Not all people develop their talents early and many whizz kids become “smart but not outstanding” adults. Yet, investing in “the best” is crucial – for them and for society.
The Polish Children’s Fund guidelines
- Qualification based on extracurricular activities and interests (including scientific projects, books, scientific olympiads) but not school grades (we even don’t ask for them).
- Lectures and workshops based on volunteering – by students and professors alike.
- Fellowship with no money but 100% reimbursement (accessible regardless of child’s material situation).
- Peer contact between people at various stages of development, fellows and tutors alike.
- Research projects in real laboratories.
- Polish Children’s Fund – official website
- D3.js workshop at ICM for KFnrD – a 5 day workshop I did in Jan 2016…
- …that resulted in a 2-week internship in word2vec visualization
- An independent camp for high-school geeks – on a camp inspired by KFnrD
- Gifted education @ 2nd Offtopicarium
- Helping exceptionally gifted children in Poland - August 11, 2016
- Autistic traits, science and the nerd stereotype (Piotr Migdał, February 2016) - February 4, 2016
- There are no projects like side projects (Piotr Migdał, January 2015) - January 1, 2015
- 5th Offtopicarium in Poland, 26-28 Sept 2014 – apply! - August 13, 2014