First public school for gifted children opens in Mexico

The CEPAC, in Jalisco, aims to change the traditional model so the students become active participants in the acquisition of knowledge
Classes at the CEPAC - Photo: Jorge Alberto Mendoza/EL UNIVERSAL
12/10/2017
11:16
Guadalajara, Jalisco
Raúl Torres
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She's only 10, but Sofía has an IQ of 158 (two points less than what Albert Einstein allegedly scored). She wants to be a veterinarian and wonders how to develop a biomechanical prosthetic for animals who have lost an organ or a limb. Luis Ángel, 8, has an IQ over 130 and is thinking about the time it takes an email to go “wherever it needs to go” to reach the computer of the classmate next to him.

They are both part of the first generation of the Education Center for High Capacities (CEPAC), the only public school designed in the country to work with children like them.

The CEPAC is a project by the Government of Jalisco, launched on September 4 last year with just 105 students. It's part of a special education strategy by the local administration which has not only aimed to work with children and young people with disabilities, but also those with those who are considered “prodigies” or "gifted."

Francisco Chávez, coordinator of advisors of the Ministry of Education of Jalisco, says the WHO estimates 3 out of 100 children in Mexico have high intellectual capacities, and only 15 out of 10 thousand receive special attention; the rest are unaware of their conditions due to a lack of diagnosis.

“Moreover, out of 3 children diagnosed with an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), 2 are cases of children with high intellectual capabilities and 93% of genius children are misdiagnosed,” he claims.

Last May, the Ministry of Education of Jalisco launched a call to identify children with an IQ over 130 – the minimum to be considered gifted– and they received 348 applications in 15 days. With the help of the University Center of Health Sciences of the University of Guadalajara, they tested the applicants and found that 226 of the children reached or surpassed an IQ score of 130.

These children were then subjected to other tests to assess creativity, sociability, and control of emotions to select the 105 who would become the first generation of the CEPAC (63% come from private schools and 37% from public institutions); the other 121 will receive extracurricular attention on Saturdays.

Julián Betancourt Morejón, professor at the University of Guadalajara and directorof the CEPAC, says an important part of the work is to end the stereotype that “genius children” do everything right and never have fun because they prefer to study.

“These kids have high capacities, but they're still children. The labels placed on them are harmful and they develop psychological scars; there are high expectations towards them, but these are kids with discrepancies, that is, they have high intelectual capacities, but their social or motor skills are still those of a child,” he explains.

For this reason, the Center also includes the relatives of the children, since social interactions is, for the children, a challenge in many ways: “Families need to be able to deal with a kid like this, for the child to be happy and remain a child despite his capacities; there are parents who want their kids to be perfect and good at everything, others who overprotect them or who want their kids to grow up like they did. This is why parents need to work with psychologists, attend workshops...study,” says Betancourt.

“In a school like this, the kids receive the attention they deserve in a safe environment, because sometimes they come from places where they have been bullied or ignored by teachers who prefer to focus on avergae kids; this school understands the challenges of their learning needs and can meet their constant desire for knowledge,” he highlights.

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The roof and the walls of the class rooms are painted in black to avoid distractions in the kids, three class rooms have screens the size of blackboards and at the center there is a work table with four screens. Around the work table, 15 students and a teacher work with laptops.

The school is teaching students from all levels a “digital literacy” so they can have basic knowledge of how social networks, email, and other digital tools of our era work.

In the fifth grade class room, Sofía watches images of the human heart on the screens, while the walls project the image of a double helix DNA chain. In the third grade class room, the teacher is using the screens to explain safety measures when using social networks.

Mr. Chávez explains the teachers were selected according to their CV and they received training from the Complutense University of Madrid to become familiar with the education model, and from the Google Center in Mexico to learn to use the technological tools.

“This is a school under the Google model. It's a model based on projects, where the teacher is no longer the one who condenses and dossifies the information, but the one who helps the child build its own knowledge. The studens here are no longer just receptacles of information, they have an active participation: they research, create, share their opinions, and arrive at their own conclusions,”

In addition to the mandatory subjects required my the Ministry of Public Education, the children also work in laboratories to develop other skill-sets, such as critical thinking, reading comprehension, Earth Sciences, Astronomy, etc.

20 millions of pesos were invested in the CEPAC. For the foundation of this Center, the Government of Jalisco achieved strategical alliances with institutions such as the Complutense University of Madrid, the University College of London, the Positivo University of Brazil, and the Tel Aviv Universiy.

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