DCU’s Centre for Talented Youth Ireland has provided courses to tens of thousands of gifted childrenEpisode 6, Colm O’Reilly
It is thirty years since DCU set up it’s Centre for Talented Youth Ireland for children who are high achievers.
Codes and Ciphers, Law, Veterinary Science and Philosophy are some of the courses available at the centre, which is known as CTY Ireland. They are for young people from the ages of six to seventeen, who have high academic ability or are bright and motivated. They learn about subjects and topics that are not available at their schools. We hear from a student who has done a number of the courses and Louise chats to Colm O’Reilly, Director of CTY Ireland.
He tells her why DCU started the centre thirty years ago and how over 70,000 students have now taken part in different courses.
They also discuss the mental health and wellbeing of bright children and how the perception that a gifted child should always get 100% in every test is not true.
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This year, it is 30 years since the Center for Talented Youth Ireland was established in DCU. Known as CTY Ireland, it provides opportunities and courses for young people from the ages of six to seventeen, who have high academic ability or are bright and motivated. The courses enable the young people to learn about more than what is on the syllabus.
For Teachers Inspire our producer Elaine visited the Naessens family. She first spoke to Corona Naessens about her daughter, Lucy, who is currently in fifth year,
Lucy would be curious, and she would be interested in finding out new things, and (she) likes to be kind of engaged and kind of following..oh it’s hard to describe this actually, but she's really curious.
She's not the only one in her family though like that ?
No. Her elder sister would have also been curious too and interested in kind of learning more things outside of the regular kind of school syllabus.
How then did you first find out about the centre in DCU?
Our first understanding of DCU and what was available to the young children was from the teachers in the secondary school, who would have kind of spoken to Kate, and Lucy subsequently, and said, look you know there’s courses available here, maybe should have a look at them.
And how did you as a parent feel about that?
As a parent it was brilliant, because this is not something that we would have thought about or would have pursued ourselves. And so, it was nice to get the input from the teachers to actually say, you know what, there's something here, have a look, see what's in it.
Lucy, when did you first go and for someone who hasn't gone, how would you describe the experience?
So with it, I haven't gone consistently every year. I went in sixth class for a course on codes and ciphers. In second year, I went for a course on veterinarian science. In third year, I was supposed to go for a law course but unfortunately, because of COVID, that was cancelled.
For TY (Transition Year) I took part in the EUE programme where I did philosophy. And then I also went to Arizona for five weeks with them to an exchange with the Herberger Young Scholars Academy.
What do you think you've got out of it?
Um, I think it's made me, like, it's made it easier for me to make new friends. Because you'd go into these course and like, for me, every time I didn't know anyone I was going into. Some people go with like one or two people from their school.
But I never knew anyone when I went in and I'd come out of it and I'd have like so many new friends. And I enjoyed that because like, even like last Tuesday, I went out with some of the ones from my courses. And it was, it's nice.
If you hadn't known about or got involved with the centre, you know, how would you have maybe satisfied your curiosity?
Um, I feel like if I didn't know about it, I'd probably just research random things because even during COVID I like learnt Morse code, and juggling, and all these random things. So, I'd probably just have a weird array of skills. I guess it probably channels it into a better place that you actually get knowledge from it!
[Laughter] Well, it sounds like CTY have been keeping Lucy very busy. Thank you to Lucy and her mother Corona for talking to Teachers Inspire. Joining me now is Colm O'Reilly, who is the director of CTY Ireland, the centre that Lucy, and her sister, and 1000s of other students have attended.
Now Colm, we heard there how Lucy's mother described her as ‘curious’. Would that be a trait that would be shared by many of the children that go through the Centre for Talented Youth and, I guess, how would you best describe the kids that come through the centre?
Yeah, I think exactly what ah Corona said there would be very apt. Definitely, we have students who have a natural curiosity or interest in things that might go beyond what they would normally do in school. And this is a good outlet for those students to get an opportunity to study subjects they like in more depth, or maybe try new subjects that they would usually only get to experience at third level, in a context while they're still young, sometimes in primary school, sometimes in secondary school.
And I definitely think that, I'm very interested in what Lucy said, there, like a lot of the students are naturally academically talented as we would imagine.
They're academically curious, they're interested in subjects like philosophy or law, or codes and ciphers that she mentioned there. But a lot of their experiences that they have positive, related to the program, are social.
And a lot of what Lucy said there was she made loads of friends, in the different courses that she came (on), I think that that's very important for these type of courses because a lot of bright students can feel somewhat isolated in school, because they may not, you know, have the connection, or the friends who are interested in the same things as themselves and it's great to come on these programs, and meet other people with similar interests.
And do you think, like when you mentioned isolation there - would that be, I suppose, a problem - that these gifted children would have in school? Or would it be boredom or..
Yeah, it can it be a combination of different things, you know, I think that, obviously, if you're very interested in something, like say, maths, for example, as opposed to sport, therefore then your social outlet related to what you're interested in, will probably be less than for kids who are good at sport, and also the opportunities that you get, because probably in school, there'll be sporting things on or out of school, that'll be the same thing, but for math, there's probably not as many and there's probably not as much support or encouragement for kids who are good in those fields, to get out there and do that.
And that's so true, which is interesting, because I suppose so few kids will end up having a career in sports, whereas actually, you know, with children who are interested in these subjects it could go on to be, you know, something.
We said it was 30 years since the Center for Talented Youth Ireland was established in DCU. Like, why was it established? Who was sort of, you know, who was in the room when that decision was being, being made and why?
Yeah, it's an interesting story, because initially, what they wanted to do was.. DCU would have been in its infancy, and in those days, and they're probably interested in having a program that was very unique and different that other colleges wouldn't have access to, and obviously, they came across this idea of working with gifted students, probably from what was happening in America, where at Johns Hopkins University, there would be a couple of programs that would run courses for high school or secondary school students.
And they kind of wanted to replicate that in an Irish context. Obviously, universities are great places to run these courses, because we have access to facilities that schools wouldn't have, like engineering labs, or science labs, subjects like psychology and philosophy, where we have experts and people who can teach these areas. So therefore, that gives us like a better, you know, grounding for these students to explore the depth that they need to explore in the subjects that they're interested in.
So DCU was considered a good base for that. And it's been great, because, you know, we started 30 years ago with 100 students, overall, we've had like 70- 80,000. So that's a lot of kids who've gone through the program at different points, and hopefully have had positive experiences.
And what do you think, is the greatest achievement of the program is or the impact that it's had on students? Yeah,
That's an interesting question. You know, like, obviously, it kind of depends, I think it's like, if you listen to what the parents are saying, there, they're saying, it's great for their child to kind of get something that they wouldn't normally get and this will be, really keep them happy.
A lot of parents what they really wanted their kids to be well balanced and happy and do things they're interested in. As you hear from the students themselves, they're saying, well, what they wanted, you know, is to study something that they're interested in, but to meet people as well.
And I think from our perspective, I suppose what we're really, to me, the thing that's the best in terms of having so many students, is that it normalises high ability or gifted students, in the context that, I think 30 years ago, people were thinking, oh, there must be only one or two of them in the country. Or you're automatically thinking of kids who are obsessed with stuff and might have social difficulties.
And maybe, you know, kids who, you know, sit at the top of the class and learn stuff all the time and are not interested in anything but academics.
Whereas these programs show that that's not the case, we just have kids who are naturally curious, who are interested in things, who've got opportunities to do stuff, and they enjoy it, but they actually enjoy doing stuff that other kids do too, as much as learning, and if you can combine those things together, that makes it the same way….like look, I like sport myself, so I'm not bringing it back saying oh, you know, compare it to sports.
But in the same way as if you join a football team, you have a camaraderie with that team when you get a thing. And I think that this is the same (when) if kids come on programs like this, they make friends and affiliations and become, you know, part of a group or a culture.
And I think that that's kind of nice for those students, to have those other people who are, who understand them or get why they might be interested in things to fall back on and to keep in touch with particularly, it's a lot easier to do that now than it would have been even 30 years ago.
So that that's helpful for them moving forward with ultimately what we want each of these students to do is fulfill their potential. And I think that this is a stepping stone in that direction.
And then of course, look, we work in a university that, a lot would be interested in academia and research and ,hopefully, we've kind of opened pathways or doors for them to study things that they want to do, as opposed to … ..’cos I think that sometimes the big challenge for these students is the guidance that they may get, and this isn't a blame in schools, it's more, you know, ‘do the course with the most points,’ ‘you're going to do really well, don't waste your points,’ but we really want them to take subjects that they have passion for, or they're interested in.
And as you can imagine, if you're coming on courses, since you were six, for 10 years, you'll get a chance to try maybe 12, 13 different courses and hopefully you'll find something that really makes you happy or you're passionate about and that you know utilises your skillset and makes college then so much easier, as opposed to going to medicine, for example, because you've got the points for medicine, but you're not really interested in being a doctor or in the whole thing that that would entail. So therefore, I think that these courses are very important for those students to get variety a choice and to make better choice.
Yeah. God, I mean, it sounds like something nearly every student should do to have had that access, and I suppose that insight, so when you are doing your CAO form that, as you said that you have some sort of understanding of where your, your interests lie.
Yeah, I think that, like, we currently run a program called early university entrance, which I know that Lucy mentioned there, she has attended. So that's for TY students, we actually replicate the university modules at that point.
So it's a very good insight into what that college course might be particularly like, because you know, it's very easy to say I like computers, because I love playing games on computers, and then go into college and learn that programming is a lot different relative to that, and you're struggling in that environment, and you feel then very inadequate, because other people are doing well in it.
So it is helpful to try stuff out and go ‘wow, you know, I really liked computers, but it's a hobby, I don't think I can study it.’
Or equally, ‘wow, this is really good for me, I'm really good at the programming, I think I'm going to do well in this.’
It just gives you a little head start when you start college because you're apprehensive when you start there due to courses, wondering will I be good enough for them, and also ‘will I fit in,’ and ‘will I make friends?’
So these are very good ways of kind of, ‘well I've made friends already on these type of courses and I like the subjects that I'm doing, you're already going to feel more relaxed and comfortable to enjoy college life, which is ultimately, what I would think is the main goal in one of these things as well as getting a good degree, obviously, that's thrown in from a DCU perspective.
Laughter from both.
And on this podcast, I suppose a lot of what we've been talking about is, you know, those teachers who make a difference to teachers who go the extra mile and really, I suppose just prioritise their students’ welfare. And when it comes to the welfare of gifted students, what do you see as the role of teachers? You know, when you touched on that a little bit there, but it was in both primary and secondary school? What do you think their role is? When it comes to the gifted children in their class?
I think that's a really good question. And I think that obviously we really have to, in the current climate and I'm sure it's covered in in other aspects of these kinds of podcasts or studies, is that we have to be careful on bright kids’ mental health and stuff like that, you know.
We've just recently done a study you know, on resilience in bright kids and like the results were very positive in that like 70% probably came across quite resilient, well able to cope with you know, things that may go wrong, with difficulties they may have, with challenges, with doing well, with performing to the best of their ability, which is brilliant, but that still indicates that there's 30% out there who are struggling with all that, who are finding challenges with, you know, keep achieving to the level they know they're capable of, to concentrating and doing well, to worrying about what their peers think about them, to worrying about what their teachers think about them.
And I think in those instances, it's so important that their teachers offer them reassurance and give them help to achieve to the level they can, because, sometimes we can think ‘oh you know, look your, your results are showing that you, you know what we've tested before is showing you should be doing well in everything all the time’. But circumstances can happen in your life that mean that that's not going to be possible every day, all the time, and we need to be more sympathetic to that, both as teachers and parents.
At primary school, I think it's really maybe (about) looking and making sure that kids are not getting frustrated, because they're finding it too easy.
And that's quite common, more with boys say, because they're acting out or because they're having difficulties with the fact that, you know, they're not getting the attention they need, because the teacher is focusing on other students who they perceive needs third attention more in the short term, and they act out and get into difficulties or trouble because of it. So I think that these kids just need extra stimulation in relation to..
Can I ask you why you think it's more common with boys to do that.
I think that it's interesting. And it's like, like, it's terrible… like we've gotten, we've done a few studies on this, on a stereotyping, is that boys, we would look at our six to seven year old programme and you know, we'd say, we have 100 kids on that program.
85 of them are boys (and) that's really interesting, because I'm pretty sure that if you look at a population of bright kids at that age, it should be 50/50, if not 55% Girls 45% Boys, but girls don't get identified very early, because boys come to the forefront due to the fact that can be disruptive and wants attention. Girls tend to be quiet, keep thing, don't want to put their head above the precipice, because other people might not want them to do that, and (they) slip under the radar at primary school a lot ..
Wow that is so interesting.
And then that comes more, as I said, at secondary, when the teacher is really bowled over by ‘well look how much that girl knows relative to other students’ and stuff like that. And you know, we would find that again, at secondary, it's about 60% girls , 40% boys on our programme.
At (age) six and seven, I’d say its 80/ 20 and even at eight to 12 (years), it's 65/35 boys to girls.
So that is something for teachers and for parents to look out, because, I'm delighted that you had parents who had two girls on the programme, because, like, so many parents will say (that) they'll put their boy forward because they feel they need it more because the girls are more adapted and easier and feels happier in the environment that they're in.
But that's so incorrect, really, because the girl needs it, if probably is smarter in a lot of instances, and needs it equally as much as the boy to, you know, give them those other opportunities and stuff like that. So that's a kind of an interesting studies that we do. It's a really fascinating group. And I think that that's really important because people perceive bright kids as all falling into one category, that they're all certain types of thing. But we've found like with the numbers that we have, they're definitely not a homogeneous group at all. There's so many different varieties within it and I think that that's important, because if you have a perception that your gifted child should always get 100% in every test, that's not true.
And you're going to then feel disappointed if they're getting 98 or 97 and that just might not be what that child is interested in, or what they're doing well in, or they might be a gifted child who under-achieves or is struggling with social things, or with their peer acceptance, which is causing them to do worse than they perceive can. And we need to support them to get them back on track rather than criticising them for not achieving the goals that we perceive they should be getting, because they're usually actually misplaced conceptions.
Oh my God, this, honestly, this was such an interesting conversation. Colm, thank you so much for coming in today and for talking to me about the Center for Talented Youth Ireland in DCU.
Thank you, I really enjoyed it.
I'm Louise O'Neill. And thank you for joining me for this episode of the Teachers Inspire Ireland podcast.
You can hear all of the episodes wherever you get your podcasts and you can find out more and maybe tell us about a teacher that made a difference in your life on Teachersinspire.ie Until the next time…