Gifted Dropouts: How This Dutch Program Helps Struggling Students Get Back on Track

By Koenderink, Tijl; Hovinga, Femke | Parenting for High Potential, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Gifted Dropouts: How This Dutch Program Helps Struggling Students Get Back on Track


Koenderink, Tijl, Hovinga, Femke, Parenting for High Potential


Meet Freddy, a fictional representative of a teenage gifted child. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder by a school psychologist, 15-year-old Freddy didn't have friends in school, faced daily bullying, and received grades well below average. While he was technically qualified to go to a pre-university track school, he ended up in a vocational program, where he grew severely depressed, missed peers to study and spend time with, and wasn't challenged at all. As winter came, he decided not to conform to rules and regulations anymore. He was deemed unteachable and dropped out of the school system, with nowhere to go.

Dutch Mentality

Unfortunately, Freddy's story is not unique in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a tiny country. (In fact, it fits into the United States 237 times.) The small population of about 17 million speak Dutch, and inhabitants are known to be tolerant and direct. The national credo, however, may just be, freely translated: "Please behave normally, because that's crazy enough." Interestingly, the Dutch tend to put a lot of effort and financing into programs similar to No Child Left Behind, while historically putting very little emphasis on educating top performers.

These cultural traits feed a popular misconception that is held not just in the Netherlands, but worldwide: that gifted children always receive high grades and test scores. In reality, the correlation between IQ and school performance goes down as the level of education goes up.1 A bright mind, like Freddy's, is not automatically a high achiever.

Reasons for Dropping Out

So why are gifted students, despite their talents, at risk for dropping out? Research shows that gifted dropouts start to cognitively disengage during the elementary school years, as their learning environment becomes less stimulating.2 Three factors lead to dropping out: factors that push children out of school, such as failing classes; those that pull students from school, such as anxiety, pregnancy, or illness; and factors that cause kids to fall out, or disengage. This means students do not see significant improvement in the affective and/or academic aspects of their schooling over time and disengage. Environmental factors play a role too, as Joseph Renzulli and Sunghee Park state in their research: Many gifted dropouts are from low socioeconomic-status families and racial minority groups, have parents with low levels of education, and participate less in extracurricular activities.3

"Falling out" of education is a rampant problem among gifted children and adults in the Netherlands. In fact, the Institute for Gifted Adults in the Netherlands indicates that only 60% of gifted adults have a diploma that matches their learning potential.4 An educated guess is that one-third of the gifted adults are unhappy with where they are in their lives and careers. Furthermore, high school dropouts are 30.8% more likely to live in poverty and have a 63% higher chance of being incarcerated.5 The loss of talent and production for society is also enormous, with an estimated cost of more than €600,000.6 The good news: As a parent or teacher you can make the difference by seeing the whole gifted child, creating materials to match educational needs, and advocating for appropriate programs and services.

Fitting Education: The Dutch Way

In the Netherlands, we do several things to prevent gifted kids from dropping out. …

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