Succeeding in challenging environments
Her PhD focuses on the experiences of gifted and talented young people from low socio-economic environments in New Zealand. It seeks to determine how they were able to achieve and succeed despite the often challenging environments in which they grew up.
“One of the key findings to come out of the research was what spurred these young people to achieve. Rather than poverty being a risk factor in their lives, it gave them the drive and motivation they needed to aim higher,” she says.
“On the other hand, their giftedness, and the confidence it brings, often burdened them with huge expectations to do well. Many struggled with this tension and the feeling of living in two different worlds.”
Ms Ballam surveyed 93 young people online and conducted eight indepth interviews. She says the cohort she studied were opportunistic people, who recognised opportunities and knew how to make the most of them, but they all said that having good relationships with family and teachers was the most valuable factor in being able to identify opportunities to develop their talent.
“It’s not always about just throwing money at something. It may be a teacher recognising a talent or interest and offering the student opportunities to develop it – this can be life-changing for a young person. I hope their stories will help inform others about what can be achieved.”
Another interesting finding was the students’ preference for working in a competitive environment, which they found motivating, but which many schools have pulled away from because it contradicts the current national education approaches, she said.
Those interviewed are now either studying, or are following diverse careers in business, law, performing arts, fine arts, and professional sport.
Continuing study in the field
Ms Ballam hopes her research will spur more debate in the area of gifted and talented young people and already has plans to expand her study in several areas. One project soon to begin is to track a cohort of children, from schools ranging from low to high decile ratings, from Year 6 through to their first year of college. She says the project will look particularly at how schools can potentially work together to help make educational transitions less scary and more successful for gifted children.
The University of Waikato’s Tauranga graduation ceremony takes place on Friday 11 April at Tauranga’s Holy Trinity and Ms Ballam will be among over 170 graduands to be conferred.