Talented children from poor families with illiterate parents are often overlooked in developing countries, as no-one believes they can be gifted – wasting a potentially enormous contribution to economic growth and development.

Government teachers and education officials in developing countries too often believe that children from poor families with illiterate parents lack talent and ability. Contrary to this belief, a new study based in the slums of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania identified children with extraordinary and exceptional abilities and potential.

"Currently the contribution of these children to economic growth and development is wasted because no-one believes they exist," says Professor Pauline Dixon.

In an 18-month project researchers collected data from 24 teachers, nearly 2,000 children and 17 government schools as well as 200 parents to investigate how 'giftedness' is currently regarded in a low-income setting in Dar Es Salaam. Children took part in a range of creativity and IQ tests as well as describing what they thought of their own intelligence. The children were also asked to identify three children in their class they thought were gifted, giving the reasons why.

Although the children were taught mostly by rote, test scores reveal that they were just as creative as Western children – including some with exceptionally high ability.

"Prior to our research some educational officials as well as teachers held the belief that poor children could not be gifted," says Professor Dixon. Indeed, when researchers told one father that his daughter was very talented, he refused to believe it, explaining that he thought only the rich could be talented.

"It is important that we dispel this myth as too few development experts believe that part of the solution to poverty can come from the poor themselves," says Professor Dixon. "Our research reveals an enormous waste of human capital if the resource of gifted 'slum superstars' remains untapped."