Talent is a Natural Resource

14 April 2011

The Hungarian EU Presidential Conference on Talent Support concluded its two-day work issuing a Declaration on Talent Support.

Talentday_rollup_2Europe must not lose a single talent because talents are what has made Europe great, József Pálinkás, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) said in his speech opening the Hungarian presidency’s two-day conference on talent support. “We have to discover every talent, even in the last school of the last village,” he said.

The joint conference of the Ministry of National Resources, the Hungarian Genius Programme and the National Talent Programme, attended by some 300 guests from more than 20 countries, hopes to support the exchange of good practices and new forms of cooperation on a European level.

Pálinkás spoke of the key role that schools must play in nurturing talent, stressing that talent support networks alone are not sufficient.  “When I was a child there weren’t many talent support programmes, but there were teachers who regarded it as their personal duty to nurture talent. That kind of personal involvement is still vital today,” he said.

Hungary’s Minister of State for Education, Rózsa Hoffmann, said that nurturing talent can promote economic progress and more harmonic social relations. Gifted individuals have defined “Europe’s destiny and culture, and all talents have enriched their own nations, too,” she said. The aim of talent support is two-fold: to nurture the abilities of every child and to enable the talents of the exceptionally gifted to unfold, she said. 

Hoffmann emphasised the importance of focusing on unique talents. Teachers need to have a watchful eye for talent and give pupils tasks tailored to their individual needs on a regular basis, she said. She warned against pushing children towards uniformity, asking the audience to imagine Michelangelo being limited to carving chair legs (a reference to a well-known scene from Imre Madách’s The Tragedy of Man). 

Hoffmann was one of the initiators of the National Talent Programme that was passed by the Hungarian Parliament in 2008 for the next 20 years.  A significant contribution to that endeavour is the EU-supported Hungarian Genius Programme, which has created a talent support network based on local initiatives and more than 450 “TalentPoints”. According to Hoffmann, as many as 20,000 talented children have already been identified through the scheme. 

Péter Csermely, Chairman of the Hungarian Talent Support Council, which was established in 2006, explained that the “TalentPoints” range from nurseries and schools to sport clubs, art circles and carpentry workshops, and can be found not only in Hungary, but also those areas of Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine with ethnic Hungarian populations. The talent-supporting communities are founded by public education institutes, the church and civil organisations.

Competitions, demonstrations and research programmes help children to fulfil their potential under the guidance of expert teachers. The programme aims to build on Hungarian traditions on talent support, the most famous example of which is perhaps the Budapest Fasori Lutheran Secondary School founded in 1823.  Its roll call of former pupils includes Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner.

Being talented can also be a burden and society does not always embrace talents, Hoffmann said. The Hungarian Genius Programme aims to create a talent-friendly environment for young people in which they can develop their skills. Experience has shown that talent does not always find a way out of its own accord which is why the programme is so important, Csermely said. What he considers to be real success is when gifted people discover the joy that comes from using the talent that they have inherited.

Representing the European Commission Stefaan Hermans Head of Unit at the DG Research and Innovation spoke about the role of effective Early Research support programmes in contributing to the aims of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the realisation of Europe’s “Innovation Union” through new knowledge creation. “This requires 1million additional researchers if we want to live up to our expectations of a knowledge-based society.” The European Council has endorsed a European Research Area Framework to increase mobility and deployment of research talent under favourable terms. Key issues raised include: 1. transposing research into innovation through ongoing talent support; 2. fair & equal recruitment opportunities and common discourse between countries’ to facilitate suitable employment; and 3. equality in employment conditions to make research an attractive career prospect. The EurAccess Support Network brings together more than 200 service centres across Europe and serves as a one-stop for researchers to gather information about mobility options around Europe.

Mirosław Sielatycki Deputy Secretary of State of the Polish National Ministry of Education talked about the current issues of talent support in Poland.

László Andor EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion spoke about the issues of talent support in relation to the increase of social capital, and Leo Pahkin Member of the Finnish National Board of Education gave an introduction to the Comprehensive Finnish Model of Talent Support. Johanna M. Raffan talked about talent support through non-governmental eyes in the practice of ECHA (the European Council for High Ability). Joan Freeman, University of Middlesex, spoke about current research analysing the talent support programmes of the EU member states. The local talent support best practices of three European Universities – Münster, Torun and Glasgow – were briefly introduced. Zoltán Gloviczki Deputy Minister of State of the Hungarian Ministry of National Resources shared the experiences of the János Arany National Talent Support Programme with participants.

A new book of studies on European best practices in talent support was presented by János Győri, associate professor of ELTE University (Budapest).

The participants discussed different areas of talent support in six thematic sessions and a round table discussion, moderated by Prof. Norbert Kroó Vice-President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, was held on corporate social responsibility programmes with the participation of executives from a number of big International and Hungarian companies.

The joint declaration of the conference contains important statements on discovering abilities and giftedness and on developing these into talents. It also makes recommendations for stakeholders and society. The Declaration recommends that the European Council should declare 25th March, the birthday of Béla Bartók, composer, pianist and teacher, to be the official European TalentDay. It is also suggested that in order to coordinate the talent support activities of the Member States and to help the creation of a continent-wide network of talent support centres, a European Centre for Coordination should be established in Budapest.

To provide a forum for the continuous discussion similar conferences will be held in the future, the next one in Poland in 2012.

More details: http://www.conference2011.talentday.eu/en