Summary on the 18th ECHA Conference

From Zalán Molnár.

This year, through the efforts of the ETSN, I have had the opportunity to attend the ECHA conference and widen my perspective on some sadly overlooked difficulties encountered in talent support. The conference has also allowed me to familiarize with different approaches to education, talent support and personal development (facilitation included), and to “network”, i.e. get to know and establish contacts with persons to whom these questions are relevant.

Let me share now a few thoughts that were frequently raised there and could be useful. Firstly, considering mistakes and failure things to be avoided at all cost means we must adopt unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns. It is even worse if the student takes over this attitude from the teacher. Do not encourage mistakes, but consider them natural to create an effective learning environment (whether for high-performers or others).




Zalán Molnár 


Secondly, learners receive by and large the same quantity, but not the same quality, of education. Here quality is intended less in its traditional sense, and more as in caring for the needs of the learner. “Quality” here means “what is needed by the learner”: given the inherently different needs of learners, it is exceptionally difficult to provide equal quality in this sense. Certain steps such as reducing class size can help, but the problem is far from being solved. 

Thirdly, the autonomy issue. Most students do not like to feel/be different from the others, especially if this it is due to adaptation to some special educational need. On the other hand, learners who are exceptional in one field may achieve by differentiation, by being able to tackle problems using their strengths. These two approaches are apparently contradictory, yet both have shown merit in the past. In the final analysis, it depends on the learner which solution will work better for them. This point can also be overgeneralized: different students will struggle or thrive with different approaches to learning. It is crucial to accept this and never make the students adopt methods that impede their learning. 

There is one issue I would like to discuss in more detail: talent identification and participation in talent support. Talent identification has a negative connotation in many countries; luckily, Hungary is not one of them. In Hungary, it is a precondition of participation in talent support to learn about the various programs and apply for them, and talent identification is often necessary. This is not ideal for two reasons. Firstly, if the teachers or parents (or, at later ages, the children themselves) do not consider the student to be gifted and look for suitable talent-nurturing programs, the student may be left out of the talent support programs, i.e. potentially be left out of positive assistance for good. As for the second reason, we seldom speak about it. Some students are both gifted and psycho-educationally challenged (“twice exceptional”), and  often show average performance as their problems mask their talents. With our current approach to gifted development, they do not get the assistance they need.

One of my favorite workshops, on assessing mathematical creativity, offered a solution to this issue. They suggested to have (rather frequent) special lessons where students (in small groups, to be able to pay attention to all) are given tasks requiring the use of their cognitive functions (absent from the primary school curriculum). The way they perform, behave, and adapt to the different rule sets, if assessed well, could reveal the students who think differently and are in need of special care.

To end on a less specific note: the conference’s main topic was personal growth, yet what all experts described was inclusion, and it is not difficult to understand why. It is good to realize that students will achieve more if we allow them to develop as best they can, i.e. if we provide the best possible education to students of all types within the institution, whether they are highly gifted, average, doubly exceptional or else.

Talent is a special kind of natural resource that is available in every country.