From PISA tourism to talent development

What is happening in the Nordic countries with regard to talent development in education? That was the main topic of the annual Nordic Talent Network conference, which was held on 22-23 September 2016 in Vaasa, Finland. Many topics came on the table: from a new landmark report in Norway to falling PISA tourism in Finland

The Nordic Talent Network has members in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. From each country, a representative gave the audience a short update about important developments. This happened in a challenging mix of languages. The main languages were ‘Nordic’ and English. The Nordic languages of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are quite similar and if one talks slowly and without too much of an accent, people from these three countries can generally understand each other. Mild language confusion was always a possibility, but a lot of linguistic border crossing certainly took place during the two-day conference.

Swedish Finland

Host for the approximately 60-strong audience was Ǻbo Akademi in Vaasa, the institution where teacher education for the Swedish-speaking part of Finland is handled. Finland is a bilingual country and around 5% of the Finnish population has Swedish as its main language. In Svenskfinland talent development is clearly on the agenda. If this is also as strongly the case in Finnish-speaking Finland is less clear. However, an important step is the recognition of differentiation as guiding principle in the new version of Finnish teacher handbooks, host Camila Svens-Liavåg and Ph.D. student Sonja Laine told the audience. This is a big step, as Finland as well as the other Nordic countries share a tradition of strong egalitarianism. There has been relatively little attention for gifted education at the primary and secondary level and honors programs are a rare phenomenon in higher education.

PISA tourism

At the same time, Finland has been seen as a kind of educational Walhalla for many years. Finnish schools were flooded with foreign visitors who wanted to learn the secrets behind the high Finnish scores in the PISA ranking. In Finland itself this led to the term PISA tourism, named after the report which compares educational attainments among fifteen-year-olds in different countries every three years. Now that these results have dropped in the latest ranking, PISA tourism is coming to an end. The Finnish teachers present in Vaasa don’t seem to mind. They can now start focusing more on talent development.

More to gain in Norway

Another important development mentioned in Vaasa was the publication of a new report on gifted or talented children, prepared by a commission for the Norwegian government. This is the very first report of its kind and it contains clear proposals to create a culture more appreciative of academic giftedness and talent in Norway. The report by the commission called Jøsendalsutvalget was named ‘Mer å hente’, literally ‘more to gain’.

A clear result of the conference was the realisation that a lot can be gained by networking: many good practices were shared and new alliances were made. For now, the Nordic Talent Network focuses mainly on primary and secondary education, but some talent programs already link to higher education and more links can be created in the future, for example by cooperating through the European Honors Council.

More info on the conference can be found here.

An article about this subject called ‘Slow Shift—Developing Provisions for Talented Students in Scandinavian Higher Education’ by Marca Wolfensberger and Maarten Hogenstijn was published earlier this month in the open access journal Education Sciences.

Written by Maarten Hogenstijn, project leader Honors in Europe at Hanze University of Applied Sciences and Secretary of the European Honors Council.

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