Dr. Bruce Mitchell
Eastern Washington University
Looking at educational development in the world community over the past century, it is obvious that one of the major forces in almost all countries has been the move to a more egalitarian society. As has been previously shown, the expansion of educational opportunity to all social and economic classes has been an integral part of this movement. Capitalist or socialist, communist or democratic, developed or developing, equality of educational opportunity has been an ideal for which all countries have reached.
In such an egalitarian climate and with such a history of social and educational elitism and privilege, it is understandable that most countries of the world have approached gifted/talented education with hesitancy and skepticism. Yet, gifted/talented programs exist world-wide and they continue to develop. Why? We conclude there are five major reasons why this has occurred.
First, countries with a major internal or external threat have turned to gifted/talented education as a way to aid the state in developing the necessary resources for survival. It is no accident that countries such as Israel, South Africa, and Taiwan, nations facing immediate internal or external threat, have some of the most highly developed gifted/talented programs in the world.
Closely aligned with the concern for survival is the interest many countries have in economic and technological development. International political and economic competition have caused many countries to see their welfare tied to the development of their scientific and technological potential. Gifted/talented education is seen as a necessary component of this drive for modernization. The efforts in establishing gifted/talented programs in the Soviet Union, the United States, West Germany, the People’s Republic of China and indeed most of the developing countries can be seen as a major outgrowth of this concern.
A third factor contributing to the development of gifted/talented programs is the realization that mass education has in many cases become mediocre education and that many of the brightest students are disinterested and bored in an educational process that teaches to the average. Both laymen and professional educators in many developed countries have come to this conclusion. This realization has caused countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States to attempt individualized, enrichment models which provide special attention to the gifted/talented student while still maintaining the egalitarian nature of the educational system. Many countries, as they have expanded their secondary systems to include all, have retained or developed special curricula for students with advanced intellectual, artistic or athletic abilities. West Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, France, and even the Scandinavian countries have made some special provisions at the secondary level for those who exhibit special gifts or talents.
The fourth factor contributing to the growth and development of gifted/talented education has been the efforts of the private sector. Private schools, youth organizations, and entrepreneurial endeavors all exist which serve gifted/talented youth. Private schools, as centers of excellence, have had a long history in a number of countries. Also a host of countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, West Germany, and the Philippines has a number of private organizations which cater to the gifted/talented. Parents and other interested individuals have banded together in organizations which sponsor a variety of enrichment activities for gifted and talented youth.
Finally the focus on egalitarianism and fear of elitism has caused many countries to design gifted/talented programs for disadvantaged youth. Individuals regardless of background are given special attention if they reveal special talent. By providing these programs, governments cannot be accused of perpetuating a social or economic elite. This concern for the disadvantaged gifted has caused countries such as Israel to create special schools for them, the United States to begin organizations dedicated to advancing the talents of this group, and the Soviet Union to search the rural hinterlands in hopes of locating gifted/talented youth. From Australia to Brazil, fledgling programs have been designed specifically for the disadvantaged gifted.
Thus, although many of the problems related to gifted education, such as difficulties with identification, and lack of money and qualified teachers, seem universal, what also seems universal is the interest all nations display in providing special programs of some sort for their gifted/talented young people. Perhaps what is most heartening is that many nations not only see their own survival tied to gifted/talented education but also the survival of the planet. Such enlightened thinking is to be applauded for indeed the welfare of all humanity may in large measure be dependent on the careful nurturing of its best young minds.