Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

National Policies and Strategies for the Support of the Gifted and Talented in Austria

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

National Policies and Strategies for the Support of the Gifted and Talented in Austria

Article excerpt

The development of gifted and talented provision in Austria - from separative measures to a holistic and systemic approach

Since the mid 1990s, the issue of gifted and talented provision2 has be- come increasingly important in education policy in Austria. Especially over the past five years, politicians and other important stakeholders (economists, researchers, etc.) have focused on this topic, and the interest of the media has been growing. However, this has not always been the case. In the 1980s, gifted and talented education was still highly controversial in Austria. Three reasons can be assumed for this opposition:

1. Due to the Nazi regime, which propagated the training of an elite (in the worst sense possible), the term "elite" had a severely negative connota- tion. After World War II, gifted education was believed to support this elitist thinking, and was therefore strongly opposed (Ziegler & Stoeger, 2007).

2. A commonly held belief and prevailing view of the public was (and sometimes still is) that gifted children and adults do not need any fur- ther support measures, simply due to the fact that they are already gifted and able to perform well by themselves. The underlying assumption was that only pupils with learning difficulties need support.

3. Austria has a differentiated school system. While all children attend pri- mary school from age 6 to 10, pupils have to choose between second- ary modern school ("Hauptschule" or "Neue Mittelschule") or grammar school ("Gymnasium", aimed at higher-achieving pupils) at the age of 10.3 Until the 1990s, it was commonly believed - by representatives of both school types - that this early tracking of pupils would lead to the creation of two homogeneous learner groups, thus making a differenti- ated approach focused on special gifts and talents in schools redundant. However, since the 1980s, more and more pupils have chosen to attend grammar schools, and in some areas over 50% of all pupils nowadays go to these schools (Schwabe & Gumpoldsberger, 2008).

With more and more pupils attending grammar schools, and a corre- spondingly more diverse school population, it became increasingly clear that special provisions for gifted children were a necessity; not only for grammar schools, but also for primary and secondary modern schools.

The first measures (to be supported by legislative action, see section Le- gal framework) taken regarding gifted education were:

* In the mid 1980s, the first extracurricular talent courses for highly gifted pupils were offered in Salzburg, and soon afterwards in other Austrian regions as well.

* In 1988, one of the first large European conferences on the promotion of the highly gifted took place in Salzburg, which was attended by over 600 people from 23 countries. Although it was accompanied by massive pro- tests in front of the venue, it nevertheless stimulated a broad discussion about the needs of gifted children and the necessity of gifted education (Rosner, 2004).

* In 1996, the former Federal Ministry of Education, Culture and Scien- ce established a unit for the provision of the gifted and talented. Con- sequently, the president of each provincial school board was asked to nominate consultants for gifted education in their province. These consultants now act as provincial coordinators (for a description of the coordinators' tasks, see section Coordination of gifted and talented su- pport activities in Austria).

* In 1997, the province Upper Austria organised the first summer school for highly gifted pupils, and summer schools are now being organised in all of the nine provinces.

* In 1998, a special grammar school for highly gifted and talented chil- dren was established in Vienna, the Sir Karl Popper School. The establi- shment of the school was - like the aforementioned conference in 1998 - also accompanied by strong protests, showing that support for gifted education was still lacking in Austria. …

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