An Interview with Professor Peter Csermely: European Council for High Ability

Nov 20, 2012 by

Professor Peter Csermely
The photo is the work of Peter Kollanyi (

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1)      Peter, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, education and experience?

I attended one of the best high schools of my country (where we were taught relativity theory and quantum mechanics in the age of 13). However, I was bored during school years. My first enlightening experience came with a national contest, where 16-years-old participants had to make a scientific inquiry. The experience was so strong that I wrote my PhD from the same topics – years later. Being 18, I won a silver medal in the Olympics of chemistry, which led my graduation as a chemist in Budapest, Hungary. I was interested in biochemistry, which led me to network science ten years ago. Now I lead a high multidisciplinary network science group (, which became a talent-hub. We published more than 200 papers altogether receiving over 7000 citations.

2)      Now what exactly is the European Council for High Ability and when did it begin?

The European Council of High Ability (ECHA, was established 25 years ago by high level professionals involved in European gifted education. By now personal membership was expanded by teachers, mentors, parents and talented people themselves and involves all European countries and many countries outside Europe. We have an increasing number of corporate members, which are mostly European Talent Centres and other NGO organizations supporting talented people, like the Hungarian Talent Support Council bringing together 200,000 persons involved in helping the gifted and talented.

3)      I believe that you have your own journal- or am I wrong about this?

Yes, ECHA has actually two journals. Our major journal is the High Ability Studies, which publishes high profile scientific papers on giftedness and gifted education. During its 24 years of existence the journal became a leading journal of the field. The other journal is ECHA News, which informs ECHA members on the latest developments in the organization as well as on the best practices of talent support in Europe.

4)      It is my understanding that in Europe, instead of the word “ gifted “, the term “ high ability “ is used or highly able. Do you have any insight into why this is?

Europe has a rich cultural background, where the “G-word” (gifted) often meant a highly selective education, where the “future elite” was selected very early on and almost all efforts were concentrated to the very best, to the geniuses. This leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of modern gifted education and talent support. The modern concept of talent is an inclusive concept saying that any European citizens may be talented. In the past decades the concept of talent was expanded from the initial narrow understanding of high-IQ to all types of talents including arts, sports, craftswork and others. From elitism talent support became an important tool promoting social mobility and fighting against social injustice.

The increasing use of high ability instead of gifted also reflects this shift in the mainstream thinking on helping talented young (and even elderly) people.

5)      Now, tell me about upcoming conferences. I love to travel to Europe and would enjoy attending or presenting at a conference there.

The major meetings of ECHA are the biannual conferences. The next ECHA Conference will be in Ljubljana, Slovenia, between the 17th and 20th September 2014 ( The major topics of the conference is “Re:Thinking Giftedness: Giftedness in the Digital Age”. The organizers prepare a highly creative and unusual meeting, where digital devices will help networking and on-site, on-line information exchange.

Everyone is highly welcome at this event! Another important meeting series is that of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, where the next meeting will be in Louisville, Kentucky between 10th and 14th August 2013 (

6)      What are the educational issues currently facing “high ability“ children in Europe?

Europe has a very diverse set of educational systems. There are countries, where personalized educational programs are generally not well developed. In these countries many specialties of children (including cultural and ethnic backgrounds, special needs and high ability) are not getting the attention they need. In other countries personalized programs are well developed, but “high ability” as such does not receive the special care it requires. Enrichment programs are becoming more and more widespread. However, local, regional, national and all-European network building is not very well developed. We need to spread the best practices across countries and form local, regional and national Talent Support Councils to maintain a continuously high level of attention.

7)      I know that you face a great crisis in Europe with the Eurodollar and fiscal concerns. How has this impacted Education?

Education (and the support of talents) is a life insurance of nations. When there is a “business as usual” situation, it is often a minor concern to develop them. However, in times of crisis a political elite with long-term thinking gives special help to education, since it knows that the revitalization of the economy needs bright people and novel abilities. In some European countries this evidence became part of the everyday activity of the governments. Regretfully, in many other countries short-sighted policies did not recognize the importance of education.

8)      Do you have a web site where people can get more information?

Yes, ECHA has a web-site,, which will be modernized in early 2013. Let me draw the attention to the web-sites of some of the regional talent support centres in Europe, such as that in Münster (, in Münich ( or in Budapest (

9)      What have I neglected to ask?

Talent support is increasingly recognized by European Union policies. Between November 2012 and February 2013 there a Written Declaration is open for signatures for European Parliament members to help talent support initiatives in the continent. The text of the Declaration can be read here:

The photo is the work of Peter Kollanyi (

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