Untapped Talent - Day Four - Measuring Talent in 2050

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Untapped Talent - Day Four - Measuring Talent in 2050

Fellows consider the role of researchers, the education sector and the private sector in measuring talent in the years to come

Evidence-based policy or policy-based evidence?

The Fellows in Salzburg might have spent the last four days talking about “Untapped Talent” and forming recommendations on how best teachers, assessors and policymakers can move forward in this area, but do policymakers even care about people’s talent? What do we mean by the word talent? And how can we convince policymakers to care about “talent”?

The OED (not to be confused with the OECD) defines talent as “Power or ability of mind or body viewed as something divinely entrusted to a person for use and improvement.” Although some may take umbrage with the word “talent” (it suggests innate ability, rather than a malleable and improvable skill), the talents that much of the session has focused on have been so-called “21st century skills” which the OECD posits can be broadly placed in five categories: interpersonal engagement, relationship enrichment, task completion, intellectual engagement, and emotional regulation.

Data shows that students with both higher cognitive and social and emotional skills are more likely to complete college, earn a higher income and have lower instances of depression, with the social and emotional competencies proving even more important in this relationship than cognitive skills.  

So if the evidence shows these skills are important for tomorrow’s (and today’s!) workforce, do policymakers care about this? Rhetorically at least, it would appear: yes. The Australian Education Act 2013 includes wording such as “confident, creative individuals,” and “active and informed citizens,” and the accompanying curriculum framework includes more than just literacy and numeracy; critical and creative thinking and ethical and intercultural understanding, for example both feature.

Evidence and rhetoric, however, may prove to not be enough. Politicians are notoriously short-term-focused. At best they’re focused on the next election. At worst, they’re just chasing the next 24-hour news cycle. As one Fellow remarked: “Politicians don’t about evidence-based policy – they care about policy-based evidence!” But researchers need to play their part too, by supporting politicians and delivering sound evidence.

Evidence-gathering takes time but it can have impact. In Chile, they have been gathering assessment data since 1998; the first stage of education reform passed in 2014. If you start collecting evidence, be prepared to wait years before policy is implement, warned one Fellow: “Be prepared for bureaucracy.”

Good vs. Bad Assessments

Testing the right skills at the right time for the right reasons

If the strategic design of tests is key to learning, poor strategic design is a substantial barrier to the process, Fellows heard on the fourth day of Untapped Talent.

Poorly-designed tests not only waste the time of the teachers creating them, but they often do not measure the concepts that are supposedly being tested. Good assessment means balancing curriculum, giving constructive feedback, and ultimately, creating a productive learning experience.

It was suggested that there needs to be a system-level challenge in the UK to enable teachers to teach and test math more effectively. Multiple choice math tests, for example, rely on elimination rather than reasoning and are a much less effective way of testing a student’s math skills than actual problem solving. Although we may know how to better design tests and have more effective assessment, there are different kinds of pressures and barriers along the education chain, from the management tensions of superintendents and principals to the lack of support for teachers. 

In South Africa, barriers to an effective educational system were met with demands by students to reform curricula in schools. The apartheid system was entrenched in the South African education system, creating separate development for different nationalities and races. After 1994, students played an important role in higher education, becoming a legitimate governing structure in the education system. They continue to play an active role in pressuring the system to change – as was seen earlier this year with the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement to remove the statue of colonialist Cecil B. Rhodes from the University of Cape Town.

But not all of the 12 million learners in South Africa go to university or further education colleges, leading to high rates of unemployment. To better understand the readiness of students upon exiting school, the National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) helps assess the competencies of students who wish to pursue higher education. The project then also assesses the relationship between higher education entry level requirements and school-exit outcomes and assists with curriculum development. With supplemental assistance and a view that there is a responsibility to help students not doing well in school, success rates are increasing.

Tech + content + pedagogy = success?

Media24’s Via Afrika Digital Education Project is designed to revolutionize South Africa’s 21st century classrooms. Students learn through ebooks, individualized math programs, revision quiz apps, using 21st century tools such as tablets instead of traditional text books. Such tech-based initiatives are disruptive and innovative by nature – but they are not the panacea to all education needs. Technology needs to be combined with two other important elements: content knowledge and pedagogy. Traditionally there was only pedagogy and content knowledge, however this is becoming increasingly outdated. Using only technology and content knowledge is not enough and feels disconnected. 

Introducing tech solutions to these two other elements can enable better observation of and response to changes in learners’ needs. 

Engagement is a key factor: how can you retain children’s attention when the outside world is so stimulating? Tech alone won’t solve this problem – we need to ensure we maintain students’ motivation regardless of the modes of teaching employed.


The Salzburg Global program Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies? is being hosted in collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS)the National Science Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, and in association with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/558.