The new economy starts here

by danjames, 8 months ago

I recently went to an Education morning tea organised by local member Joe Kelly, with the minister for education Kate Jones addressing us. I was delighted to see that the new economy was on the agenda for state education. Its pretty clear this is something we need to transition to and that education plays a vital role. 

In a short discussion afterwards I was saddened to hear there is pressure to not support the ‘top end’ of the classroom, I think they are a vital ingredient for this future economy. As an example did you know Steve Jobs nearly dropped out of school, but through the work of his parents, teachers and acceleration he went on to change the world. Can we afford to miss out on the next Steve Jobs?, by not supporting kids like this. I have been ruminating on this a bit and would like to share these thoughts in a bit more detail. The reflection is a combination of my professional and parental experiences.

Do we lose some of our best minds at school?

In my role as an industry-based researcher I’ve developed several technology products that have had international success. Coincidently many are in the sports domain developing for the AIS/QAS for competitive success and have been overseas funded as well.

During this time I’ve supervised over 20 PhD students and asked many of them about their schooling background. I discovered many of them struggled to fit in during school and several almost or had dropped out at one stage but they went on to become quite respectable researchers. Those that had support at school (enrichment or acceleration) were much better equipped and some of the others dropped out.  Many seemed to succeed in spite of school rather than because of it, those that were offered acceleration had a much easier part of it so I always wondered how many brilliant minds are lost and what is the economic cost of it?

A twenty year longitudinal study of Australian gifted students found that acceleration made a substantial difference for life satisfaction and the measures of life success and those that didn’t have this acceleration had higher incidences of mental illness etc M. Gross “Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Non-acceleration” (see paper abstract and a link at the end)

What is the international ‘evidence’ of gifted and the economy?

As we transition to the knowledge economy brilliant minds are likely to make all the difference. So in preparing recently a paper for the state conference Queensland Association for the Talented and Gifted Association (QATGC) I looked into the lives of the big tech entrepreneurs of our time to see what their early years were like (as a first approximation of evidence). I looked at Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak (Apple), Marissa Meyers (Yahoo), Bill Gates  (Microsoft), Elon Musk  (Tesla), Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), Larry Page, Sergey Brin (Google), Jeff Bezos (Amazon)

From what I could find out about their early lives, all were clearly gifted and many of them experienced real challenges in their school years. Steve Jobs for example almost dropped out, changed schools, was ultimately supported by teachers to be accelerated in his new school and by parents. Bill Gates was given access to enrichment (computers) at an early age, humorously he went on to build a timetabling system for his school where he was put into classes with lots of girls.  Jobs biography and his early life is a fascinating insight to education of the gifted if you have opportunity to read.

I think of a world where people such as these might have dropped out as derelicts of life. Not only would it be a personal tragedy for them but also look how they have shaped the world and created whole new economies with many down stream effects into many, many industries. One wonders how many similarly brilliant lives haven’t survived formal education and that is a sad loss.

Accolades for sporting excellence, academic not so much

Although my PhD is in Physics I have been working with elite sport for the last 15 years. It's a terrific thing for the country at many levels. I understand the Australian Sporting Commission (ASC) has valued each gold medal the Olympics bring around $50M to the Australian economy. As a nation we pride ourselves on sporting excellence and if a child plays above his year level and does really well its something to be proud of and to be celebrated (my facebook page lights up with such stories every week). Money for a sporting facilities and halls is always popular.

It is however a very different story for the academically gifted who arguably will make a more reliable contribution to the economy. Acceleration into a higher year level is often socially (and sadly often educationally) frowned upon by peers of the children and parents alike. The zeitgeist often doesn’t allow one to ‘brag’ about this , though play sport in a higher year level for a representative sport and that's a different story. We don’t tell our star sports people to run slower on sports day, yet we often ask the bright to do so in the classroom. Its quite a disconnect I think

As we move to a knowledge economy its important to be able to celebrate academic success and support acceleration. This will bring to our state and nation a real competitive advantage, not just on the footy field but economically as well.

I was really sad to hear there is pressure to not support kids at the top end. Giving them an opportunity to learn and be engaged is a really important part of our future in the new economy. I think school sporting halls are great initiatives for stimulating the economy and bringing general-purpose facilities to schools well beyond sport. I understand they are immediate, tangible benefits that the electorate understands and can see. I just hope they don’t come at the expense of longer-term educational initiatives.

Daniel James, PhD, MBA

M. Gross “Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Nonacceleration”

Link to article (no pay wall)


A 20-year longitudinal study has traced the academic, social, and emotional development of 60 young Australians with IQs of 160 and above. Significant differences have been noted in the young people’s educational status and direction, life satisfaction, social relationships, and self-esteem as a function of the degree of academic acceleration their schools permitted them in childhood and adolescence. The considerable majority of young people who have been radically accelerated, or who accelerated by 2 years, report high degrees of life satisfaction, have taken research degrees at leading universities, have professional careers, and report facilitative social and love relationships. Young people of equal abilities who accelerated by only 1 year or who have not been permitted acceleration have tended to enter less academically rigorous college courses, report lower levels of life satisfaction, and in many cases, experience significant difficulties with socialization. Several did not graduate from college or high school. Without exception, these young people possess multiple talents; however, for some, the extent and direction of talent development has been dictated by their schools’ academic priorities or their teachers’ willingness or unwillingness to assist in the development of particular talent areas.

Let me propose to you an experimental study.

Let us take a child of average intellectual ability, and when he is 5 years old, let us place him in a class of children with severe intellectual disabilities, children whose IQs are at least four standard deviations lower than his. The child will stay with this group for the duration of his schooling and he will undertake the curriculum designed for the class, at the level and pace of the class.

We will carefully observe and assess at regular intervals his educational progress, his feelings about school, his social relationships with classmates, and his self-esteem. We will also observe the child’s parents and their interactions with the child’s teacher, school, and school system. They will, of course, have had no say in the child’s class or grade placement.


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