Gifted Education and the Development of Human Capital

A newly released book entitled, The Atlas of Economic Complexity  (which is available as a free download here), by César Hidalgo and Ricardo Hausmann et al. makes a case for gifted education both by its authors and its content. They were attempting to learn why the economies of some countries grow faster than others. How’s that for an impressive inquiry? 

Consider first the authors of this book. César Hidalgo is not only Assistant Professor in Media Arts and Science at the MIT Media Lab, but also a Faculty Associate at the Center for International Development at Harvard. His website can be found here. A TEDx Talk on Global Economic Development at TEDx Boston in August of last year can be found here.  A presentation on Economic Complexity can be found here. He earned a degree in physics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. While working on his Ph.D., he joined the Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR). The program relocated to Northeastern University in Boston and this placed the soon-to-be Dr. Hidalgo in proximity to MIT and Harvard. Ricardo Hausmann has an equally impressive background with a Ph.D. in economics from Cornell University, followed by a position as Professor of Economics at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administracion in Caracas, and currently is the Director of the Center for International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

What does this have to do with the return on investment from gifted education besides the fact that these two individuals are prime examples of what can be achieved when people are able to reach their full potential? Plenty. The content of their book is what caught my eye. {{I know what you’re thinking … how geeky is it that a blogger on gifted parenting is reading about economic development theory … but I digress.}}

In earlier posts, I discussed the importance of a country developing its human capital when it possesses little or no natural resources to exploit. A review of leading performers on the OECD’s PISA assessments points to countries that are doing just this. Higaldo and Hausmann believe that the definition of capital is too broadly defined with regard to economic growth. They discuss production capital, but at the same time illuminate a country’s need for strong human capital to succeed.

In a nutshell, Higaldo and Hausmann theorize that a country’s economic strength lies in the diversity of its production capacity. They give as an example all the various technologies, production methods, and the obtaining of raw materials that go into a microprocessor chip. Bringing all of these factors together depends on human capital. The authors use the term ‘economic complexity’ to describe that when a country best utilizes the combined knowledge of its people to produce unique products, its society benefits economically.

Voilà! Point A connects to point B. Collaboration + Education + Higher-Order Thinking = Finding Solutions to global issues. “Accumulating productive knowledge is difficult. For the most part, it is not available in books or on the Internet. It is embedded in brains and human networks. It is tacit and hard to transmit and acquire.” (Preface, Atlas of Economic Complexity) To this end, countries must seek out, develop, and bring together their brightest minds to make this happen.

Global intellectual collaboration is the impetus behind social and economic progress. The development of expert knowledge must begin somewhere. When parents, schools, and nations fail to recognize and develop the academic giftedness of their children, students, and citizens … we all loose. This is not rocket science, folks. It is simply the acknowledgement that society needs to do everything it can to support its high-ability learners.

When my children were very young, I tried to impress upon them the understanding that they could make a difference in this world. It is my hope that you as the parent of a gifted child or children are doing the same.