The current Dutch education system is considered to be of average quality, commensurate to the current collective spending to education which is also average compared to other industrialized countries. Although Dutch students achieve reasonably well relative to the collective spending, and still belong to the top 10 in the world, international comparisons show a gradual decline in the areas of literacy and mathematics since 2000, the year of the first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study. The policy response until now shows confusion and is in need of new evidence. The emphasis on basic academic skills has drastically increased the past years at the expense of educational approaches that aim at creativity, higher order thinking and problem-solving in arts and sciences, and at organizational skills and entrepreneurship to employ multiple talents.
International comparisons like PISA, PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) reveal another fact about the Dutch education system. Whereas Dutch education is good in educating the lowest achieving students to a reasonable level of school skills, the system is less successful in stimulating the most talented. The current policy response (Excellence initiative), however, is not well-grounded in research. There is a risk that the interrelated concepts of curiosity, creativity, talent and excellence will be defined in terms of (easily measurable) narrow academic skills and will result in differentiation, competition, reward and selection strategies that will serve the needs of the learning society only sub-optimally.
Fostering talent development and excellence needs a solid basis in research into the cognitive and affective foundations of curiosity, creativity, talent and excellence, and into the educational strategies that are conducive to the development of these abilities, along with new methods of assessment. ELS research groups from several faculties are already well-positioned to contribute to these challenges. Recently, grants were obtained by ELS researchers for foundational research addressing curiosity and talent development in science and technology, differentiated mathematics education and the use of educational games in higher order mathematical thinking. Collaboration with researchers in the humanities, especially in arts, literature and creative writing education, extends the scope of talent development to the alpha disciplines. Education models and assessment methods developed for the humanities curriculum will provide new avenues for a broad-based approach to creativity, talent and excellence development in education.