History 25 Years

The first 25 years of ECHA traditions: messages from former ECHA presidents, secretaries and editor-in-chiefs of the European Journal of High Ability/High Ability Studies (all memories reflect the personal opinion of the respective author).

Kirsi Tirri (president, 2008-2012)


During my Presidency ECHA got a new bank account that a professional organization needs and this now allows us to pay the membership by credit card. I also left my term with money in the bank account and you can now discuss what to do with the money to promote giftedness and talents.

I had the pleasure to serve as guest editor of two special issues of High Ability Studies with the themes “Character Education and Giftedness” and “Motivation and Giftedness”. HAS was present in the “Journal Talks”- session of the American Educational Research Association Conference each year. Serving in 10 other Editorial Boards of journals in gifted education and education helped me to promote high quality research related to giftedness. Three European countries invited me every year to evaluate their national research proposals and I have also taken part in the evaluation of recent EU programmes. At all these occasions I have been able to use my knowledge of gifted education and try to promote research related to high abilities. I have given seven Keynote or Invited talks in Ireland, Greece, Austria, Saudi-Arabia, Singapore, Malta and Finland. At all these occasions I have visited the local actors in gifted education and promoted activities of ECHA among them. Video of Kirsi Tirri on ECHA

Franz Mönks (president, 1992-2000; 2004-2008)

Franz Mönks
  1. Constitution to make ECHA a legal organization, registered in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Registration in the Chamber of Commerce in Nijmegen/Arnhem (ECHA is a charity association under the number 40146782).
  2. New layout design of ECHA News by Irene Ypenburg: ECHA logo has one step instead of two
  3. ECHA gets the NGO-status (Non-Governmental Organization) with the Council of Europe.
  4. European Journal for High Ability (1990 – 1995, volume 1 – 6) was replaced by High Ability Studies. The editor-in-chief, Arthur Cropley, of EJHS stayed on as Editor in 1996 editing 7(1) and 7(2). In 1997 Joan Freeman took over from 8(1) until 9(2) in 1998. From 1999, 10(1) until 13(2) in 2003 Roland Persson took over. High Ability Studies is completely a product, including jacket and ECHA logo with one step, of F.M.
  5. Establishment of the ECHA-Diploma. In the closing session of the 4th ECHA Conference on October 10, 1994 “the granting of the European Advanced Diploma in Educating the Gifted to the first recipients by Prof. Dr. Jan Giesbers, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The Laudations will be given by Dr. Joan Freeman”. (Quotation from the Conference Program, page 18).
  6. Initiation and preparation of the COST Strategic Workshop Meeting the Needs of Gifted Children and Adolescents – Towards a European Roadmap in November 2007.

Javier Tourón (president, 2000-2004)

Javier Tourón

Presidential acceptance speech setting ECHA’s goals in 2000:

  1. The first one will be the development of a set of regulations for the ECHA diploma that will help to foster even further development that will benefit the community of teachers and practitioners as well as the ECHA itself. These regulations will be delineated by the General committee and submitted to all the ECHA members for their consideration and suggestions. After that the new rules will be voted in the General Assembly of members and will enter into force.
  2. My second concern will be increasing the presence of the ECHA in Europe and the world. At least it’s virtual presence. This means finishing the project of the construction of the ECHA Homepage. We already have a draft. I will request your co-operation to contribute to it with the valuable information you have in your own countries.
  3. The third goal is related to the increase of our communication. To my understanding it cannot be reduced to the biannual conferences and little more. It will be possible to organize a kind of forum or discussion list through the Internet. And we have to do it.
  4. The last goal but not the least is to find ways to increase our Council in a significant way. In a continent of more than 300 million people the figures of the ECHA membership seems ridiculously low and we have to do something about this.

But none of the above stated goals can be reached without your help. It is my wish that these goals are not my goals but our goals. I will finish using a sailing metaphor. Let’s imagine that the ECHA is a tall ship. You make me the helmsman for this period, but as a passionate sailor of many years I know very well that this ship will be unable to sail upwind without an enthusiastic and well trained crew. You are that crew and I rely totally on you. But we do not set sail from the yard; this is not a new tall ship. This is a veteran vessel that has coped very well in the past with calm waters and stormy ones too, thanks to the seamanship of other helmsmen. I will try to learn from the past and read the charts very carefully to avoid shallow waters.

Joan Freeman (founding president, 1987-1992)

ECHA: The first years

The primary aim of ECHA is to act as a European network for understanding high ability throughout the lifespan. From its establishment on 19th May 1987, during the years of my Founding Presidency, it soared from an idea to become a dynamic multinational association. The initiating team (including Pieter Span, Harald Wagner and Ulrike Stedtnitz) reached out particularly to professionals behind the (then) ‘iron curtain’. High standards were crucial, which is probably why the demand for international membership obliged us to remove European geographical boundaries. We published a quarterly newsletter and (with great difficulty) a scientific peer-reviewed journal. Not only did we present biennial conferences, but several times a year across Europe we set up ECHA symposia at other conferences, as well as independent ECHA workshops, e.g. maths, music, adolescence, thinking.

Committee 1989

A specialist academic group designed and put into action the ECHA international Advanced Diploma for near and distant learning, while the Schools Division was concerned with the practice of education for the most able. A bank of about 25 ECHA Correspondents cared for concerns in their own countries. Our exciting plans for international research on art talent and an ECHA publications company were in progress when I handed over. After nearly quarter of a century, it is thrilling to see the magnetism ECHA still holds all over the world for professionals in our field.

ECHA Committee 1989 – from left to right: Klaus Urban (Germany), Candido Genovard (Spain) Pieter Span (NL), Joan Freeman (UK), Harald Wagner (Germany), Eva Gefferth (Hungary) and  Andrzej Sekowski (Poland)

Pieter Span (founding secretary of ECHA, 1987-1990)

Birth and Early Development of ECHA
Pieter Span

In 1983 Franz Mönks introduced me to ‘the world of the gifted’, which was the start of things to come. In august 1986 I participated in the first Portuguese conference on gifted education in Porto (Fig 1.). During the conference the president of the Portuguese association, Luiz Nazareth and I agreed on a proposal to found a European association. The objectives of this association should be the study and development of high ability, including the international exchange of information related to that subject. This should also include countries in east Europe, behind the iron curtain. I sent this proposal to European participants of recent conferences on giftedness and to local associations in European countries. Almost all the responses were positive. Only some respondents objected:  they thought that Europe was not yet ready for such an association and at least there should be a link with the World Council. (The reader should remember that in those days there was a strong resistance against special attention for the gifted.)


Fig 1. From left to right: Pieter Span, Dorothy Sisk and Harry Passow (committee of the World Council) at the 1986 Porto meeting

To speed up the procedure I invited Luiz Nazareth (P), Joan Freeman (GB), Ulrike Stednitz (CH), Harald Wagner (BRD) and Jean Brunault (FR) to meet me in Utrecht, May 29 and 30 1987. May 29 the association was founded and called European Council for High Ability: ECHA.  Joan Freeman was elected as president. Goals were:

  • Close cooperation with the World Council and with national associations (partly realized).
  • The publication of scientific research (realized).
  • The publication of a Newsletter: ECHA News.  It was me, who choose the colour green (for hope) and the ‘flip-over-stairs’ (the number of ‘flips’ correlates with intelligence level) (realized).
  • The organization of conferences (realized).
  • The founding of divisions e.g. research and education (not realized).

The 30th a symposium was organized. We closed the meeting at Utrecht in a high mode: ECHA existed!

The first conference was held in 1988 in Zürich (CH; Fig. 2.), chaired by Ulrike Stedtnitz (see ECHA News, special issue 2012) and having an opening night at 18.00 p.m.  The grand ballroom of the hotel Zurich was overcrowded. Participants were waiting. No Joan. I asked Ulrike: go and find out. After five minutes Ulrike returned: Joan had the time wrong. But then Joan appeared: strided to the front and gave a magnificent speech, by which ECHA was really founded. Main characteristic of the conference since that moment was: everyone felt at home.


Fig 2. Problem solving during the 1988 Zürich conference (from left to right: Pieter Span, Paul Andrews, Ulrike Stedtnitz and Joan Freeman)

In the meantime Brunault and Nazareth had left the committee; two new members were Eva Geffert (HON) and Levcho Zdravchev (BUL). These were very lucky choices: Eva would become the chairperson of the next conference in Budapest (1990), which was a conference of ‘high level ‘and a great success. Levcho organized the first issue of the European Journal for High Ability. Arthur Cropley was the editor.


Fig 3. Planning the European Journal for High Ability (from left to right: with Levcho Zdravchev, Pieter Span, Joan Freeman, Harald Wagner and Arthur Cropley)

I resigned in Budapest as secretary. A new challenge was waiting. Harold took over my position.  Joan thanked me for everything I did for ECHA, even referred to Winston Churchill (i.c. sweat and tears), which I thought was a bit overdone. The farewell evening at Budapest however was overshadowed by alarming information about social unrest in the country.

The next conference was in Munich, 1992. At the end of the conference Joan resigned as president. I thanked her for everything she did as president and as a friend.  Franz Mönks took over her job. During the diner Ernst Hany gave me a nice speech and handed me a flashlight, symbolic for somebody who showed the way to go. For me the first five ECHA years were exiting years. We reached most of the goals as we had planned. But, very importantly, we did it also in perfect harmony. And with reference to Harald: ‘Echa-cha’.

Johanna Raffan (secretary 2004-2012)

Johanna Raffan

I joined ECHA in 1991 and was privileged to be elected to the General Committee in 1994 when the conference was in Nijmegen – my fondest memory of that conference was racing Francoys Gagne to the Dessert Table at the Conference Dinner  – he won!  In 1998 I joined the Executive.  I was then re-elected in 2004 and took on the role of Secretary until September 2012.  I had many happy times during my close involvement with ECHA – the music at the Vienna Conference, the organisation of the Oxford Conference, the heat in Debrecen,  moving the venue of the 2002 Conference to Rhodes.  Vineyards in the dark in Pamplona, The stunning venue of the conference dinner in Lahti and the elegance of Prague.  More hot weather in Paris and the great numbers in Munster.

During my time on the General Committee we have seen High Ability Studies included in Social Sciences Citation Index, the only journal in the field of Gifted Education to be included.  A Council of Europe Conference, in Nijmegen, to share good practice.  A EU Conference, in Brussels, to share policy and practice.  The growth of the ECHA Diploma both in the types of Diplomas, the number of countries and the very large number of students.  The ongoing development of the ECHA News from a broad sheet to on-line.  Many amazing delegates at our conference all with the same goal “to improve provision for Gifted Pupils”.

When I was  first elected to the General Committee I was asked what my hopes were –  I said that if ECHA was really successful then we should work ourselves out of existence,  if all the countries in Europe were prepared to undertake research and to improve the provision for Gifted Pupils we would not need to exist.  I fear we are still a very long way from that goal, but the message is spreading and some excellent work is being done in many countries.  I also said that I would like to improve my knowledge of the various wines made around Europe, I have been more successful in this desire.  I thank all those who have invited me to their countries over the last twenty years and I will watch with great interest how you go from strength to strength.

Thank you all for allowing me to serve you and the field of Gifted Education!

Harald Wagner (secretary and treasurer 1990 – 2004)

Harald Wagner

During 14 years I had the privilege to serve as ECHA Secretary and Treasurer, succeeding Pieter Span in this office. My assistant Menna Jones took meticulously care of the membership files and correspondence, what I gratefully acknowledge. The implementation of credit card payment of membership fees was a significant improvement for easy money transfer from a multitude of countries.

Well preserved in my memories are the ECHA conferences in Zurich (1988), Budapest (1990), Munich (1992), Nijmegen (1994), Vienna (1996), Oxford (1998), Debrecen (2000), Rhodes (2002),and Pamplona (2004). In many cases I was able to help get things started with upfront money either from ECHA funds or support from Bildung&Begabung / Stifterverbandfür die Deutsche Wissenschaft.

I was more than happy to facilitate the production of the ECHA Journal “European Journal for High Ability” / “High Ability Studies” with substantial financial support by Bildung und Begabung. In 1996 the journal was transferred under the new name to the excellently reputed Carfax / Taylor & Francis Publishing Company and has developed into one of the leading journals in the field.

Noteworthy are as well two publications which I had the honour to co-edit: “Actualizing talent”, edited by Joan Freeman, Pieter Span and Harald Wagner (London: Cassell 1995), and “Development of human potential: Investment into our future. Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the European Council for High Ability, Rhodes, October 9-13, 2002” edited by Franz J. Mönks and Harald Wagner (Bad Honnef, Germany: Bock 2003). ECHACHA!

Arthur J. Cropley (editor-in-chief of European Journal for High Ability/High Ability Studies, 1989-1997)

Arthur J. Cropley

I was the founding editor of the European Journal for High Ability, which subsequently became High Ability Studies, serving from 1989 to 1997. During this term of office I placed particular emphasis on stabilizing the existence of the newborn journal (regular appearance on time), on publishing papers going beyond a conceptualization of high ability as high academic ability to include sporting ability, musical ability, artistic ability and the like, and on inclusion of contributions from the (at that time) newly emerging countries of the former Soviet Union. During this period I was very grateful for the support of the ECHA Board and the scholars who contributed their work to the journal, thus ensuring its survival.

Joan Freeman (editor-in-chief of High Ability Studies, 1996-1999)

Joan Freeman

The first ECHA scientific publication, the European Journal of High Ability, was published in Sofia in 1990.  It was extremely difficult manoeuvring currency through Bonn, Utrecht Hamburg, Vienna and Sofia, and then getting the copies out to the West. The priority was a high academic standard, including work from behind the Iron Curtain. When I became Editor in Chief (1996-1999), I renamed it High Ability Studies because our readership was well beyond Europe.  I chose its new publisher, Carfax (now Taylor and Francis) in Oxford, UK, and redesigned the cover, still in print.  There were literary-style book reviews in every twice-yearly issue.

The second ECHA publication, Actualising Talent (1995, London:Cassell), was a collection of new papers taking a life-span approach.  Editing was shared by Joan Freeman, Pieter Span and Harald Wagner.  We each received a specially labelled bottle of wine when it won the Book Award for the National Association for Special Educational Needs in 1996.

Roland S. Persson (editor-in-chief of High Ability Studies, 1999-2003)

I succeeded Founding President Joan Freeman as Editor-in-Chief of the ECHA scholarly journal High Ability Studies in 1999 and stayed on, according to contract, until 2003. I was encouraged by the publisher (Carfax, at Oxford, at the time, which was later incorporated into Taylor & Francis Publishers) to make my own personal impact on the journal. I shared much of Joan’s philosophy, namely to go looking for needed knowledge not apparently evident to main stream research, as pursued by scientists not necessarily known to everyone in the field of giftedness and talent. I still feel that this is something that should be pursued with an even greater fervour. Nothing good will ever come out of stagnant dogma and academic inbreeding. I did, however, decide to make an effort to include expertise research into the journal, a growing field of science which at the time did not really have a specific journal of its own. This direction was picked up and continued also by my successors: Albert Ziegler as well as Heidrun Stöger.

One major task during my tenure was to have the journal indexed by as many important international indices as possible but most importantly by the Social Sciences Citation Index. The publisher and I succeeded. High Ability Studies is now part of the Web of Science and has a bibliometric “Impact Factor” which currently sets it apart from other journals in the field. In hindsight, however, I am not convinced this inclusion is as successful as hoped. While it certainly awards HAS with a certain glamour, it also impedes the development of the journal. The editor is no longer as free to act as he/she previously was. Suddenly “science” has become a static rather than dynamic concept in order to live up to quality standards set out by the SSCI and other similar institutions. Over time this also means that it is less likely that new knowledge and different paradigms of science will have a forum in High Ability Studies. Time will tell.

I resigned as Editor-in-chief after my four-year tenure. It was a full time job. During this time I quite literally had more than two full time jobs: the duties of my professorship and in addition to this also the very demanding editorship. There was no time left for own research and writing. I was always occupied by other colleagues’ manuscripts. I found the lack of time for my own work very frustrating. I was offered a new tenure as Editor but declined for this reason only. I much enjoyed the editorship. It taught me priceless lessons in academic professionalism for which I am very grateful.

Albert Ziegler (editor-in-chief of High Ability Studies, 2002-2007)

Albert Ziegler

As the new Editor-in-Chief of the High Ability Studies in 2002, I had been often asked whether I intended to develop new emphases. Actually there is a fine line between preserving the tried and true and cautious adaptions of new developments. Therefore, I thought that the proven course chosen by my predecessor was generally to be continued. Indeed, Roland Persson had done a tremendous job. Most noteworthy is that he had registered the journal with all the major literature databases. Thus, I could focus on changes with regard to contents.

My overarching aim was to raise the scientific standards of the High Ability Studies, while still seeking to bring out works practitioners should find interesting. For example, I tried to establish an affiliation between giftedness research and expertise research, which I considered to be complimentary efforts in the research in the genesis of eminence.

One important innovation that enlivened the international discussion was the opportunity to publish target articles along with peer commentaries. The first target articles were written by such eminent scholars like Robert Sternberg, Anders Ericsson and Françoys Gagné. Their contributions as well as excellent manuscripts by many more colleagues made it possible that during my Editorship the High Ability Studies became the journal with the highest citation impact in the field of excellence research and gifted education.

Heidrun Stoeger (editor-in-chief of High Ability Studies, 2007-)


It was an honor for me, after having served five years as editorial assistant, to take over the position of editor-in-chief of High Ability Studies in 2007. The large number of submissions that High Ability Studies regularly receives and the journal’s extensive pool of reviewers testify to the exceptional work of my predecessor.

During my tenure as editor-in-chief I have worked to continue to encourage lively and constructive discussion between giftedness researchers and expertise researchers. The numerous submissions we receive, including contributions from expertise researchers working in areas ranging from sports to chess, indicate that these efforts have been successful. The great amount of interest being paid to this area of inquiry makes clear that giftedness research has a lot to gain from new, related areas of research and that it already has profited a great deal. Another clear indication for this is the large number of peer commentaries which the journal’s recent target article by Ziegler and Phillipson elicited. Indeed their article, which described and justified a new approach to giftedness research and education, attracted commentaries from people working in a variety of fields.

We look forward to receiving many further interesting manuscripts, and our new online-submission system should help to make the submission process faster and more efficient.