Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Research Isn't a Threat - It's an Opportunity

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Research Isn't a Threat - It's an Opportunity

Article excerpt

Any discussion of IQ is a minefield. Most explosions occur when intelligence is compared between genders, socioeconomic classes or races. Or when the heritability of intelligence raises its head. Especially in education.

Most people working in schools are resistant to the idea that a child's educational success is genetically predetermined. It is far preferable to believe that if you work hard, you will do well. This is why Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule and Carol Dweck's growth mindset theory have been so popular with teachers. With enough effort and positive thinking, they tell us, anything is possible.

Research blows a hole in all of this, with some scientists saying that up to 80 per cent of intelligence is genetic, a figure that can vary over time.

Robert Plomin, professor of behavioural genetics at King's College London, has been working with more than 15,000 families since 1994, trying to detach the effects of nature from those of nurture. This year was a landmark year, as the twins observed in the study completed their A-levels, allowing Plomin and his team to draw conclusions about not only the twins' performance in intelligence tests but also their educational achievements over time. His results show that 60 per cent of the variation between children in intelligence scores and school achievement can be explained by genetic differences (pages 12-13).

Another strand of research is on developing DNA tests to identify how genes can affect learning. This, however, is at an early stage, with results so far explaining only about 5 per cent of differences.

These advances have huge potential benefits for education, but Plomin is downbeat, feeling teachers are uninterested in or even hostile to his work. "I'd be very happy if in the near future we could have discussions in education with teachers and put genetics and education together in the same sentence without people freaking out," he says. …

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