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"Those with buying power garner the bulk of educational resources"

Tuesday 19 October 2021

"Those with buying power garner the bulk of educational resources"


The nature-nurture debate in relation to educational achievement has been raised once again.

In her latest book, 'The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters For Social Equality', Kathryn Page-Harden, a doctor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin argues that how far a person goes in formal education is, in part, down to their genes.

Her findings have implications on social mobility and, once more, raises the spectre of Eugenics.

The basis of her argument lies with a correlation, named Genome Wide Associated Study (GWAS). It measures tiny differences in our genome, totting them up to arrive at a Polygenic Score.

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Pictured: "Intelligence, using school statistics is a one-trick pony."

This is used to predict how far a child will go in school and, ultimately, their income and social standing. The higher the score the greater the chance of doing well in school.

She states that, in the US, the rate of college graduation is four times greater with a high polygenic score. She says that there are around a thousand genetic variants that are related to educational attainment and, when combined, account for 10-15% influence.

Compare that with 11% for income alone. Earlier twin studies estimated that around 40% of educational variation was due to genes.

Taking this data at face value, it is clear that, whether GWAS or twin studies, genetic variation, although significant, is still not the major reason for educational inequality.

Where the playing field goes awry is when those with buying power garner the bulk of educational resources to support their offspring, excluding those that cannot afford to do so.

Just because a child is not as 'intelligent' as the next, should not mean that they only require a second rate education. It's not a waste of resources. Educational equality is not so much about getting underprivileged children to pass exams, it is about having equality of opportunity and the capacity to diversify based on need/talent.

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Pictured: "There are many different 'intelligences', from practical dexterity to creative thinking..."

Microsoft's Jacky Wright, the UK's most influential black woman commented recently on the BBC news that: "Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not."

This statement is true across many demographics.

Intelligence, using school statistics is a one-trick pony. It measures the ability to learn by rote with some logic thrown in at the top end. However, there are many different 'intelligences', from practical dexterity to creative thinking which contribute just as much the economy but are dismissed as being 'soft'.

Another study from the Institution of Coalition Sciences in the U.S indicated that interventions that try to raise achievement have little or no positive effect compared with normal school practices.

They include, school choice, data driven school reform and much more. If this is the case, what of the efficacy of pupil premium here on Jersey?

A recent FoI has shown a five year improvement in respect of students receiving pupil premium but they still lag someway behind the norm. Even here, the private schools get a better deal per capita than children in State schools.

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Pictured: "...With the right education, intelligence - and, with it, educational outcomes - can be improved."

So what are the major factors that will improve educational attainment and, hopefully, narrow the yawning gap in the island's social inequality? The answer lies in a balanced combination of cognitive development, emotional wellbeing and nurturing social skills.

The political ideology that pervades education at the moment, shrinking education attainment to simple numeric criteria does none of these.

Whilst researching a book, I consulted with the much-respected psychologist, Professor Reuven Feuerstein. He proved that intelligence is not fixed at birth. Yet our present education system pre-supposes that it is.

His work with the poorest children, people suffering strokes and with victims of war proved that, with the right education, intelligence - and, with it, educational outcomes - can be improved.

His approach was one of teacher as a 'mediator', where pupils have more control of how they assimilate information. Prior to 2014, over six hundred teachers across Jersey were being trained in a pedagogy called 'Critical Skills'.

This ticked all the boxes, but it was unceremoniously dumped as the data driven regime took charge. As this results led system scrabbles to eke out ever decreasing sources of improvement for those on borderline grades it has missed a trick.

If a nurturing approach makes children more cognitively able, then those children stuck on pass/fail boundaries would pass and results would improve significantly.

Other factors that affect achievement are parental income, educational resourcing, quality of teaching, curriculum and ultimately, funding.

Does every child on Jersey get the same access to educational resources? The simple answer is no! It is this deviation and the protectionism that persists within education, and without, in our wider society and in the States that is stymying equality of opportunity, maintaining the divide within our island community.

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