EDUCATION – Can intelligence be altered?


Education, Can intelligence be altered?

Education, unfortunately, doesn’t always keep up with times… Sometimes it appears to be moving in step with changes; at other times it still seems to e in the past century but many years of research have shown that tinkering around the edges of schooling won’t help us, educators, meet the challenges that children and young people will face in their future. Even if levels of attainment between the most and least advantaged is far too wide in many places. Every child and young person has to be well equipped to seize learning opportunities throughout life, to broaden her or his knowledge, skills and attitudes, and the most important (and I say the most important because we do not prioritise it), to be able to adapt to a constant changing, complex, and interconnected world. But I guess, what is required is a bold and imaginative reorientation to educational purposes, policies and practices.

We all believe that it is time to expand educational horizons.


The goal of early education (and perhaps of all education) should not be seen as simply that of training brains whose basic potential is already determined. Rather, the goal is to provide rich environments in which to grow better brains.

– Andy Clark –

Assumptions based education

We all agree that education is preparation for life and the nature of that preparation depends on a number of assumptions and perceptions. What schools are set up to do depends on society’s view of the world especially, the world which it imagines its young people will inhabit when they are grown up – and also on the difficulties, challenges and opportunities which it thinks that world will present. From such complex sets of assumptions, each nation has to take a view of what it is that all young people need to know, understand and be able to do in order to meet those challenges and take advantage of those opportunities. A ring doesn’t plug a hole…



Developing young minds

But there is another set of assumptions on which education rests that it is not to do with society, but to do with the nature and capacities of children’s minds.

How do their minds mature? What should they be capable of doing and learning at different ages? Suddenly, ‘2014 programmes of study‘ or as schools and parents understand, ‘end of the year expectations‘ invaded your mind… What is ‘normal’ for a 5-year old, and how much can children vary from that norm before we start to get worried about them, and think about giving them special provision to help them to ‘catch up’?  How much does their experience change not only what they think and know, but the way they go about thinking and knowing?

We do not generally assume that we have to lay on special classes in ‘seeing’, but many people think that children do need specialised help in learning to ’think’, for example. Yet people differ markedly in their beliefs about how much of the difference between children – in, say, how well they think and learn and remember — reflects factors over which a teacher can have no control, such as their genetic make-up or earliest experiences, and how much is capable of being systematically trained and developed.

Can young people learn to be better rememberers, or better at concentrating, Or better at meeting new challenges?

Are some children just born ‘bright’, and therefore destined — no matter how much we try to help — to learn faster and deeper than others born ‘average’ or ‘weak’? Or are those differences capable of being moderated by the school?

Is school a place where you can ’get smarter’?

The answers to these questions, too, will exert a powerful influence on what a curriculum is designed to do: what it is assumed to be capable, or not capable, of doing.  As each of these sets of assumptions changes, or comes under scrutiny, so the enterprise of education is liable to change. If we assume that schooling today is largely satisfactory, and that tomorrow — the world we are educating youngsters to cope with — is going to be much like today, then we might be inclined to adopt a ‘steady as she goes’ approach, with a bit of tinkering and adjustment here and there to nudge up the literacy and examination scores. The knowledge that served us well in the past ought to serve them well in the future. And the division of the school system into a strand that prepared some young people for university, the professions and ’leadership’, and another that prepared people for a rather different kind of life, could seem somehow inevitable and fitting.  But if we see the world as fast—changing, and as demanding of young people a different set of skills and attitudes if they are to thrive and prosper, then we will see the world of education as needing to change in far more radical and urgent ways. Today, most governments around the world, and most teachers, tend to the latter rather than the former view — and so do I.

But the desire for change, and the directions in which it will be sought, will be limited or frustrated if old and unjustified assumptions about the nature of children’s minds — indeed, about the nature of learning itself— are left in place, unexamined. If we were to carry on assuming that some children are born ‘intelligent’, while others simply do not have the ’brain—power’ required to master difficult ideas in physics or history, say, then the options for change, however pressing that change is felt to be, will be limited. If, on the other hand, intelligence is seen as itself learnable, then a whole different set of educational possibilities become thinkable.

Shall we now stop for a couple of minutes and reflect on the last statement?

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How many times did we hear the same statement: ‘He/she is intelligent…?

Is intelligence a personal ‘possession’, and using tools which have the effect of making you smarter is a kind of cheating? Is intelligence an individual not a social concept? Is ‘intelligence’ an intellectual function, separate from emotional and moral functions? Can intelligence be altered?

If teachers ever agree to the question above, then the possibilities of their job are rather constrained; although if these questions make them react, then they will become a very different individuals.

As well as teaching the ‘content’ or ‘subject’ you may now be on the look-out for specific learning strategies designed to boost the learner’s mind power. We can then highlight different aspects in developing more intelligent learners:

  • Cultivating the dispositions which will create learners who are active throughout their lives.
  • Developing and sustaining growth mindsets in young people.
  • Creating opportunities for young children to become more ‘manipulate‘ as well as articulate.
  • Enabling students to develop states of mind conducive to different kinds of learning.
  • Encouraging learners to understand which tools tend to help in certain situations and how to know when to use them.
  • Providing students with effective strategies for learning and working collaboratively.
  • Teaching students how to be more strategic about their learning, how to reflect and how to transfer their learning from one domain to another.
  • Setting all educational work in a broader ethical context like this fast-changing world.

We then need to deeply think that if opportunities for multiple intelligences are set, a bigger number of the current society will succeed…

But, what are the main features of the intelligence? I will come back to this question in the near future…, meanwhile you can have a read to this document where explains the differences between intelligences.


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