Monday, July 20, 2009

IQ over education?

This is a nice controversial piece. Bruce Charlton argues that IQ and psychometric tests could be used to a much greater degree in the education system. This would cut out a lot of inefficiencies and shorten the amount of time we spent studying.

He argues that IQ is 80% hereditary, and that personality is 50%. So the basic make up of a person's intellect and inclinations is essentially a given from birth. A lot of what the education system does is determine which students are the most conscientious, and then give them a piece of paper so that employers know who to employ. This could be done much more efficiently by simply measuring IQ and doing psychometric tests in order to work out who would be the best fit for an employer. (Apparently the US Army already does this internally.)

Further, he argues that the way in which we think is essentially hard-wired - if someone isn't good at maths, then in the long-term, they are never going to learn to be much good at it. Much better, he says, to work out what people are good at, and then teach them that sort of stuff. He proposes that everyone learn a basic common curriculum, including literacy and numeracy. When they reach 16, they are sent into the world with their IQ and personality having being measured. These would be used to determine what career they should take. Further education would be completely content-focussed, rather than teaching how to think.

Definitely worth a read! Fat chance of it every happening, though.


  1. Personally, this sounds very dubious. An interesting book that you might want to read is Outliers. Most professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. Why? Because the teams are divided by year, and when they were very young, someone born at the beginning of the year had a slight developmental advantage over someone born at the end of the year. Throughout their amateur careers, these kids got more attention and encouragement, and thus ended up as professionals. A kid born on January 1 is much more likely to become a professional hockey player than one born on December 31.

    IQ is also hugely affected by maternal effects, the environment, and socio-economic status.

    Furthermore, the only thing that IQ tests measure is how good you are at completing an IQ test. Correlation is not causation.

    You don't want to teach people how to think? How to weigh up the evidence and use the scientific method? You just want to test how well a youngster can predict a visual pattern and then tell them they should be a plumber?

    I don't think that we should look to the US Army for any model of efficacy, efficiency, or evidence-based strategy.

  2. Hurrah! Discussion! :)

    I agree with you Lyds, but it was interesting to come across an alternative point of view.

    A recent study shows that the "teacher effect" on the literacy in the early years of childhood is no more than 8%. If I was a teacher I would be rather disheartened to hear that.

    What the IQ approach raises is that "teaching people how to think" may not actually be that effective. You can do it a little, but in the end it is their genes and family environment that are the major drivers. So surely we should concentrate on those factors, rather than on teaching, which seems to have a relatively minor effect?

    You say IQ tests only measure the ability of of the person to do an IQ test. True. But schooling only tests the ability of a person to "be schooled". Having gone through 18 years of education, and done pretty well in the process, I became rather disillusioned towards the end that the marks I received were in any way meaningful. Perhaps there are more effective and efficient ways to determine how well a person is suited to a job, and what sort of vocation would make a person happiest.

    Good call on the US Army ...

  3. Interesting study about teachers, although it only looks for the differences between teachers at the same school. There might not be a "teacher effect", but there might be a "school effect".

    I agree that the family environment has a huge effect on a child's development. So we should ensure that all families have the knowledge and support to nurture their children as much as possible.

    I also agree that homework, memorization, and exams are not the best preparation for the real world, either.

    How do we find the right metric, and match people up with their dream jobs? I do not know.

  4. Some emailed me:

    Just read your Bruce Charlton blog. He's probably right but I worry about the implications of this kind of scientology once put into the hands of political power mongers: it detracts from individual liberty and responsibility. Imagine if we identified the gene for paedophilia (for example). There'd be a lot of pressure to start screening (and maybe terminating!) foetuses. The long run implications are rather terrible, particularly when you accept that a statistically significant result doesn't preclude outliers (people who defy the predictions of their metric).