Genetics  and Education -

           There has been a lot reported on the effects of genetics on children's learning potential associated with the work of Plomin. In his book on  "Blueprint: How D.NA. Makes Us What We Are "  he explains the research undertaken with identical and fraternal twins, especially identical twins who have been adopted by different families, which illustrates that identical twins share more  characteristics including intelligence with their natural parents than with their adopted ones.


 Genetics explains the differences in children attainment. Certain single genes can have effect on certain rare  conditions, but most characteristics and capabilities arise from cocktail of small influences from thousands of genes. Sue Gartheracole et al in the Cambridge Institute of the Brain has contended that there is unlikely to ever be a remedy to resolve working memory problems, which are genetically determined.


      Plomin argues that there is nothing special about conditions like dyslexia. It is just a genetic variation. We are all in a sense on the dyslexia scale. Astle et al. research supports this view.  There is no evidence that there is any centre of the brain where there is deficiency that accounts for conditions like dyslexia. Each child's problems are not identical to others.

 Research is now illustrating that working memory and intelligence is determined by white matter in the brain. The white matter is the motorways of the brain connecting the brain hubs. The evidence is, the more efficient they are, the higher the working memory capacity and intelligence is likely to be.

      Plomin argues that formal education increases the genetic effect upon learning rather than closes it. The spread of working memory increases, as children grow older. Fluency reduces the demands upon working memory. Those with higher working memory will achieve fluency more easily, thereby releasing more working memory capacity for learning.

     Plomin explains that genes are inherited by each parent to create a new cocktail of them. .  He argues that two taller parents will be more inclined to have taller children, but they will not necessarily be as tall as them.   He explains that two intelligent parents may not necessarily create educated children. Most importantly he contends that 50% of parents of average intelligence are can create highly intelligent children.

       It is how the genes blend together that is important.

Children's Learning Potential

The concept of height is easy to observe and understand. The genetic influence of height is 70%. The influence on diet can only accounts for 30% of the difference in height. (Check)

         The influence of genes on children's intelligence and children's attainment is 60%. This means that that 40% of the difference in children's attainment is influence developed from environmental factors. It  would be an oversimplification to view this as roughly doubling intelligence. 

       The polygenic score, the extent that the percentage can be detected in genes is around 15% for education . This means that 15% of the differences is attributed to detectable D.N.A.


         The problem with assessing intelligence is now one knows what it precisely means. Every child's brain is unique in terms of its structure and content. Those who posses intelligence tend to do well in everything they do. PlomIn argues that half the population will always be average.

       Sue Gatheracole contends that working memory, which is related to white matter, remains the greatest predictor of school attainment. This primarily relates to processing capacity and the speed of it. Its roots lies in genes. It cannot be trained.

         What is most important to recognise is that genetics dictates that all children cannot learn as the same rates. Working memory also dictates this. This means that any given level of learning will be more difficult for certain children to achieve than others.


       There is no evidence if children work exceptionally hard and continue work hard in adult education that they will  become able to become a Cambridge University graduates. Genetics dictate the limits of what children can achieve. but this cannot be directly measured.

        Catering for children's individual learning needs create a significant problem in the school system, especially in hierarchical subjects like maths, which is highly dependent on working memory.  There is no simple answer to the problem.


       Although genetics informs on children's learning potential, it is not a precise measure, because it relates to a cocktail of so many thousands of genes. The are rare language deficits that are attributed to the effect of a single gene. Diagnosed conditions like dyslexia relate to a range of individual differences in those diagnosed with it. 

      The issue of genetic heritability can be a very sensitive issue. It Is currently not possible to directly read and interpret the genes responsible for learning. Other measures of potential like intelligence tests, especially working memory tests provide an indication of learning potential.

       In the scales of the injustice of life there are those with the opposite to dyslexia and some with conditions resembling it which is not sufficiently serious for them to be given it. It now appears to be attributable to white matter problems. Dyslexics experience working memory problems, but not all those working memory problems have dyslexia. Parents are more inclined to admit that their children have dyslexia, a prescribed condition, as opposed to their children are experiencing difficulty in learning to read. 

         There is research report in New Scientist (Michael le Page, 2020) undertaken by Bristol University on 8,000 subjects overtime that suggest that polygenic scores do not predict how well children do a school.  it is reported this what "Plomin, however, argues that the results support his stance." He claims that:-

“[A correlation of 0.4] makes it the strongest polygenic predictor in the behavioural sciences,” says Plomin, who says this matches his own results " Check.

What is significant that Plomin's work and the Cambridge Institute of the Brain correlate,  both of whom have been sponsored by the health service, correlate. 
        We all live in a meritocracy where we celebrate achievement and we tend to look down on failure. When schools G.C.S.E. results are announced schools celebrate the academic success of the students, but not what their children with lower learning potential can achieve. Plomin argues this can occur at family level. Two siblings from the same parents can have children of different learning potential, where the child with higher potential is praised and the one with the lower potential is viewed as not working hard enough.
 As Plomin argues that children are not born with a clean slate. Animals are equip to walk immediately after they are born. Whilst is cuts across the grain of our society to suggest that we not all equal, there is no evidence that however hard children work they can achieve equal levels of attainment. What has been happening in the educations that there has been an unwillingness to accept that children have unequal learning potential, but they have increasingly be worn down by unrealistic expectations and they are being told they are not very good at education, through being constantly bombarded with grading.

       There needs to dissassociate the notion of high educational attainment from self-worth, but it is accepted there are no simple answers to this issue. 

New Scientist Reference

We can't use genetics to predict how well children will do at school

HUMANS 10 January 2020

By Michael Le Page