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NPJ science of learning



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Early educational interventions aim to close gaps in achievement levels between children. However, early interventions do not eliminate individual differences in populations and the effects of early interventions often fade-out over time, despite changes of the mean of the population immediately following the intervention. Here, we discuss biological factors that help to better understand why early educational interventions do not eliminate achievement gaps. Children experience and respond to educational interventions differently. These stable individual differences are a consequence of biological mechanisms that support the interplay between genetic predispositions and the embedding of experience into our biology. Accordingly, we argue that it is not plausible to conceptualize the goals of educational interventions as both a shifting of the mean and a narrowing of the distribution of a particular measure of educational attainment assumed to be of utmost importance (such as a standardized test score). Instead of aiming to equalize the performance of students, the key goal of educational interventions should be to maximize potential at the individual level and consider a kaleidoscope of educational outcomes across which individuals vary. Additionally, in place of employing short-term interventions in the hope of achieving long-term gains, educational interventions need to be sustained throughout development and their long-term, rather than short-term, efficacy be evaluated. In summary, this paper highlights how biological research is valuable for driving a re-evaluation of how educational success across development can be conceptualized and thus what policy implications may be drawn.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Citation of this paper:

Sokolowski, H.M., Ansari, D. Understanding the effects of education through the lens of biology. npj Science Learn 3, 17 (2018).

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