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Education and its effect on IQ

Before exploring the possible nexus between education and IQ let us first interpret the meanings of the terms.

IQ is a measure of relative intelligence which is determined by a single or a set of standardized tests, represented as a test score or a graph. Alternatively IQ can be exacted as a yardstick of one's cognitive faculties or intellect in comparison to others. It mirrors the mental agility of a person.

Education on the other hand is the knowledge acquired by learning and instruction over a period of time. It enables one with some fundamental cognition so as to impart an all round grooming. Holistic education is a tool which prepares one for life.

Drawing a comparison between the two, one comes across monumental differences. On one hand there is education which is a skill set which has to be acquired or gained, while IQ is believed to be an innate quality, present from birth. IQ scores have been shown to be associated with such factors as morbidity and mortality, parental social status, and to a substantial degree, parental IQ. Its inheritance has been investigated for nearly a century, the mechanisms of inheritance remain debatable.

A popular adage says that "education is that which remains when all that is learnt is forgotten." It is something which does value addition to one's personas, his temperament, his character, influences his thinking and his ways of life. Whereas IQ assesses how adeptly and quickly one can adjust to changing conditions, can understand problems, offer solutions or act in an urgency. An uneducated person can have a high IQ, while an educated person might scale low on IQ.

However the quality of schooling a child receives plays a pivotal role in determining IQ test results. Some interesting research endeavours can be cited in this respect.

The Head Start program in the United States is a federally funded preschool program for children from low income families. Head Start provides children with activities that might enhance cognitive development, including reading books, learning the alphabet and numbers, learning the names of colors, drawing, and other activities. These programs often have large initial effects on IQ test results and children who participate gain as much as 15 IQ points compared to control groups of similar children not in the program. The educational correlation for IQ test results continues into adulthood, with college graduates typically scoring higher than non college graduates.

A substantial body of research establishes that preschool education can improve the learning and development of young children. Multiple meta-analyses conducted over the past 25 years have found preschool education to produce an average immediate effect of about half (0.50) a standard deviation on cognitive development. This is the equivalent of 7 or 8 points on an IQ test, or a ascent from the 30th to the 50th percentile on test scores.

The above reports demonstrate that schooling is an important factor that affects intelligence. By schooling, one can improve knowledge of specific facts for intelligence tests, familiarity with testing practices, concentration and attention span, and verbal problem solving skills. Therefore, there is no doubt that education helps raise one's IQ.

On the other hand, research has indicated that children who do not attend school or who attend intermittently eventually have poorer scores on IQ tests than those who attend regularly. Parallely, children who move from low-quality schools to high-quality schools are more likely to show improvements in IQ scores. Besides transmitting information to students directly, schools should teach problem solving, abstract thinking, and how to sustain attention, which are all skills required for scoring well on IQ tests.

A few more truths about schooling and IQ (which may surprise anyone who views it as a measure of innate intelligence):

  • Although intelligence does influence the decisions to stay in school, staying in school itself can raise IQ or prevent it from dropping.
  • IQ is affected by delayed schooling. A drop in IQ is seen when schooling is delayed.
  • Each additional month a student remains in school may increase her/his IQ above what would have been expected had he dropped out.
  • IQ is affected by remaining in school longer. The longer a student stays in school, the higher her/his IQ.
  • Dropping out of school can also decrease IQ.
  • IQ is affected by vacations. The longer the vacation, especially when the child's time is spent on least "mind-stimulating" activities, this decline is evident.
In short, schooling has a long-term effect on the level of intelligence. Education increases a student's capacity to deal with the problem solving tasks typically found in intelligence tests; therefore a student who has mastered those skills at school will inevitably do well on an IQ test.

Nicholas Kristof sums on a new book, Intelligence and How to Get it: Why Schools and Cultures Count, by Richard Nesbitt: Good Schooling can eliminate the IQ gap between classes: "By my calculation, if we were to push early childhood education and bolster schools in poor neighborhoods, we just might be able to raise the United States collective I.Q. by as much as one billion points."

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