Hopes for Children: Does it all boil down to good genes?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children
WHAT CAN TWINS TELL US? This photo of twin sisters was uploaded for public use in Wikimedia Commons by Oudeschool.

WHAT CAN TWINS TELL US? This photo of twin sisters was uploaded for public use in Wikimedia Commons by Oudeschool.

ALL Parents hope their children will do well and be happy.

When it comes to school, all parents want their kids to get good grades, and some go to great lengths to coach, prod, and spur them to earn high marks. Could it be, however, that the main influence of parents on grades is their genes?

The answer is yes, according to a new study, but genes aren’t the whole story.

It’s been known for a long time that variations in the educational achievement of children depend, in part, on the genes children inherit. A new study, just published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds new light on the nature-nurture debate.

The researchers focused on identical twins because these twins inherit exactly the same sets of genes from their parents. Fraternal twins don’t. Like other siblings fraternal twins share only 50% of their genes.

The researchers studies how well 13,306 16-year-old twins in the United Kingdom scored on a national exam known as the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). They measured intelligence but also many other factors, such as self-efficacy, personality, well-being, and various behavior problems.

Intelligence was a big predictor of scores on this national exam in the areas of math, English, and science. But others factors mattered just as much, including self-efficacy, personality traits, behavioral issues, and what the teens thought of their school environment. Many of these factors, however, are influenced indirectly by the genes children inherit.

Does this mean that parents’ chief role is the transmission of their genes? Not at all. In a column about their study, the researchers argue for personalized learning: “At a practical level, our findings add support for the trend in education toward personalized rather than a one-size fits all model. None of this means that schools, parents, or teachers aren’t important. Of course they are—and each has an important role in helping children achieve the best of their potential.”

Where do you come out on the nature-nurture debate?

Does academic performance boil down to good genes?

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