School’s out!

Matthew Syed challenges our assumptions over human intelligence in his latest column in The Times.

Matthew likens our brain to a muscle, which atrophies when in disuse. There is considerable evidence that children regress by 2-4 weeks in maths, english and science during the summer holidays.

The analogy also helps to explain why poor children fail to perform at a similar level to their richer peers. Richer parents tend to ensure that their offspring are sent to museums, libraries and the like to help stretch and maintain their minds where poorer parents may not be able to afford to do so.

There is considerable evidence that genetics does not necessarily explain the difference either, since IQ only explains 4-10% of performance variation between individuals. This corroborates much of what Malcolm Gladwell has been saying in his book Outliers, which argues that 10,000 hours of constant practice is necessary to become expert at something.

The lesson of this is that nearly all children can learn improve: we just need to work with them.

Matthew Syed is a British journalist, broadcaster and author of Bounce, a book described as “among the most intelligent and thought-provoking books about sport ever written”. He has won numerous prizes for his writing including Sports Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards. He is also a three-time Commonwealth table tennis champion and a two-time Olympian.

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