I was able to read a review in last week's Economist on Paul Tough's "How Children Succeed," highlighting the newest research into childhood academic success.
According to the article, "...academic success is believed to be a product of cognitive skills—the kind of intelligence that gets measured in IQ tests. This view has spawned a vibrant market for brain-building baby toys, and an education-reform movement that sweats over test scores. But new research from a spate of economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and educators has found that the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses.
This has fascinating implications for educational development practicioners and advancements. Tough's research showed that the most successful students, in his test case from the inner city of New York, were the hardest workers, those resolved and determined to work hard, not the intrinsically gifted academic superstars.
This begets the question: what breeds success? Persistence and curiosity, according to the research, show strong correlation. We must dig deeper...what spurs motivation? How can intrinsic qualities be examined and cultivated in our state-center-dominated, standardized educational systems?
My question is, in the implications for international educational systems, does therein lie a natural advantage for the students of the developing world, normally, at least in my own experience, able to undergo dramatically more difficult hardships than their counterparts in the rich world in striving for an education? Growing up with much higher poverty rates than the rich world, the students of the developing world are beset with weak educational systems from primary school through university, even in the best of the urban-enclave realities.
Do students born into poverty, in nations with these weak state capacities and limited governmental social support, intrinsically develop the needed skills of persistence which is so critical to overall academic success? With a lack of material confort and material distraction (vis-a-vis more limitations on video games, iphones, ipods, ipads, movies, etc etc) enable our students in the developing world to focus more when provided with the chance? Material scarcity, naturally, brings greater appreciation for the materials that are to be found. What, then, must compliment these intrinsic survival skills to hone lasting educational attainment?
Recently, I have witnessed students here in Northern Senegal giving up their entire weekend, every weekend, to sit and **teach eachother, Sitting in a classroom, on a Saturday, from 9am until 8pm, just for the chance to learn from eachother. This is persistance. This is intrinsic motivation. But all of the intrinsic motivation in the world will still run up against the realities of a weak educational system, beset with limited resources, unmotivated/untrained teachers with antequated materials, and crowded classrooms on Monday morning.
Strong state capacity to funnel the hard work of these students into functioning and challenging higher education institutions, and the macroeconomic climate necessary to create jobs to compliment these skills...much work yet to be done, but this looks to be a fantastic book by Mr. Tough.