Tag Archives: school

Who invented school?

School is an institution that is hated (especially during exams) by millions of kids around the world — but at the same time billions of adults remember it as the ‘good old days’. For all its good and bad, society as we know it couldn’t exist without schools — and we’re not just talking about the building, we’re talking about the entire system and environment that allows us to pass knowledge to younger generations and prepare them for what’s to come in the real world (at least in theory). But who actually invented school?

Image credits: Max Fischer/pexels

From old school to modern schooling system

Ironically enough, for all the information you can find in schools, no textbook mentions exactly when and how the idea of a school originated. This is mostly because it depends on how exactly you define a school. For instance, in ancient Greece, education was somewhat democratized, and education in a gymnasium school was considered essential for participation in Greek culture, but it was reserved only for boys (and often, not all boys). In ancient Rome, rich children were tutored by private professors, but neither of these is a school in the sense we consider today — public, formal education that is compulsory, open, and available to all — though you could argue that in some sense, school dates from ancient times, and the organized practice of teaching children dates for thousands of years.

Compulsory education was also not an unheard-of concept in ancient times –though it was mostly compulsory for those tied to royal, religious, or military organizations. In fact, Plato’s landmark The Republic, written more than 2,300 years ago, argues in favor of compulsory education, though women and slaves were not truly a part of Greek society.

Much information about schooling is also lost to the shroud of time. For instance, there is some indirect evidence about schools in China existing at least 3,000 years ago, but this comes from “oracle bones” where parents would try to divine whether it was auspicious for their children to go to ‘school’ — and there’s little information about what these schools were like.

It’s not just the Chinese, Greeks, and Romans. The Hindus, for instance, had developed their own schooling system in the form of gurukuls. In 425 AD, the Byzantine empire in Rome came up with the world’s first known primary education system dedicated to educating soldiers enrolled in the Byzantine army so that no person in the army faces problems in communicating and understanding war manuals. Different parts of the world had developed different types of education — some more efficient than others.

In Western Europe (and England, in particular), the church became involved in public education early on, and a significant number of church schools were founded in the Early Middle Ages. The oldest still operating (and continuously operating school) is The King’s School in Canterbury, which dates from the year 597. Several other schools still in operation were founded in the 6th century — though again, you could argue whether they were true schools as they were only open to boys.

Albert Bettannier’s 1887 painting that depicts the scene of an old European school. Image credits: Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin/Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, compared to the modern schools, education in the above-mentioned institutes was more focused on religious teachings, language, and low-level or practical skills only. Many of them even used to operate in a single room with no set standards and curriculum, but as humanity progressed ahead people started to realize the need for an organized system to educate the future generations. 

For more than ten centuries, schools maintained the same general profile, focused mostly on a niched set of skills and religious training. In the 9th century, the first university was founded in Fez, Morocco. However, that too was founded as a mosque and focused on religious teachings. The oldest university still in operation, the University of Bologna, in Italy, was founded in 1088. It hired scholars from the city’s pre-existing educational facilities and gave lectures in informal schools called scholae. In addition to religion, the university also taught liberal arts, notarial law, and scrivenery (official writing). The university is notable for also teaching civil law.

However, the university is not necessarily the same as a school — it wasn’t a public “for all” education system, but rather a “school” for the intellectual elite. For schools to truly emerge as we know them today, we have to fast forward a few more centuries.

Compulsory, free education for all

In 1592, a German Duchy called Palatine Zweibrücken became the first territory in the world with compulsory education for girls and boys — a remarkable and often-ignored achievement in the history of education. The duchy was followed in 1598 by Strasbourg, then a free city of the Holy Roman Empire and now part of France. Similar attempts emerged a few decades later in Scotland, although this compulsory education was subject to political and social turmoil.

In the United States — or rather, in the colonies that were to later become the United States — three legislative acts enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642, 1647, and 1648 mandated that every town having more than 50 families to hire a teacher, and every town of more than 100 families to establish a school.

Prussia, a prominent German state, implemented a compulsory education system in 1763 by royal decree. The Prussian General School Regulation asked for all young citizens, girls and boys, to be educated from age 5 to age 13-14 and to be provided with a basic education on religion, singing, reading, and writing based on a regulated, state-provided curriculum of textbooks. To support this financially, the teachers (often former soldiers) cultivated silkworms to make a living. In nearby Austria, Empress Maria Theresa introduced mandatory primary education in 1774 — and mandatory, systemized education was starting to take shape in Europe. Schools, as we know them today, were becoming a thing.

Meanwhile, the US was having its own educational revolution.

In 1837, a lawyer and educator Horace Mann became the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education in the newly-formed United States. Mann was a supporter of public schooling and he believed that without a well-educated population political stability and social harmony could not be achieved. So he put forward the idea of a universal public education system for teaching American kids. Mann wanted a system with a set curriculum taught to students in an organized manner by well-trained subject experts. 

Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School…may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.

Horace Mann, Father of the Common School Movement

Mann employed his “normal school” system in Massachusetts and later other states in the US also started implementing the education reforms that he envisioned. He also managed to convince his colleagues and other modernizers to support his idea of providing government-funded primary education for all. 

Due to his efforts, Massachusetts became the first American state in 1852 to have a mandatory education law, school attendance and elementary education were made compulsory in various states (mandatory education law was enacted in all states of the US by 1917), teacher training programs were launched, and new public schools were being opened in rural areas. 

At the time, when women were not even allowed to attend schools in many parts of the world, Mann advocated the appointment of women as teachers in public schools. Instead of offering religious learning to students, Mann’s normal schools were aimed at teaching them reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, geography, and history. He believed that school education should not incorporate sectarian instructions, however, for the same reason, some religious leaders and schoolmasters used to criticize Mann for promoting non-sectarian education.

The innovative ideas and reforms introduced by Mann in the 1800s became the foundation of our modern school system. For his valuable contribution in the field of education, historians sometimes credit him as the inventor of the modern school system.

However, as we’ve seen, the history of schools is intricate, complex, and very rich. There is no one “inventor” of school — the process of arriving at the school systems we have today (imperfect as they may be) took thousands of years of progress, which was not always straightforward.

Shocking facts about school education

Now that we’ve looked a bit at the history of the school, let’s see how things are today — and why there’s still plenty of work to be done in schools around the world.

Image credits: Pixabay/pexels
  • A study conducted by the Institute of Education in the UK suggests that quality of primary education is more crucial for an individual’s academic progress, social behavior, and intellectual development as compared to factors including his or her family income, background, and gender. Another study highlights that students who receive good elementary education and have a positive attitude about the significance of their performance in primary and middle school are more likely to earn well and live a better life than others in the future.  
  • A UNESCO report reveals that school education up to nine years of age is compulsory in 155 countries but unfortunately, there are more than 250 million children in the world who are still not able to attend school. 
  • According to International Labour Organization (ILO), due to poverty and lack of educational opportunities, 160 million kids are forced into work across the globe and about 80 million of them work in unhealthy environments. Thousands of such kids are physically and sexually abused, tortured, and are even trained to work under drug mafia, criminal groups, and terrorist organizations. Some studies reveal that child labor is also associated with school dropout in less developed countries. Due to poor financial conditions, many individuals at a young age start giving preference to economic activities and lose interest in costly education opportunities. However, an easily accessible and high-quality school education model that could allow children (from poor families) to pursue education without compromising their financial security can play an important role in eliminating child labor.
  • African nation South Sudan has the lowest literacy rate in the world. Only 8% of females in this country are literate and overall only 27% of its adult population is educated. 98% of the schools that offer elementary education in Sudan do not have an electric power supply and only one-third of such schools have access to safe drinking water. 
  • City Montessori School (CMS) located in Dehradun, India is hailed as the largest school in the world. The CMS campus houses 1,050 classrooms in which more than 50,000 students attend classes every day. 

For Horace Mann, schools were a means to produce good citizens, uphold democratic values and ensure the well-being of society. Though not all schools are able to achieve these goals, the power of school education can be well understood from what famous French poet Victor Hugo once said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”.

A teacher took her mask off to read something out loud. Half of her class got COVID-19

Summer is almost over, but you know what isn’t? The pandemic. Unfortunately, we still have a battle ahead of us, and if we let our guard down, we can still get hurt. This painful lesson was recently presented by a case study published by the CDC, in which an unvaccinated teacher infected half of her classroom.

The Marin County elementary school in California had been more careful than most. Masks were required indoors at all times, desks were spaced apart, and students were taught to maintain social distance. But all it took was one event.

It happened on May 19, and started with some fatigue and nasal congestion. The unvaccinated teacher wasn’t feeling very bad, but she was feeling a bit off. She shrugged it off for a day or two, dismissing it as allergies. She was normally masked, but she made an exception for storytime when she took her mask off to read to her class aloud. That’s all it took for the delta variant to sneak into the class.

The teacher got a test on her second day of symptoms and at the end of the affair, 12 of her 22 students later tested positive. The mask was only off for a few minutes.

“Evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that multi-layer prevention strategies – such as vaccination for all children and adults who are eligible; masks for all students, teachers, staff, and visitors; ventilation; cohorting; physical distancing; and screening testing – work to prevent the spread of Covid in schools,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, at a press briefing on Friday.

Vaccinate teachers

We know that children aren’t as vulnerable to the disease as adults are, but for parents, the idea of acceptable risk to their children is, of course, hard to manage and accept — and opening up school has proven quite the challenge.

This month alone, in Brevard County, Florida, 1,623 children were infected, and over 8,000 were quarantined. In the Atlanta area, thousands of positive cases were confirmed — and several other areas have suffered similar outbreaks. A simulation carried out by a CDC-funded lab found that in elementary schools without either masks or regular testing, 3 in 4 children could become infected in the first three months.

In the US, just like in many other countries, schools have become ideological battlefields, with parents hoping to open up schools in accordance to the guidance offered by doctors opposed by parents opposing masks (and often, vaccinations as well). But if teachers aren’t vaccinated, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the virus starts spreading in the classroom.

The outbreak “highlights the importance of vaccinating school staff members who are in close indoor contact with children ineligible for vaccination as schools reopen,” the report concludes.

The report seems to add even more evidence that vaccine mandates in schools may become required, especially as for now at least, many children are not eligible for coronavirus vaccines.

To keep COVID-19 at bay in classrooms, open windows and use glass screens in front of desks

As the pandemic months continue to unfold, the risk of the virus spreading through classrooms remains a hotly contested issue. In a new study, a group of researchers simulated the spread of small aerosols through the classroom, looking at the ways to reduce the spread of aerosols.

According to the study, keeping the desks spread, opening the windows, and using protective screens is the best way to go about things.

Simulation of particle flow in a classroom. Courtesy of Khaled Talaat.

“We considered different window opening conditions and overall we find that opening the windows, even a little, significantly increases the fraction of the particles that exit the system,” Khaled Talaat, one of the authors, tells me in an email.

Physicists have had their own spotlight moments in the pandemic, especially when it comes to flow modeling. We still don’t fully understand through which type of particles the virus spreads with, but understanding the flow of particles is still one of our best bets to understand the risk of transmission. To this end, Talaat and colleagues modeled different classroom environments to see how they would affect aerosol particle spread during talking, coughing, or sneezing.

The computational method the team used is quite similar to ones used in nuclear engineering applications to study radioactive aerosols released from nuclear accidents, Talaat tells me.

The first finding is that opening the window reduces the fraction of potentially infectious particles by nearly 40%, while also reducing aerosol transmission between people within.

Modelling of airflow around a window. Courtesy of Khaled Talaat.

However, even when the student desks are spaced at 2.4 meters (7.8 feet), about 1% of the exhaled particles still spread from desk to desk. A larger desk spread expectedly reduced the spread of aerosols, but also, when the desks are spaced apart is when screens become most useful.

“Protective screens (e.g. glass screens) also significantly reduce aerosol transmission between individuals separated by at least 2.4 meters in the room,” Talaat explains for ZME Science.

“Barriers do not stop small particles directly. However, they influence the local airflow field near the source affecting the trajectory of the aerosol particles. Their effectiveness depends on the air conditioning layout and source location.”

The distribution of aerosols wasn’t homogenous, because of air conditioning and circulation. The geometry of the classroom and the position and size of the windows also affects the flow of particles, but overall, researchers expect that “the findings would qualitatively hold in other classrooms”, although individual differences could depend on many factors.

When it comes to reopening schools, the team ultimately recommends opening windows whenever possible, installing protective barriers, and removing the middle seat — as middle seat students transmit far more particles to others.

Additionally, hand hygiene is crucial, Talaat concludes.

“We encourage students and instructors to sanitize their hands even without coming into contact with other people’s belongings because aerosols from other students can deposit on them and on their own belongings in significant amounts.”

Teenagers can spread coronavirus just like adults, new study finds

The heated debate around opening schools just got some new evidence: if we open schools, there will be new clusters of infections, South Korean researchers warn.

Image credits: Scott Webb.

So far, South Korea’s response to the pandemic has been exemplary. From being one of the first outbreak hotspots to becoming a leader in testing and having only double-digit cases for the past three months, South Korea has offered a remarkably efficient example of how to deal with a pandemic.

The country has also been active in coronavirus research. In the latest study, a team of researchers analyzed how COVID-19 is spread among different age groups.

Contact tracing offers valuable information

South Korea is one of the few countries that truly do contact tracing for coronavirus cases — and it’s very effective. In the study, researchers used contact tracing to identify 5,706 people who reported coronavirus symptoms between January and March, when schools were closed.

They traced 59,073 contacts of these cases, testing the household contacts of each patient, regardless of symptoms. They also tested contacts outside of the household, but only if they were symptomatic. There are some limitations to this approach (for instance not knowing who in a household is the first to be infected), but this approach can shed light on how the disease was spread through this community

What they found

Out of the total 10,592 household contacts who were tested, 11.8% had COVID-19. This is somewhat positive news since it means that the majority of household people did not contract the disease. Out of 48,481 nonhousehold contacts, 1.9% had COVID-19. The researchers found that personal protective measures and social distancing substantially reduce the likelihood of transmission.

When it comes to children between 0 and 9 years old, the risk of transmission was very low. Children in this age group were half as likely as adults to spread the virus. It’s not exactly clear why this happens, but it could be because children, in general, exhale less air (and therefore fewer viral particles), because they exhale air closer to the ground, making it less likely for other people to breathe it in, or because they have fewer ACE inhibitors.

But when it comes to teenagers (aged 10 to19), they were just as likely as adults to spread the virus, both to adults and their peers.

This goes against the idea that all kids are shielded from the disease and suggests that if schools were to reopen, this would lead to localized clusters both among children and the adults who are near them.

“We showed that household transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was high if the index patient was 10–19 years of age. In the current mitigation strategy that includes physical distancing, optimizing the likelihood of reducing individual, family, and community disease is important. Implementation of public health recommendations, including hand and respiratory hygiene, should be encouraged to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within affected households,” the authors write.

Now what?

South Korea adopted a rigorous contact-tracing program, including both epidemiological data and large databases (global positioning system, credit card transactions, and closed-circuit television). This approach is extremely valuable, especially since it would be hard or impossible to replicate in most places (it wouldn’t even be legal in the EU, for instance). The findings, while far from definitive, carry important lessons for the entire world.

Many countries, including the US, are struggling to figure out whether to reopen schools. Children in general seem more resilient to the disease, but apparently, when they do get it, they can pass it on with ease.

It’s important to note that researchers only traced children who felt sick. The transmission rates for asymptomatic cases remains unknown, and overall, children are less likely than adults to develop symptoms. It is unclear if asymptomatic children are also less likely to pass the disease.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that opening schools will lead to clusters of infections. The idea that schools can be kept coronavirus-free while the virus is still at large in the area seems unlikely, although other studies have suggested that schools may still show resilience.

Whether or not this risk outweighs the downsides of keeping schools closed is a different discussion. For now, there is much uncertainty and opening schools seems bound to come at a cost. In a recent poll, 71% of Americans said it would be risky to send their kids to school.

Ultimately, the decision will be taken by politicians. We can only hope they also look at the science.

Read the study here.

Despite an increasing need, school meals are getting less healthy in the US

With classes canceled in up to 40 states, schools in the United States are still fulfilling an important need amid the coronavirus lockdown. Many families visit schools every day to get food as they can no longer afford it.

Credit Flickr.

As on any other school day, all schools are providing meals to families that have to meet the federal nutrition standards. But, instead of working to ensure that the meals remain nutritious, the Trump administration is rolling back healthier standards, health organizations claim.

Back in January, the federal government proposed new rules to allow more pizza, meat, and potatoes in schools instead of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This means replacing standards that have been put in place by Michelle Obama.

The new rules mean schoolchildren could consume an additional eight cups per week of hash browns, french fries, or other potatoes instead of fruit in breakfast and other vegetables in lunch. Trump’s initiative has already been rejected by nearly 60 health organizations.

“These rollbacks fail to put children’s health first, which is the clear goal of school nutrition programs under the statute. If finalized, this rule would jeopardize the progress schools are making to provide healthier food to vulnerable children and [will] decrease the overall healthfulness of school meals,” the Center for Science in the Public (CSPI) said.

A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program found that these proposed changes would adversely affect student’s health and academic performance and that students from low-income families attending schools are most likely to be impacted.

Virtually all schools participating in breakfast and lunch programs have made and are making great progress toward serving healthier meals for participating children with less sodium; more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and fewer sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks.

The current proposed rule undermines such efforts to improve the quality and nutritional value of foods served in schools. The USDA purports that the proposed changes are “customer-focused”; however, the data show that parents and students are in favor of healthier standards.

“Continually weakening the standards does not provide more stability and consistency for schools or industry. On the contrary, it continuously changes the goalposts for school efforts and industry reformulation,” Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for CSPI, said.

This is hardly the Trump administration’s first attempt to weaken school nutrition. It previously rolled back requirements for whole grains and sodium in kids’ meals — moves that are now the subject of two ongoing lawsuits by CSPI and partners and by a group of state attorneys general.

Teenagers can have a “social jet lag” because of the school’s hours

Everyone who once traveled between countries with different time zones experienced some level of fatigue or confusion — jet lag.

But you don’t need to travel to get jet lag. According to a new study, many teenagers suffer from social jet lag. This especially occurs when there are big differences between the number of hours they sleep at the weekend and in the week, the researchers found.

A school in Buenos Aires. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

A study by researchers in Argentina showed that teenagers that go to the school during the morning shift have lower academic performance and up to four hours of social jet lag.

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, was analyzing more than 700 students from the Carlos Pellegrini school in Buenos Aires. The sample included 30 courses, 15 from the first year and 15 from the last year, half morning courses and half evening courses.

The researchers were able to link the chronotype of the students (essentially the circadian rhythms), figuring out which were more likely to be active in the morning or in the evening. They also tracked academic performance, measured by the grades obtained by the students.

“We observed that the students with a morning predisposition had a better performance in the morning shift than those who are more nocturn,” Juliana Leone, a researcher at the Torcuato Di Tella University and author of the study, said. “This suggests that academic results are better when the chronotype and the school time match.”

The researchers gave the students a questionnaire and asked about their sleeping times during weekdays, the time they go to bed, the time they get up and how long do they take to sleep. With this information, they were able to build four variables or indicators of sleep.

The variables were the chronotype of the teenagers, the total number of hours of sleep, the social jet lag and the proportion and duration of naps. By connecting the data with the grades, the researchers realized that teenagers going to the morning shift slept very little and had high levels of social jet lag.

“We discovered that teenagers in Argentina have more evening chronotype than in other countries. Nevertheless, we saw differences between shifts,” Leone said. “A general recommendation would be that school should start later, that would be better for all teenagers.”

An intermediate solution suggested by the researchers was that only the older students in the last years of school are the ones to start late, as they were seen to be the most affected. The school could also assign shifts according to the chronotypes of teenagers, they said.

Daniel Pérez-Chada, professor at the Austral University, who didn’t participate in the study, told La Nacion newspaper, that the research has many virtues. He highlighted the size of the sample and that it was done randomly, also agreeing with the idea of starting school later.

Praise, rather than punishment, improves classroom focus by 30%

Credit: Pixabay.

Teachers employ a variety of different styles to keep their classes engaging and improve student outcomes. One age-long debate surrounds the old carrot or stick — should teachers focus on praising students for their work or on punishing them when they misbehave and do poorly? A new study suggests the former is the way to go.

“Praise is a form of teacher feedback, and students need that feedback to understand what behavior is expected of them, and what behavior is valued by teachers,” said Dr. Paul Caldarella, from the David O. McKay School of Education at Brigham Young University and lead author of the new study.

Researchers spent three years following the behaviors and school results of 2,536 school children living in three US states, from kindergarten through to sixth grade.

In total, the team of researchers at Brigham Young University sat through 151 classes in 19 elementary schools.

In half of the classrooms, teachers were instructed to follow a behavioral intervention program called CW-FIT, in which students are informed of what social skills are expected of them to show in the classroom and are rewarded for doing so. In the other half of the classes, teachers employed their usual classroom teaching style and management practices.

The results suggest that students showed 20% to 30% more focus during classes when teachers were required to consider the number of praise statements that they’ve given, rather than the number of reprimands.

The more teachers that praised students for their proper behavior in class and the less that they scolded, the more students were able to focus on what the teacher was saying or working on assigned tasks.

“Unfortunately, previous research has shown that teachers often tend to reprimand students for problem behavior as much or more than they praise pupils for appropriate behavior, which can often have a negative effect on classrooms and student behavior,” said Caldarella.

“Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students’ on-task behavior reached 60%. However, if teachers could increase their praise to reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom,” he added.

The time spent by students attending lessons and their academic performance are directly linked, previous studies have shown. As such, the new study shows that praise can be an important tool in a teacher’s kit, meant to encourage students to work harder — and this may be particularly true for children who struggle at school or are disruptive in class.

“Everyone values being praised and recognized for their endeavors – it is a huge part of nurturing children’s self-esteem and confidence,” Caldarella adds.

“Also from a behavioral perspective, behavior that is reinforced tends to increase – so if teachers are praising students for good behavior – such as attending to the teacher, asking for help appropriately, etc – it stands to reason that this behavior will increase, and learning will improve.”

The findings appeared in the journal Educational Psychology.

Backed by science: These annoying things that teachers do really do work

Image credits: Sam Balkye.

The struggle between teachers and students is long and storied — no doubt dating from the time of the very first teachers and the very first students.

Teachers do all sorts of things for seemingly no other reason than to annoy students — and the opposite also stands true. Although their goal is the same (passing knowledge from one group to the other), the struggle is real and oftentimes, there seems to be more conflict than collaboration.

There’s no perfect way to be a teacher, but some approaches are better than others. Here are three ideas that do work, as demonstrated by science and highlighted by Wharton Professor of Management Ethan Mollick.

Sit students randomly

It’s understandable that students don’t like to be moved around. Tests feel uncomfortable and stressful, and moving from your usual place can add even more pressure to an already unpleasant situation.

The problem, however, is that moving students around works. It helps prevent cheating, as illustrated by a 2019 paper published by researchers from Chicago University and Taiwan University.

It’s no surprise that many students want to cheat. Their future is impacted by their grades, and the consequences for cheating are often not that severe.

The paper found compelling evidence of cheating in at least 10% of the students taking a midterm exam (not a trivial amount, especially for two high-ranking universities) and these were just the compelling cases, not the suspected ones.

The true scale of the problem is probably even larger, as another paper found — but back to our business.

The study developed a simple algorithm for moving students around and found that it is highly effective. Students often cheat from one another, and even assigning them randomly can go a long way towards preventing cheating.

Honor systems just don’t work, researchers write. Moving students around — does.

“It is not surprising that students cheat—they have strong incentives to do so, and the likelihood of getting caught is low. What is perhaps more surprising is that so little effort is devoted to catching cheating students,” the study ominously reads.

Give tests often

If there’s something students hate more than taking a test, it’s taking a lot of tests. But there’s a very good reason why professors should give short and numerous quizzes: they help students learn better.

Image credits: Xin Wang.

At some point, we’ve probably all had the feeling that we only understood the subject after the test. In fact, we may have only understood it because of the test. Tests, for all the hate they receive, are very useful — as highlighted by a 2011 paper.

Tests are useful in a number of key ways. They boost student memory, identify gaps in knowledge, allowing professors to know which topics to focus on, and generally cause students to learn more.

Instead of seeing tests as ways to assess knowledge, we should see them more as a way to improve knowledge, the study authors note.

“Besides these direct effects of testing, there are also indirect effects that are quite positive. If students are quizzed frequently, they tend to study more and with more regularity,” the authors note.

So if you want your students to learn more, try giving more tests. They might hate you, but they’ll learn more in the process.

Emphasize attendance

Attendance is a controversial topic even among professors. Some make it important, offering bonus points or some kind of exam advantage for it — some even make it mandatory — while others simply disregard it completely.

But according to a recent meta-analysis, attendance is the best available predictor of academic performance — and if you want students to perform well, you’d better pay some attention to attendance.

The study reads:

“Attending class not only allows students to obtain information that is not contained in textbooks or lecture materials presented online but also allows students varied contact with material (lectures, review of notes, demonstrations, etc.). In addition, consistent class attendance represents a system of distributed practice that has been shown to be effective in increasing the retention of information while also offering the possibility for the overlearning of material.”

Results also show that class attendance explains large amounts of unique variance in college grades because — independent of SAT scores and school GPA. There is also surprisingly little connection between attendance and student characteristics such as conscientiousness and motivation. So class attendance helps raise grades, and it’s not that the most motivated students always have the highest attendance.

The relationship between attendance and grades is so strong that it suggests that dramatic improvements in average grades (and failure rates) could be achieved simply by increasing class attendance rates among college students.

So there you have it — QED. Want your students to perform better? Give them a lot of tests, sit them randomly, and emphasize attendance.

Is your professor giving you a lot of tests, sitting you randomly, and emphasizing attendance? Good! Then he or she has your best interest at heart — even though it may not always seem like it.

Could installing air filters into classrooms raise students’ performance?

A thought-provoking working paper suggests that installing air filters into classrooms could help students perform better by a significant margin.

A simple air filtering system could significantly increase school grades.

In October 2015, workers at a gas well in Aliso Canyon’s underground storage facility in Los Angeles, California, reported a massive gas leak. It was an environmental disaster, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Local communities felt the impact.

Residents reported headaches, nausea, and severe nosebleeds. Children were particularly affected — dozens of children went to school nurses every day with severe nosebleeds. Faced with public and political pressure, the company responsible for the leak installed air filter in every affected classroom. But here’s the thing: they did this three months after the leak was first reported.

Thankfully, with methane being lighter than air and the leak plugged after a couple of months, the level of pollutants had fallen to pre-leak levels by the time the filters were installed. In other words, the filters didn’t help clear up leaked methane because the methane was already gone. They did, however, clear the regular levels of pollution — and that’s when something weird started happening.

Test scores were going up, by a lot: 0.20 standard deviations for math and 0.18 standard deviations for English. This is the equivalent of cutting down class sizes by a third (or, similarly, adding a third more teachers) for the cost of an air filter (around $700).

The changes appear to be sustained over the next year, and cannot be readily explained by any other factor (there was no reform or substantial change). In addition, while Los Angeles has some relatively high pollution levels, they were similar to those of other schools — the effect only happened where the air filters were installed. There’s also some underlying science which could explain why this happens.

Study after study has shown that pollution, even pollution considered within ‘normal’ levels, can affect the cognitive abilities of both children and adults. A recent working paper found that pollution “harms chess players’ performance in cognitive tasks” — and for children, who are generally more sensitive to the effects of pollution, the effects may be even stronger.

Of course, we shouldn’t look too much into one single study (which was not peer-reviewed). However, the effects are so impressive and the costs of installing air filters would be so small that we would really love to see a few schools and cities experiment with this. This opens up some very interesting research avenues, and potentially, offers some very concrete in helping students’ cognitive abilities with low costs.

California voted to start school after 8:30 AM — and here’s why this is great

California lawmakers voted to bar middle and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m. — a bill which narrowly passed. Experts have widely praised this initiative, saying that it will boost student health, improve overall school performance, and save billions of dollars.

Starting school later

Most schools in the US and elsewhere in the world start at 8 AM or earlier — it’s the way things have generally been for a long time. But it’s really not the way things should be, researchers say. It all started in the early 1990s, with the University of Minnesota’s landmark School Start Time Study, which tracked high school students from two districts which changed opening hour from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The study found multiple positive benefits to students, including:

  • Improved attendance and enrollment rates;
  • Less sleeping in class;
  • Less student-reported depression;
  • Fewer student visits to school counselors for behavioral and peer issues;
  • More even temperament at home.

Sure, this was only one result — but since then, a plethora of other studies have found similar results. No matter where you look, it seems that starting school just a bit later can do a wonders for the students’ health and performance, and this position has pretty much become generally accepted across experts. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The position was later echoed in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in 2016 by the American Medical Association. To make matters even better, a study also suggested that moving start time from 8 to 8:30 AM could save billions of dollars, reduce the drop-out rate, and also reduce the number of early-morning traffic accidents.

Well, after all of this, policymakers have finally started to listen.

8:30 AM or later

Nearly 80% of California middle and high schools started earlier than 8:30 a.m. in 2012, according to the CDC. If Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, which is very likely, then all schools will have 3 years to comply with the new regulations. The only exceptions would be to rural schools or to extra periods offered before the start of a school day.

“This is the single most cost-effective thing we can do to improve high school graduation rates,” Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Hesperia, said.

This will have a big impact on children and adolescents — the CDC pointed early school start times as one of the main causes of teen lack of sleep, a problem which can cause poor academic performance, increase the risk of depression, loneliness, social isolation, and even weight gain.

So if this is so great, why hasn’t it been done sooner? Well, the main argument is that it costs a lot of money to switch and shift bus and traffic routes — although economic projections show that the money will be more than recovered, and in the long term, billions of dollars could be saved.

Students get poorer grades at classes that don’t match their biological clocks

A new study showed that students consistently fare better at classes that fit their biological clock and worse at classes that don’t — raising new questions about traditional class times.

We all know that one person who just can’t wake up in the morning. Twenty alarm clocks, snooze after snooze, a grumpy walk to the morning coffee — the whole nine yards. Well, those people are bound to have lower grades in the early classes, but it’s not just them. According to a new study, everyone fares worse outside of their comfort time.

Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers. They sorted them into three groups — “night owls,” “daytime finches” and “morning larks” — based on when they tended to be more active.

They found that when students were working out of sync to their biological clock (like night owls in the morning or morning larks in the afternoon), they would suffer from a “social jet lag” — a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands. However, most notably, most students were out of sync with school hours.

“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.

Owls performed worst of all the groups due to chronic social jet lag. Social lag also with overall GPA (Image courtesy of Benjamin Smarr).

Social lag wasn’t only associated with decreased academic performance — it was also linked with obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use.

Researchers say that this research supports shifting school hours to a time that’s more accessible to most students. Rather than admonish students for going to sleep too late, schools should adapt to their biological clocks, taking advantage of the time of day when students are most capable of learning. They also call for an individualization of the teaching process — where different students learn at different times, to facilitate academic performance.

“Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success,” said study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.

The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Starting school before 8:30 AM increases depression risk, researchers find

If kids don’t want to wake up for 8 AM school, they might have a good reason, a new study concludes.

It might surprise you, but there’s increasing support for starting school later — and not just from the teens themselves. For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 AM. The CDC now says that starting “school later can help adolescents get enough sleep and improve their health, academic performance, and quality of life”. Now, a new study reports that starting school too early (ie, before 8:30 AM) contributes to the risk of depression.

“Our study is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health,” says Peltz, who is also on the faculty of Daemon College in Amherst, N.Y. “But ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep. While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.”

We don’t really give much thought to school start time, but when you consider that 90% of high-school-aged students get barely enough or insufficient sleep on school days, maybe we should. If almost every student isn’t getting enough sleep, perhaps outside change is required.

Peltz is one of the many researchers calling for schools to start later. Most often, the research is focused on the academic benefits of starting school later, of which there are many. But what’s even more important is that the teens’ health might also be at risk. Peltz collected data from 197 students across the country between the ages of 14 and 17, dividing them into two groups: those who start school before 8:30 AM, and those who start later. He found that good sleep hygiene is always beneficial, but starting school earlier puts more pressure on the mental health, and in time, can lead to problems such as depression.

“Our results suggest that good sleep hygiene practices are advantageous to students no matter when they go to school,” says Peltz. “Maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning off the TV, cell phone and video games before bed… these efforts will all benefit their quality of sleep and mental health. However, the fact that school start times showed a moderating effect on mental health symptoms, suggests that better sleep hygiene combined with later school start times would yield better outcomes.”

However, Peltz is the first to admit that this is still a small-scale study, and findings still need to be replicated with a larger sample size.

“More studies are definitely needed, but our results help clarify the somewhat mixed findings with other sleep hygiene-focused interventions, by suggesting that school start times may be a very important contextual factor,” he says.

He hopes that this study will push for more research on the subject, force a debate about school starting times, and ultimately, help push sleep to the top of our priorities, where it belongs.

“If we don’t sleep, eventually we will die…our brains will cease to function,” he says. “At the end of the day, sleep is fundamental to our survival. But if you have to cram for a test or have an important paper due, it’s one of the first things to go by the wayside, although that shouldn’t be.”

Journal Reference: Jennifer M. Bowers, Anne Moyer. Effects of school start time on students’ sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, and attendance: a meta-analysis.

Students will eat at the salad bar — all it takes is marketing and some parental help

Thanks to a national health initiative, public schools throughout the US can now boast a salad bar aimed at promoting a healthier diet for their students. That’s half of the battle won — the other part is actually making the kids choose the salads over other food. A new study from the Brigham Young University identified the best way to promote the bar among students.

Image credits Pexels / Pixabay.


Lori Spruance, health sciences professor at the BYU, has been studying how well the salad bars perform in schools and found one simple trick to boost their popularity among students: marketing. She and her team found that teens are much more likely to eat from the salad bar if it was promoted through a solid marketing campaign — almost three times more.

“Children and adolescents in the United States do not consume the nationally recommended levels of fruits and vegetables,” Spruance said. “Evidence suggests that salad bars in schools can make a big difference. Our goal is to get kids to use them.”

Open bar

With roughly 4,000 new salad bars opened in public schools across the US through the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, students have way more access to healthier food (and a wider range than previously possible) during lunch break — about 50% of high schoolers have access to a salad bar in school, as do 31% of middle school students and 31% of the kids in preschool.

For the study, Spruance and her team tracked students’ salad bar usage in 12 public schools from New Orleans. They tracked this usage through student-filled surveys and further tracked the school environment through personal visits.

Apart from the finding that marketing boosted the salad bars’ popularity among secondary school students, the team also found that girls were more likely to use the salad bar, and would do so more often, than their male counterparts. Also unsurprisingly, children who report preferring healthy food also said they go to the bar more often.

“The value of a salad bar program depends on whether students actually use the salad bar,” Spruance said.

“But few studies have examined how to make that happen more effectively.”

So what does a good bar make? The team lists information in school publications and newsletters, signage throughout the school promoting the salad bar, as well as a strong presence on the school’s website for the bar as successful marketing efforts. The team also suggests getting the parents in on the action, for example by reaching out to them through newsletters or parent-teacher conferences. Getting students used to healthy food at home made the single biggest difference in their choice of visiting the bar.

“It takes a lot of effort and time, but most children and adolescents require repeated exposures to food before they will eat them on their own,” Spruance said.

“If a child is being exposed to foods at home that are served at school, the child may be more likely to eat those fruits or vegetables at school.”

The full paper “Individual- and School-Level Factors Related to School-Based Salad Bar Use Among Children and Adolescents” has been published in the journal Health Education & Behavior.

Natural selection is weeding out our drive to go to school, study reports

The genes that make some people seek higher education seem to have been selecting themselves out of our genome for the last 80 years, a new study has found. The authors think that this process of negative selection will have a big effect on the evolution of the human race in the future centuries.

Image credits Pixabay / Pexels.

Researchers from the Iceland-based genetics firm deCODE have studied the genomes of over 129,808 natives looking for genetic markers that predispose people to achieve longer periods of education. The team looked at the birth rates of these people (all between 1910 and 1990) and sequenced the genome of each individual.

By comparing this genetic data to their level of education, the team found that a genetic factor was involved in a person’s likelihood of attending school for longer. The last step was to create a ‘polygenic score’ based on more than 600,000 sequence markers in the genome to estimate a person’s genetic predisposition for education.

Still, genetics obviously isn’t the only factor that dictates a person’s levels of education. After correlating the polygenic score with environmental, social, and biological factors, however, the researchers found individual with higher scores were less likely to have many children.

Running out of a good thing

In essence, they found that these genes also made people less likely to have a large family — meaning that in the end, smart people contribute less and less to the country’s gene pool.

“As a species, we are defined by the power of our brains. Education is the training and refining of our mental capacities,” said Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE.

“Thus, it is fascinating to find that genetic factors linked to more time spent in education are becoming rarer in the gene pool.”

This finding doesn’t mean that people are dumber than ever. Modern education along with a wider access to schools and information than before should balance out or even over-match the genetic effect. However, after a few centuries’ worth of this effect adding up, we could be in some serious trouble.

“In evolutionary time, this is a blink of an eye. However, if this trend persists over many centuries, the impact could be profound.”

Overall, the average polygenic score was on a slow but evolutionary-significant decline. They also found a drop in average IQ of about 0.04 points per decade. But that might be an understatement of the problem — as Ian Sample from The Guardian reports, “that figure might rise to 0.3 points per decade” if the researchers included “all the genes that contribute to education”.

Fighting biology with textbooks

The team believes that smarter people don’t have fewer children because they’re busy doing smart stuff instead of pestering the opposite sex. It seems that the genes involved in education can actually affect their fertility on a biological level. They report that the carriers of these genes tended to have fewer children on average than those who didn’t even if they had the same level of education.

The study was performed using only subjects in Iceland, so there’s no guarantee as of now that people in other countries are going through the same process. Still, it’s something that we’d better keep an eye on. The results go to show the importance of continuing and improving education access and quality all over the world.

“In spite of the negative selection against these sequence variations, education levels have been increasing for decades. Indeed, we control the environment in which these genetic factors play out: the education system,” Stefansson said in a press statement.

“If we continue to improve the availability and quality of educational opportunities, we will presumably continue to improve the educational level of society as a whole.”

“Time will tell whether the decline of the genetic propensity for education will have a notable impact on human society.”

The full paper “Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment” has been published in the journal PNAS.

Credit: SharpSchool

Late-term babies are likelier to be classed as ‘gifted’ in school, but also at risk of health problems

Scientists analyzed the test scores of hundreds of thousands of children aged 8 through 15 from Florida who were born early-term, full-term and late-term. The analysis suggests those babies born late-term or in the 41st week of pregnancy are likelier to be classed as ‘gifted’ in elementary and middle school. There seems to be a trade-off between heightened cognitive performance and health — late-term babies are likelier to have health problems later in life.

Credit: SharpSchool

Credit: SharpSchool

It’s an established fact that children born late-term might experience physical health problems as they grow up, but the extent of this wasn’t clear, nor were the potential benefits.

Dr. David N. Figlio and colleagues at Northwestern tapped into the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) database to compare test results for  320,000 children born early-term, nearly 720,000 born at full-term, and almost 120,000 born late-term.

The statistical analysis showed late-term infants got higher scores, a greater percentage were classified as gifted and a smaller percentage had poor cognitive outcomes. On the other hand, late-term born children were also likelier to have abnormal physical conditions at birth and disabilities at school age compared to full-term infants.

Specifically, the difference in cogntive performance and health outcomes were about half the size of the difference between full-term and early-term infants, the authors report in JAMA Pediatrics. Previously, Figlio and colleagues showed that heavier newborns have an academic edge.

“A statistical study is just one piece of evidence that expectant parents should consider when thinking of the ‘right’ time to give birth,” Dr. Figlio told Reuters Health. “Physicians have a tremendous amount of information about maternal and fetal health in each specific pregnancy.”

The findings might help parents more informed decisions about how they want to deliver their baby.

“I imagine that some families, in cases of routine, low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancies, would opt for assuming a modestly higher risk of physical issues in order to achieve modestly higher chances of better cognitive outcomes, and other families would opt for modestly lower chances of good cognitive outcomes in order to achieve modestly better chances of physical health,” Dr. Figlio said.

Young children may benefit from playing video games

A new study found that playing video games may have a positive impact on young children’s cognitive development. Researchers found a positive association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children’s mental health as well as their cognitive and social aptitudes.

Video games have imposed themselves as a centerpiece of entertainment media — we’re willing to shell out a lot more for a good game than for a good movie. Millions of people worldwide enjoy them, from almost all age brackets. But the largest consumer of video games by percentage currently are young children.

Image credits wikimedia user Gamesingear

Because children are still learning how to be, well, human beings, the way video games guide their development has always attracted lots of criticism. Their violent nature in particular has been drawing a lot of misguided flak over the past few years; but they’re also perceived as being socially-isolating (how many times has someone called you “nolifer” when you frag them in Counter Strike?) and as a waste of time better spent on studying. So I’d say it’s safe to assume that most parents consider them to have a negative influence over their children.

Not so fast, says science. A recent study from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Paris Descartes University assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children’s mental health and cognitive and social skills, and found that playing video games may have positive effects on young children.

The data was obtained from the School Children Mental Health Europe Project. Children’s mental health was assessed by their parents and teachers through a questionnaire and the children themselves responded to questions through an interactive application. Teachers also evaluated their academic success.

Boys tended to play more than girls, and both genders spent increasingly more time on gaming as they got older. Children of average-sized families tended to play more games, while kids from single-parent families or less educated ones play less.

After adjusting for subject’s age, gender and number of siblings, researchers found that children who engaged in heavy video game use had 75% more chance of showing a higher level of intellectual functioning than their counterparts. They also had 88% more chance of achieving a higher overall level of school performance. More time spent playing was also associated with less social problems with their peers.

“Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children,” said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.

Furthermore, the team was unable to find any significant association between video game use and either parent, teacher or self-reported mental health problems. Previously, research showed there is no evidence that violent video games make children more aggressive. Any fits can be attributed to a sense of frustration, not the violence depicted in the video games.

“These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community,” Keyes added.

“We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains and important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success.”

The full paper was published online in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, and can be read here.


Kids everywhere, rejoyce – science says you should get those “5 more minutes, mom!”

A recent study performed by researchers working at the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School and the University of Nevada suggests that the current school and university start times have a damaging effect on the learning and health of students.

Later starting hours for school and college could lead to better academic results and better overall health for students. It would also be awesome.
Image via xplodemag

Adolescents today face a widespread chronic health problem: sleep deprivation. Although society often views sleep as a luxury that ambitious or active people cannot afford, research shows that getting enough sleep is a biological necessity, as important to good health as eating well or exercising.

Drawing on the latest research in the field of pillow-and-blanket face times, the authors calculated the best time for students to attend courses, sorted by age.

Results show start times should be 08:30 or later at age 10; 10:00 or later at 16; and 11:00 or later at 18. Adopting these start times would protect attendees from short sleep duration, chronic sleep deprivation and the health complications associated with them.

The findings tap into recent insight regarding circadian rhythms -also know as “the body clock“, the mechanism that makes us jet-lagged – and of the genes associated with governing this daily cycle every 24 hours. It tells our body when it’s nappy time and when it’s wakey time, makes us sleepy at night and keeps us pumped up during the day.

Teens are among those least likely to get enough sleep; while they need on average 9 and a 1/4 hours of sleep per night for optimal performance, health and brain development, teens average fewer than 7 hours per school night by the end of high school, and most report feeling tired during the day, acording to Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998.

The main culprits are poor teen sleep habits that do not allow for enough hours of quality sleep; hectic schedules with afterschool activities and jobs, homework hours and family obligations; and a clash between societal demands and biological changes that put most teens on a later sleep-wake clock; during adolescence, our inherent circadian rhythms start to de-synchronize with those imposed by the typical working day – early bird and all that.

Circadian rhythms determine our optimum hours of work and concentration, and they shift almost 3 hours later during this period. These genetic changes in sleeping patterns were used to determine start times that are designed to optimize learning and health.

Adopting later starting times for school and college would help improve both academic performance and students’ health, according to the study. It’s not just wishful teen thinking, either: the US Department of Health has recently published an article in favor of changing the start times for Middle and High Schools.

Corresponding author Paul Kelley (Honorary Clinical Research Associate, Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford) will be presenting “Time: the key to really understanding our lives” at the British Science Festival on Tuesday 8 September.

school kids

Kid doesn’t like going to school? Your ‘bad’ genes might have a say in all this

Some kids seem to enjoy school activities more than others, but while efforts seem to be concentrated on improving teaching, a new research suggests that genes play a major role as well – sometimes they’re more important than the environment, as far as  motivation and doing well in school are concerned. The findings were reported by a team led Yulia Kovas of Goldsmiths, University of London that aggregated a swath of studies which included 13,000 twins aged nine to 16 from six countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Russia and the US.

school kids

Image: Psypost

“Twin studies” are good for differentiating between the given (genes) and obtainable (environment), since identical twins have 100% identical DNA. Any difference between the two genetically identical siblings thus arises from nongenetic factors like their home or school environment. Nonidentical twins, on the other hand, share just as much DNA as any siblings, yet they’re often included in studies  to further analyze the roles played by genetic and environmental influences. These kids had to fill out various questionnaires that primarily gauged two things:  how motivated they were in the classroom, and how much academic ability they thought they had. The researchers concluded that “genetic factors explained approximately 40% of the variance and all of the observed twins’ similarity in academic motivation.”

So, in some respects the findings topple conventional wisdom, but other people might chant what they already knew all along: all kids are not the same. When a kid goes to school for the first time, he’s not a blank slate, a tabula rasa. While all the kids in a classroom might start off from the same line (not knowing how to read, how to do algebra etc.), they’re evolution is individually different. Of course – that’s just common sense. The findings, however, suggest that cognitive ability isn’t the only thing that’s inheritable and plays a major role in how well a child might do in school.

‘We had pretty consistent findings across these different countries with their different educational systems and different cultures,’ said Professor Stephen Petrill, of Ohio State University.

‘It was surprising. The knee-jerk reaction is to say someone is not properly motivating the student, or the child himself is responsible.

‘We found that there are personality differences that people inherit that have a major impact on motivation.

‘That doesn’t mean we don’t try to encourage and inspire students, but we have to deal with the reality of why they are different.’

In other words, the best education is one that is individually catered. Yes, that’s expensive and prohibitive, but here’s looking at you, mom and dad. Who knows your kid better than you? Don’t expect school alone to educate your child.

Study abstract

Considering the striking consistency of these results across different aspects of academic motivation, different subjects, different ages, and different cultures, we believe that it is time to move away from solely environmental explanations, such as “good” or “bad” home, teacher, and school, for differences in enjoyment and self-perceived ability (Olson et al., 2014). The results convincingly show that, contrary to common belief, enjoyment of learning and children’s perceptions of their competence are no less heritable than cognitive ability (Greven et al., 2009). Surprisingly, unlike cognitive ability, for which shared environment makes a small to moderate contribution across the school years (Petrill et al., 2004), no such contribution was found for these motivational constructs.

Education has no age limit: 90 year old woman goes back to primary school

It’s never too late to do something you really want to – and this is a great example. A 90 year old woman from Kenya decided to go to primary school. She is believed to be the oldest pupil in the world.

Image via BBC.

Sitting at the front of the class (because seeing can be a bit difficult when you’re 90), Priscilla Sitienei listens closely while she takes notes in English on her notebook. After serving as a midwife for 65 years, she is now a colleague to some children she helped give birth to.

Affectionately known as “Gogo”, which means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language, she wanted to learn how to read and write in English – something she never got a chance to do as a child.

“I’d like to be able to read the Bible; I also want to inspire children to get an education. Too many older children are not in school. They even have children themselves.”

Gogo also wanted to motivate children to go to school – if she can do it, so can any kid.

“They tell me they are too old,” she says, “I tell them, ‘Well I am at school and so should you.’ I see children who are lost, children who are without fathers, just going round and round, hopeless. I want to inspire them to go to school.”

Sadly, the school turned her down initially, but they ultimately understood just how motivated and committed she is. Now, she is the pride of the school, and the entire learning environment has improved since she joined.

“Gogo has been a blessing to this school, she has been a motivator to all the pupils. She is loved by every pupil, they all want to learn and play with her”, said headmaster David Kinyanjui.

Image via BBC.

Gogo also shares some of her wisdom and knowledge of herbal medicine to kids – something which should definitely be passed on to future generations.

The current record for oldest primary school pupil in the Guinness Book of Records is held by another Kenyan, the late Kimani Maruge. He went to school at the age of 84 in 2004.

Gogo still continues her work as a midwife, and pregnant mothers still visit her and ask for her help when they give birth. So in a way, she still continues her job, and goes to school. It’s never too late to go back to school. Her message is also heartwarming:

“I want to say to the children of the world, especially girls, that education will be your wealth, don’t look back and run to your father,” she says. “With education you can be whatever you want, a doctor, lawyer or a pilot.”

Source: BBC

Kids eat 54% more fruits and veggies if recess comes before school lunch

Children nutrition in schools in the US has a big problem – not only are the kids not eating enough fruits and vegetables (which leads to health issues later on in life), but a study has shown that kids waste millions of dollars every day by throwing away the fruits and veggies. Now, a new study has found that a no-cost trick could greatly improve that: just have recess before lunch – not after.

I used to love recess when I was in school; to be honest, it was my favorite thing about school for a long time. Most kids are like that – they can’t wait to get outside and play and talk to their friends. Of course, if you had to choose between playing and eating, most kids would clearly prefer the former; after all, eating is no fun.

“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time,” said Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. “You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high.”

In other words, it costs them something – precious play time. Switch around that time, and they will start eating more fruits and veggies. Price is the lead study author and collaborated with Cornell’s David Just for this study. They had three schools in in a Utah school district (grades 1-6) switch to recess before lunch and monitored them. They also monitored normal schools, who stuck to the old schedule.

Image via Harvard.

For four days in spring and nine days in the fall, they measured how much healthy food was wasted by standing next to the trash cans and recording the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also measured whether or not the students actually ate the fruits. After analyzing 22,939 data points, the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables.

There was also a 45% increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. When this doesn’t happen and kids don’t have a balanced meal at school, their academic performance can drop. This can also lead to excessive snacking which of course can, in time, lead to obesity and a myriad of health related issues. Because moving recess is a no-cost way to make kids healthier and make the school meal program more successful, Price and Just recommend that every school do the switch.

“Increased fruit and vegetable consumption in young children can have positive long term health effects. Additionally, decreasing waste of fruits and vegetables is important for schools and districts that are faced with high costs of offering healthier food choices.”

This is the kind of study which will leave policy makers wondering “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”.

Journal Reference: Joseph Price, David R. Just. Lunch, recess and nutrition: Responding to time incentives in the cafeteria. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.016