Industrial psychologists and economists have found, internationally, that the roots of business and national economic success are established in the home and at school.
David E Harrison,industrial psychologist
As one of the world’s weakest economies, Zimbabwe needs success, both for the unemployed (for jobs), the employed (for access to training and motivational technologies) and, in particular, the pre-school children and primary level students. For this, selection, training and remuneration of teachers at all level should be focussed upon by economic planners and the advisers to politicians.
I cover below some educational developments which can help to “jump start” Zimbabwe from our currently unenviable levels of wealth and employment.
Misapplication of the intelligence quotient (IQ) has been developmentally unfair to millions because the IQ is a “snapshot” of a person’s current stage of mental growth (or decline).
Children have been “streamed” at eight years of age or younger into advanced or “lower” school classes based upon single IQ “snapshots” upon which teachers and parents have based assumptions of ability that have often been self-proving because the student tends to “learn” his/her self-image and self-esteem as reactions to the perceptions of others! Briefly, if you are told your IQ is low, your next IQ snapshot is likely to be lower! And vice versa.
Alfred Binet developed an early measure of IQ for educational streaming purposes in 1916. It must be conceded that teaching classes of similar snapshot levels appeared to Binet and colleagues to be educationally more efficient than teaching groups of mixed ability. At about the same time, Cyril Burt introduced the idea of “g” — general intelligence, which he defined as “innate general cognitive ability”. This stimulated the design of numerous IQ “tests” which were assumed to measure “g”.
Psychologists have since established that it is as impossible to accurately measure “g”, as defined above, as it is to choose a fashion model from a 12-year-old’s snapshot, or to identify a future physicist, lawyer or accountant from an “IQ test” at that age.
Measured IQ grows or drops depending on factors such as educational motivation and opportunities, encouragement versus punishment, health, social stimulation and job content.
There are several techniques you can use to increase your IQ. For example, the “digit span” is the number of digits you can hold in your mind and repeat back accurately if presented at about one per second or less eg “6904875” yields a digit span of seven (six is about the average, four is low and 10 is exceptionally high). Have some fun practicing this and you will soon find that the “span” you can apply to your Buddy Card will increase considerably, for example. Your measured IQ will also increase if you expand your vocabulary, learn basic logical operations, and improve “mental arithmetic” through practice.
Limitations of group learning curve
Educationalists should note that “pop” psychology has established a misleading myth in the form of the “learning curve” which appears as a fairly smooth negatively accelerating growth curve when the progress of groups of learners is averaged, but which is dangerously misleading when applied to any particular individual.
Professor George Drew discovered this important error when the British war ministry sought his help in 1944. The ministry had been attempting to select Morse Code operators (very important for wartime communications) but almost all had been “failing” in the training programmes.
Drew found that the ministry had set a weekly improvement minimum figure. Those applicants who failed to match that target in any particular week were being dismissed from the training programme! Upon investigation, Drew found that each person had an “individual” learning curve, but the curve was almost never smooth. There would be “plateaus” of no apparent progress for as long as two weeks, for example, and even some “valleys”. But, if the average of all of the achievements of any group was calculated, a relatively smooth curve was discovered.
As everybody had a “bad” week or so, most had been inappropriately dismissed. Here is the tragedy. Educationalists have for over 100 years been explicitly (or implicitly) trained to expect a smooth curve from each of their students. Students have been expected to improve smoothly and gradually. Not passing has been referred to as “failure.” The result of setting these smooth learning curve expectations has therefore been numerous apparent failures for almost all students!
A shocking outcome, that I have come across in study skills classes, is that over 30% of students have stated that they “hate” school.
Understandably, as it has been the place where they seem to have “failed” so often! As we know from our own experiences, our personal learning has not taken place in smooth curves, but in peaks and troughs of progress, with several plateaus of no apparent improvement, followed by sudden “climbs” and overall improvement, but not smoothly.
Almost every child is born with an amazing potential intellect, vast curiosity and huge capacities to absorb information and learn to solve problems. However, formal education has tended to repress intellectual development. The “traditional” teacher praises and favours the “bright sparks” and repeatedly demotivates the rest, often in the usually incorrect belief that praising the few will motivate the others.
Great potential brains are reduced to conforming, unquestioning compliant students, demotivated towards thinking and problem solving, and mere shadows of their potential selves. There are, of course, great teachers who are exceptions to this. Perhaps on average, there may be about one per school. Lucky you if you had one! But these are teachers who have probably had to resist the dictates of their own school experiences and training!
It has gradually become apparent amongst learning theory psychologists and educationalists that feedback on learning progress is very important. This awareness has contributed to the rapid growth in popularity of neurolinguistic programming (NLP). [In psychology, always look for the simple idea behind a fancy term (“needs hierarchy”, “‘two factor theory”, “non-parametric statistics”, etc).] NLP is simply self-motivation with positive phrases, as in the Burl Ives song about “The Little Engine that Could”.
“I think I can, I think I can …” Richard Bandler and John Grinder claimed, with some research support, that self-programming leads to the establishment of brain pathways (neurological networks) which can contribute to success, that is “auto-suggestion” works! Don’t sneer at this. It has proved very successful for the authors, who still have a strong following and high credit ratings!
“What we see or hear is what we think about. What we think about is what we feel. What we feel influences our reactions. Reactions become habits and it is our habits that determine our destiny.” — Prof Bob Goss. So, help students to “programme” themselves positively, and reward, rather than punish.
Mental growth mindset
A great leap forward has been introduced by United States psychologist Carol Dweck who pointed out a huge flaw in the commonly used strategy of teachers using such expressions as “pass” and “fail”.
Prof Dweck said “Don’t say ‘fail’, just say ‘not yet’ because all students may reach a ‘not yet’ stage many times in a day.” If ‘not yet’ is interpreted as failure, this can be severely demotivating to all but a small proportion who have sufficient self-esteem and/or parental support to overcome
frequently attributions of failure.
Prof Dweck applied her own advice in organising the teaching of a school in a very poor, disadvantaged area of New York. Within a year the students’ collective achievement rating in mathematics was raised from the lowest 5% in the state, to the highest 5% — well above the achievements of most of the schools with better facilities and reputations!
This approach has proved successful in many areas of the US. But old teaching habits die hard, and there is much to do worldwide in proselytising this approach to teaching.
Prof Dweck describes her objective as that of developing in students a “mental growth mindset” whereby students learn to expect “not yet” as part of the intellectual growth process, so that difficulties (“challenges”) are accepted, and not repeatedly feared as traumatic occasions.
Harrison is an industrial psychologist, senior consultant and managing director of Human Resources (Pvt) Ltd, an industrial, commercial and agricultural consultancy and training organisation. Phone: 242-700867, Mobile: 0772 400 220, E-mail: email@example.com. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or +263 772 382 852.