Monday, 11 June 2012

Can Brain Boosting methods and programmes really turn children into geniuses?

During the early nineteen sixties, Operation Head Start was launched in the United States to improve the performance of low achieving students particularly from low income families.In principle, Head Start would improve the long-term outcomes of its participants. That the development of cognitive and non-cognitive (for example, motivation) skills during the preschool years could impact later success or failure in school  was an important assumption of Operation Head Start . Success in school  would then impact success in the labour market. Unfortunately all students who had enrolled in this program were economically disadvantaged. At the Pre-School level, programs included the Perry Preschool Project, the Early Training Project, and the Abecedarian Project. Later studies about the outcome of the Head Start programme however didn’t find any major improvement in the performance of those who had been inducted into the Head Start programme. This  could have been because most of the inductees into the programme came from economically weaker sections of the society. What Operation Head Start did achieve was the active integration of the family into the teaching-learning process and to result in a significantly reduced probability of criminal convictions among those who had attended Operation Head Start. All this shows that the programme was based on the concept of tweaking the environmental variables in order to bring a change in the behavioural characteristics of the learners.
Later, in the late seventies I remember as a student of class eight that there used to be a scheme in the Ethiopian schools where by meritorious students in the top tenth percentile were allowed to do two grades in the same year. Under this scheme, a student of class eight would be given double promotion, he would do grade eight and nine in the same year! This would, at a later stage, lead to some amount of stress psychological anxiety. However, this rather accelerated rate of study, and the burden of  the syllabi of two different levels or grades did lead to emotional problems in the students! Imagine the situation where you had a rather immature looking student studying in a senior class, sitting among those who were elder to him in age,  mentally and physically more mature! I remember that the students who were given a double promotion and entered a senior class were often more likely to be bullied by other students who were elder to them. Often the psychological disadvantages seemed to far outweigh the benefits of the double promotion! In some cases this would lead to these rather young learners to feel rather shy, and hesitant in mixing with the rest of the students, and indication surely, that their should be a correlation between the mental age, actual age and the grade or class in which a student is studying.
Today, I come across so many advertisements that claim that their products will help boost the mental abilities of the child. Some are programmes that last three or four years, and they include reading material, puzzles, games, modules on Compact disks and software that can be loaded on computers. I often wonder whether these programmes could after all turn an average learner into an Einstein! This further reminds me of the debate between the two schools of thought, Heredity and Nurture. We remember Watson the controversial American Psychologist who through classical conditioning tried to prove that environment was more important in determining the abilities of a child. B.F.Skinner, also did experiments to prove that human behaviour could be “Conditioned”. However whether Watson could make a thief out a child or a doctor out of the child of criminal parents is highly debatable and considerably influenced by what the child might have inherited in terms of genes. And this inheritance does play an important role in determining how intelligent the child will be, how good he will be in studies and whether he will be a doctor or an engineer! Francis Galton observed in his book in 1869 that gifted individuals tended to come from families which had other gifted individuals. In more recent times, the Bell Curve controversy has as its main argument the statement that an individual’s intelligence-no less than 40% and no more than 80% is inherited genetically from his or her parents!- Hernstein and Murray, 1994, “The Bell Curve”. Their premise is that Intelligence (I.Q.) is largely genetically inherited!
Based on the findings of so much research, it becomes doubtful how such Brain Booster Programmes might benefit the child in the long run. The market is also flooded with such a large number of medical products and preparations which claim to be able to boost the brain power of the child. It is clear, however, that any programme or or project which claims to be able to boost the I.Q. of a child should be taken with a pinch of salt and should be able to satisfy the parents’ queries based on the Heredity versus Environment controversy! Imposing an unnatural environment on the child, forcing him or her to do repetitive puzzles, forcing the child to solve endless number of problems, subjecting the child to an endless number of tuitions and coaching might not make the child a genius as claimed by the manufacturers of the  product or the owner of the programme! Such programmes or products might even lead to stress and anxiety when they are forced on to the child! Perhaps the only way of ensuring that your child is a genius is through Eugenics, selective breeding, or Genetic engineering, which is unethical and goes against the tenets of fair play and humanity! While no doubt playing Chess or Sudoku or Scrabbles or other  mental games might help keep the mind active and such games might help bring out hidden or latent talent in the child. Ultimately it is a rather dynamic correlation between Heredity and Environment which will determine what your child will be! A person who is suffering from Haemophilia might not benefit from the Environment in terms of getting cured, but might be able to stop himself from getting cut! Such programmes as Head Start, or the policy of awarding double promotions or Brain Games or Brain Booster courses come within the category of Environment, and they can at the most bring out the latent talents that are genetically determined! To conclude therefore, all Brain Booster programmes should take into consideration  the Genetic predisposition of each individual. Thus, the same achievements and promises cannot be claimed for all individuals enrolling in the programme and will vary from individual to individual!

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