Research shows that a student’s genetic makeup can have a strong influence on their academic performance.
Some interpret this as meaning there is little that can be done to help those who struggle academically – and that spending extra money on these students to help them succeed is pointless.
But is this the case?
A major misconception is that genes are destiny. This is wrong because genes are never the full story.
This is because environmental factors (“nurture”) also play a role in levels of academic achievement. Well-designed and well-delivered remediation can also help struggling students even in cases where genetic factors (“nature”) may be the source of the difficulties.
What we know about genetic influence
We know about strong genetic influences on academic skills primarily through the use of the twin method.
This is where the genetic makeup of identical twins is compared with non-identical twins.
Evidence of genetic influence emerges if identical twins are more alike in terms of academic performance than non-identical (“fraternal”) twins.
Identical twins share all their genes, “fraternal” twins share half of their genes, but both types share homes and schools.
So researchers can estimate the degree to which genes affect academic achievement over and above the effects of homes and schools: that is, they can estimate how much ability is inherited. And because non-identical twins can be opposite-sex, researchers can also identify if nature and nurture play out differently with males and females.
For the most part the same genes appear to affect boys and girls, and in general gender effects are in danger of being exaggerated in public discourse.
Less is known about creative and technical subjects, where particular talents clearly exist.