study Archives - Education Matters Magazine

Is handwriting the key to improved literacy skills?

In an age where our lives are so technology-rich, a new study investigates the links between handwriting and other literacy skills in young children; highlighting that the (hand)written word should be the way of the future rather than a shift to paperless schools.

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DNA on a smartwatch

Genetic link to education attainment revealed

A recently released, global study has identified 74 genes that could play a role in how long a person attends school, and whether or not they go to university.

Researchers, including a team from The University of Queensland (UQ), analysed genetic information from 300,000 people to determine any links to education attainment.

Professor Peter Visscher of UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute, said genetics may account for as much as 20 per cent variation in how much schooling a person received.

“Your level of education determines so many other aspects of how your life unfolds,” Professor Visscher said. “There is a widely-accepted relationship between educational attainment and health outcomes, but we don’t fully understand its causes.

“And that’s one reason for conducting this research – because of its relevance for broader medical research.”

In one example of how the research has raised further questions for investigation, results indicate the genes associated with higher educational attainment were associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease on average.

“These tiny genetic differences may ultimately help to understand why some people are more susceptible to early cognitive decline than others,” said Professor Visscher.

The research, conducted by the Social Science Genetic Asasociation Consortium was published in Nature.

Child and blackboard

Study: Pattern learning underlies language development

New research shows how a child’s grasp of language is learned, while also being ‘inextricably’ linked to his or her ability to recognise patterns.

The study, produced by researchers from the University of Sydney and from Australian National University (ANU), found children who were better at identifying non-verbal patterns also tended to have a batter knowledge of grammar.

The researchers also used controls in order to take intelligence and memory into account, and still pattern recognition was strongly associated with language development.

This is of interest as the question of how some children learn faster than others has been hotly debated for centuries.

Evan Kidd is Associate Professor at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. He says the findings counter traditional theories of that aptitude for grammar in language is innate, not learnt.

“For a long time people thought of grammar as some sort of special cognitive system, like a box in our brain that we are born with, but our study shows that language proficiency is associated with learning – which helps to explain why some people pick it up faster than others,” said Professor Kidd.

“These findings are exciting because in the long-term they could help us develop strategies to assist children who may not be typically developing for their age.”

The study included a sample of 68 children aged six to eight years, assessing them with two separate tests. One test evaluated grammatical knowledge while the other was a visual pattern learning task.

“The study tells us that we have a whole lot of little statisticians running around,” said Associate Professor Joanne Arciuli, co-author of the study and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

“Unbeknownst to children themselves their brains are constantly computing these patterns or statistics – for example which words co-occur regularly, which words follow others, and different contexts in which words are used.”

As a result of the study, the Australian Research Council has provided funding for a further three-year study to be undertaken in order to investigate the underlying cognitive mechanisms of language development in children.

The findings are published in the journal, Child Development.


Little girl reading

Study: Preschool quality and attendance need urgent attention

A new report indicates that a significant number of early childhood education services do not meet minimum standards and that over 60,000 children start school with poor social skills and emotional wellbeing.

The document, entitled ‘Quality Early Education for All: Fostering creative, entrepreneurial, resilient and capable learners’, was published this month by the Mitchell Institute.

Drawing on a broad variety of research, including the latest ABS statistics on preschool education, the authors highlight the ‘unacceptable divide in both opportunity and outcome between the poorest and wealthiest communities, between cities and very remote towns, and between children from different cultural backgrounds’.

Perhaps most interesting is the statistic that one in three Australian children aren’t attending early education for the hours required to make a difference.

According to the authors of the report:

There are substantial differences between the way education experts and Australian families understand child development and early learning.

In particular, while experts see early education as a critical site of development and learning, families often see child care primarily as a place where children are looked after safely while they work or study.

A national campaign is needed to highlight just how important quality early education is for kids, not only for helping parents to work.

The full report can be found on the Mitchell Institute’s website, while a summary of the findings has been released via The Conversation.