Reducing the socio-economic achievement gap in children

Professor Sule Alan

Professor Sule Alan

Children from poorer backgrounds fall behind on most developmental measures from a very early age. How can we help them to close the gap?

The challenge

Research has shown that in most countries children from poorer backgrounds tend to fall behind their peers in terms of their physical, psychological and social development very early on. This socio-economic achievement gap is one of the major obstacles to policies that aim to promote social mobility and reduce inequality.

Our project

Our project is a unique educational programme that involves designing and evaluating classroom based educational interventions that aim to nurture key skills such as self-control, patience, grit, curiosity and creativity – all of which are considered pivotal to enhanced achievement.

Educational materials that we have created have been given to elementary school children in Turkey, through collaboration with their Ministry of Education. We have now begun to scientifically evaluate the impact of these interventions and are finding that it is entirely possible to enhance achievement by fostering these vital skills.

We are therefore working towards offering cost-effective ways of mitigating the gender and socio-economic achievement gaps observed in many countries, including the UK.

Findings so far

An educational programme that used case studies and classroom activities to improve children's ability to imagine their future-selves whilst emphasising forward looking behaviour led to more patient decision making and a lower incidence of behavioural problems.

When children and teachers are exposed to the notion that success stems from hard work and effort, as opposed to an innate ability or intelligence, they exhibit increased challenge-seeking behaviour and perseverance when faced with setbacks. This in turn has a positive effect on the academic outcomes of the children, particularly in mathematics. The same view encourages girls to be more competitive, especially after they were discouraged by setbacks.

Research team

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