How do we close the gender and socio-economic achievement gaps in primary school children?
Economy, business, politics and society
Global perspectives and challenges
Health and wellbeing
Professor Sule Alan
Research has shown that in most countries children from poorer backgrounds fall behind their peers in terms of their academic, physical, psychological and social development very early on.
These socio-economic achievement gaps are some of the biggest obstacles to policies that aim to promote social mobility and reduce inequality.
An Essex-based project, led by Professor Sule Alan, from the Department of Economics, is working to change this.
“Socio-economic skills can be fostered in the classroom environment by teachers who acknowledge the importance of these skills for achievement in all walks of life,” she said.
Our project has designed and evaluated 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. All field work to date has been in Turkey and Professor Alan is finding that it is entirely possible to enhance achievement by fostering these vital skills.
The interventions used in the study aim to improve the child’s ability to imagine their future selves and encourage forward-looking behaviour using a structured curriculum delivered by the child’s own teacher.
“This programme fundamentally changed the way I give feedback to my students. They were initially shocked when I started praising the way they failed at various tasks. They now have a fearless attitude towards tasks they previously considered too tough,” said Sibel Ozsogut, a teacher from Atasehir Ihsan Kursunoglu Primary School, Istanbul.
“It all starts with optimistic beliefs; those who truly believe that effort is a more important ingredient for achievement than innate intelligence are a lot more likely to succeed,” explained Professor Alan.
Professor Alan summarises her findings so far as:
“The fact that fostering grit increases girls’ competitiveness is important because it is well documented that they tend to shy away from competitive environments, a possible explanation for the fact that we have far fewer women in highly-competitive, high-stake occupations in corporations, politics and even in academia,” added Professor Alan.
Professor Alan is now working towards cost-effective ways of mitigating the gender and socio-economic achievement gaps observed in many countries, including the UK. She has been asked by the World Bank to be a lead consultant in developing and evaluating similar interventions in Romanian high schools.
A further aspiration is to shift the emphasis to look at different traits such as creativity, curiosity and innovativeness. She will then look at how those traits interact with the more primitive traits such as grit. Professor Alan also wants to look at any negative effects – for example, does developing grit impact on a child’s ability to empathise.
This project received funding from a £680,000 Impact Acceleration Account that Essex was awarded by the ESRC in July 2014. Impact Acceleration Accounts provide funding to institutions with an impressive track record in social science research and ours is enabling us to conduct a wide range of research over four years.