The real villains behind the generation which cannot think

13th February 2009 at 00:00

Professor Tim Birkhead's disturbing article: "We've bred a generation unable to think" (TES, February 6) confirms both anecdotal experience and the findings of disparate empirical research into long-term trends in educational abilities.

With the increasing dominance of screen-based ICT, a concomitant decline in reading and the tick-box commodification of children's learning experience with its stultifying "teaching to the test", is it any wonder that today's university students show less aptitude for independent, creative, initiative-based thinking?

Research reinforces Birkhead's concerns. In 2006, Philip Adey and Michael Shayer at King's College London discovered that 11-year-olds are less "intelligent" than their counterparts of 30 years earlier. This week, research by Professor James Flynn of the University of Otago in New Zealand, shows there has been an unexpected decline in British teenagers' IQ scores between 1980 and now.

This may be a result of them having been subjected to unbalanced, overly cognitive learning at earlier ages. Ephemeral short-term gains may have been at the expense of a longer-term cognitive malaise.

Urgent research is needed so policymakers are alerted to the possibility that their approach to "driving up" educational standards may lead to long-term deterioration.

Dr Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University.

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