Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

It is time for “Human Resources” to be retired and to return to basics

July 30, 2020

I was pleased to see that in India’s New Education Policy the “Ministry of Human Resource and Development” was to return to its pre-1985 name of the “Ministry of Education”.  This is not a comment about the new policy but about the use of the term “Human Resource”. The Ministry of Education became the HRD Ministry in 1985 during Rajiv Gandhi’s time as Prime Minister. But this was, in hindsight, both misguided and counter-productive. The intention was to show how “modern” and up-to-date India was. In practice it shifted the focus from the core needs of Education to the cosmetics of being seen to be modern.

News18: The Ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD) has been renamed as the Ministry of Education following an approval from the Union Cabinet. The name change was a key recommendation of the draft New Education Policy, which has also been cleared in Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. The HRD ministry name was adopted in 1985, during the tenure of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as it was changed from ministry of education.

The term “human resource” was first used in 1893 though entirely in a descriptive way. The concept of mobilizing, training and managing personnel and employees in industry grew in the first half of the 20th century. Later it spread into the Military and all Defense Industries as the Second World War demonstrated clearly the need for training, educating and managing large groups of personnel. After the war the concept of managing personnel relationships spread into every branch of commerce and even into government and bureaucracies. It used to be the Personnel Department until it became trendy and fashionable in the late 1970s for corporations to use the term “Human resources” to show how caring they were.

Human Resource: Pioneering economist John R. Commons mentioned “human resource” in his 1893 book The Distribution of Wealth but did not elaborate. The expression was used during the 1910s to 1930s to promote the idea that human beings are of worth (as in human dignity); by the early 1950s it meant people as a means to an end (for employers). Among scholars the first use of the phrase in that sense was in a 1958 report by economist E. Wight Bakke.

It is my contention that the use of the term “human resource” has been misleading and, on balance, more bad than good. It has enshrined the notion of people being just another commodity in the economic cycle. The use of the term “human resource” has helped to apply the same principles to people as those applying to raw materials (cost, security of supply, alternative suppliers, competition between suppliers). Seeing humans as resources rather than “personnel” has encouraged – and enabled – the corporate world to dehumanize people and shift and change to the cheapest resource available. The entire notion of outsourcing, which has became a major area of HR, is based on the same principles of shifting risks of fluctuating production volumes to sub-suppliers.

Personnel and employers once exhibited loyalty, trust, a sharing of goals and commitment. In both directions. Values evolve. Employers have become faceless and so have the resources they employ. Resources, after all, are consumable. They are to be fully utilized and then discarded and replaced. Brand loyalty from customers is highly valued and to be pursued. Employer/employee loyalty is of no relevance if it is not specified in the employment contract. The goals of a large corporation are rarely anything shared by all the cogs in the large wheel. Corporations, instead, have HR Departments to produce Vision Statements which are meaningless and shared by no one. Human resources, for their part, are required to perform to specification, be judged by Key Performance Indicators, are trained (not educated) and are discarded and written-off when non-performing or obsolete.

So I am very pleased to see Human Resource Development in India return to Education. And it is about time that Human Resources returned to being about People.


“Dangerous lack of academic qualifications in top Swedish politicians”

January 25, 2019

The “knowledge society” is the catchphrase. But in Sweden it is administered by career politicians without academic qualifications of any significance.

As an opinion piece in the SvD points out:

Even the new Löfven government  thinks that politically groomed ministers without any special academic background or insight into the conditions of research should lead Sweden into the “knowledge society”. One can no longer imagine a Swedish prime minister with a doctoral degree or an education minister with a professorship ……

Science is and remains the largest and most important knowledge generator in society. One might therefore think that the ministers and other politicians who will lead us into the “knowledge society” – a mantra repeated by the new Löfven government – would themselves possess especially high academic competence and particular insight into the conditions of the search for scientific knowledge.

However, nothing could be more wrong.

Nor is the new government Löfven more familiar with knowledge acquisition than other groupings. One may be glad that the newly appointed Minister for Higher Education and Research has read more than a few extra courses and that the Minister of Justice, who is also responsible for migration issues, has at least a Bachelor’s degree. In law? No, in political science.

We can compare this with the German government, where Merkel himself is a PhD physicist and the former Minister of Education was a professor of mathematics. Almost all ministers in the new German government have an academic degree, of which six are PhDs.

………..Unfortunately, there are no clear signs that the new  Löfven government will be able to even identify the underlying system errors, let alone take measures and steps to actually fix them.

The talk about Sweden as a knowledge nation will therefore also in the future be in ironic contrast to the political reality.


A question of genetics (race) or of parental engagement?

April 4, 2016

A new study from Centre Forum in the UK about educational achievements only confirms what has been obvious for the last 2 or 3 decades. It should be noted though that Centre Forum is a “liberal” think tank and does have an agenda to push. Nevertheless, it is more objective and data-driven than many other “left/liberal” groups. The difference between “Black African” and “Black Caribbean”, between “White British”and “White Irish” and between “Asian Pakistani” and “Asian Bangladeshi” convinces me that the difference in achievement is more due to parental engagement than genetics (race). But genetics is clearly also a factor.

The Telegraph: Pupils with English as a additional language (EAL) are outperforming white British students across subjects at GCSE, a new study has shown, as it was revealed students in England are further away from world class standards than previously thought. 

….. The new study shows white British pupils lagging behind ten other ethnic groups when judged against new benchmarks based on eight subjects to promote a broad and balanced curriculum at the end of secondary school.

UK education achievements 2016 age 5 (graphic via Daily Mail)

UK education achievements 2016 age 5 (graphic via Daily Mail)


UK education achievements 2016 age 16 (graphic via Daily Mail)

UK education achievements 2016 age 16 (graphic via Daily Mail)


UK Government commission perpetuates “class” divisions

June 15, 2015

A report today from the UK Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is garnering some headlines today because the study seems to show that there are “non-educational barriers to top jobs” and that “working-class applicants struggle to get access to top jobs in the UK”.  But this is a case, I think, of a social study which starts with pre-conceptions, proves them and makes nonsense recommendations. They advise firms to loosen (and downgrade) their job requirements to suit a wider range of applicants even though they don’t have a problem to fill their needs. The commission forgets that education (including of the “working class”) has to suit the jobs available and it is not for the job requirements to be diluted to suit the applicants. If the objective of the commision is to improve the employment prospects of the “working class” then perhaps the education system has to make the “non-educational” factors – which apparently are important – part of the education system.

Press Release:

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has published research Non educational barriers to the elite profession evaluation showing that working-class applicants struggle to get access to top jobs in the UK.

The research is the product of extensive interviews with staff from 13 elite law, accountancy and financial services firms, who together are responsible for 45,000 of the best jobs in the country.

It finds that elite firms are systematically excluding bright working-class applicants from their workforce. Data collected for the project showed that as much as 70% of job offers in 2014 were to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to 4% and 7% of the population as a whole.

Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn, the Chair of the Commission, said:

This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry. Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.

Why can’t the comprehensive schools teach their “working class” students to be posh if that is what is required. Speaking and behaving “posh” is a matter of education not necessarily a matter of wealth. But that is not something that “political correctness” will admit. Of course Alan Milburn is a Labour MP with a vested interest in demonstrating that the “working class” are being hard done by. It is always wealth that must be shown to be the culprit. It could never possibly be the education of the “working class” which is inadequate. But what he, and the commission are actually doing, are perpetuating their preconceptions of the poor, discriminated against, working class.

The recommendations are equally silly:

Dr Louise Ashley of Royal Holloway, University of London, Research Project Lead, said:

Our research finds that recruitment and selection processes which advantage students from more privileged backgrounds remain firmly in place at most elite law and accountancy firms. As such, despite their focus on specific social mobility initiatives, the rate and pace of change is limited.

We make 3 key recommendations for firms wishing to access the widest range of talent to benefit their business and their clients in future; first, amend attraction strategies to encourage higher numbers of applications from students with a wider range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds; second, ensure that these diverse students have access to similar levels of support enjoyed by their more traditional peers, in order to navigate the selection process effectively; third, interrogate current definitions of talent, including how potential is identified and assessed, to ensure that disadvantaged students are not ruled out for reasons of background rather than aptitude and skill.

If speaking “posh” is a job requirement then perhaps the education system has to adjust. Firms will automatically adjust their requirements if they cannot get sufficient applicants who fit.

“Poshness”, however you wish to define it, is a perfectly valid job requirement. Lack of it among “working class” applications is a commentary on their education – not an excuse.

Indian-American domination of the Spelling Bee – by the numbers

May 29, 2015

The domination of the Spelling Bee by Indian-Americans continues. It resembles the domination of long distance running events by East Africans. It is highly unlikely that a genetic component is not involved.

Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam, St. Louis, Missouri lift the trophy after becoming co-champions after the final round of the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbour, Maryland on Thursday.

  1. Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, both 8th graders, jointly won the 88th Scripps Spelling Bee.
  2. Vanya is the first sibling of a past champion to win, with her sister, Kavya, winning in 2009.
  3. 285 spellers took part in the 88th US Scripps Spelling Bee competition.
  4. They came from the 50 U.S. states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe, the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.
  5. Though Indian-Americans make up just 1% of the nations population, they (64 or 65) constituted more than 20% of the Spelling Bee contestants .
  6. Three contestants, all of Indian origin, Vanya Shivashankar, Jairam Hathwar, and Srinath Mahankali, had siblings who have previously won the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  7. Indian Americans have won for seven years in a row and all but four of the last 15 years.
  8. At the semi-final stage 29 of the 50 contestants were Americans of Indian origin.
  9. Seven of the ten finalists were Indian Americans.

Numerical gibberish from a Professor of Meteorology at Florida State

January 12, 2015

There is a strange article in the Tallahassee Democrat by a Peter Ray, a Professor of Meteorology at Florida State University. This is not exactly Nature and the TD’s fact checking processes are not to be compared to a proper peer review, yet they allowed this nonsense to be published:


Peter Ray – image Tallahassee Democrat photo Craig Litten

The population doubles every 40 years. In 100 years there will be 100 times as many people living on the earth. All will suffer the lack of food and water. Many will die and wars will be over resources.

Never mind that the UN projections show a world population of 7 billion today reaching a peak of about 10-11 billion by 2100. Never mind that global fertility is declining fast. Never mind that a doubling every 40 years would need some 265 years to reach a factor of 100. Never mind that in 100 years the growth would be by a factor of 6.6. Peter Ray seems to be calculating by his strange mathematics a population of 700 billion in 100 years (though quite how he calculates this is a mystery). The rest of the article is conventional gloom and doom gibberish but masochists can find it here.

Prof. Peter S Ray, Florida State University

However I thought it odd that somebody so numerically illiterate – in a public article – could be a Professor of Meteorology, which led me to the Florida State University page of a Professor Peter S Ray which in turn led me to his homepage and then on to his cv. He is the only Peter Ray listed. The pictures – if all of the same person – seem a little anachronistic. Presumably the Tallahassee Democrat picture was chosen as being the most flattering but I would guess it is from 20 years ago. Personally I would prefer the later picture.

The “back to the future” theme appears also in his cv where his PhD (Meteorology) is from 1973 but his MS (Meteorology) is from 2013. It is not inconceivable that a Masters degree could follow a PhD, but in the same field?

I get worried when Professors start spouting about matters outside their own narrow fields. They are imbued with an authority they do not have and – more often than not – are misguided and misinformed. We could call it the Newton’s Alchemy Syndrome (NAS). Professor Peter Ray should probably avoid demographics.

Monkeys can learn how to use a mirror

January 11, 2015

Self-awareness is surely more than just passing a “mirror test”. There would seem to be a continuum between the two discrete states of “not being self-aware” (a stone) to being “fully self-aware” (higher primates and humans), though I am not entirely sure if even higher levels of self-awareness are conceivable. I take self-awareness to be on a higher plane than self-consciousness. Self-awareness is the recognition of a tree as “being in a forest” whereas self-consciousness is just being the “tree”. Empirically, sentience is an even higher cognitive capability where sentience requires self-awareness which in turn requires self-consciousness.

Most mammals are conscious of self or at least of self-interest. Even a tree for that matter could be said to exhibit self-interest. Passing the mirror test seems to be a fairly conclusive evidence of well-developed, self-awareness but that is not to say that some degree of self-awareness is not possible even when the mirror test is not passed. Whales, dolphins and some elephants have passed the mirror test along with most of the higher primates (gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos). The magpie is the only bird known which has passed the test. Monkeys (rhesus monkeys, macaques) do not pass the test but are clearly self-conscious.

Now, new research has shown that rhesus monkeys can be taught to make use of a mirror such that they could pass the mirror test. Can awareness therefore be taught?

Liangtang Chang, Gin Fang, Shikun Zhang, Mu-Ming Poo, Neng Gong. Mirror-Induced Self-Directed Behaviors in Rhesus Monkeys after Visual-Somatosensory Training. Current Biology, January 2015 DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.016

EurekAlertUnlike humans and great apes, rhesus monkeys don’t realize when they look in a mirror that it is their own face looking back at them. But, according to a report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on January 8, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn. What’s more, once rhesus monkeys in the study developed mirror self-recognition, they continued to use mirrors spontaneously to explore parts of their bodies they normally don’t see.

“Our findings suggest that the monkey brain has the basic ‘hardware’ [for mirror self-recognition], but they need appropriate training to acquire the ‘software’ to achieve self-recognition,” says Neng Gong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In earlier studies, scientists had offered monkeys mirrors of different sizes and shapes for years, even beginning at a young age, Gong explains. While the monkeys could learn to use the mirrors as tools for observing other objects, they never showed any signs of self-recognition. When researchers marked the monkeys’ faces and presented them with mirrors, they didn’t touch or examine the spot or show any other self-directed behaviors in front of those mirrors in the way that even a very young person would do.

In the new study, Gong and his colleagues tried something else. They sat the monkeys in front of a mirror and shined a mildly irritating laser light on the monkeys’ faces. After 2 to 5 weeks of the training, those monkeys had learned to touch face areas marked by a spot they couldn’t feel in front of a mirror. They also noticed virtual face marks in mirroring video images on a screen. They had learned to pass the standard mark test for mirror self-recognition.

Most of the trained monkeys–five out of seven–showed typical mirror-induced self-directed behaviors, such as touching the mark on the face or ear and then looking and/or smelling at their fingers as if they were thinking something like, “Hey, what’s that there on my face?” They also used the mirrors in other ways that were unprompted by the researchers, to inspect other body parts. …… 

I note that Gordon Gallup Jr. who developed the mark test is not convinced:

Gordon Gallup Jr., an evolutionary psychologist at the State University of New York at Albany, who was not involved with the research, developed the “mark test,” which is essentially the gold standard for measuring whether an animal possesses self-recognition. [8 Humanlike Behaviors of Primates] ….

Gallup, who developed the mark test, called the study “fundamentally flawed,” because it merely demonstrated that the animals could be trained to do something, not that they understood what they were doing.

“I bet I could train a pigeon to pick the correct answers to the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE),” Gallup told Live Science. “If the pigeon got [the maximum GRE score], would it be qualified for Harvard University?”

Perhaps, given self-consciousness, much of what we call awareness can be taught. Maybe that is how babies develop; an inbuilt self-consciousness which then becomes self-aware as learning (mainly self-taught) occurs. Learning requires memory and maybe that is why this self-taught awareness is what also deteriorates with the memory loss that accompanies the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor at Imperial College driven to his death?

December 8, 2014

This is sad and rather depressing.

On his blog, Professor David Colquhoun, FRS reports on the case of Professor Stefan Grimm of Imperial College who seems to have been bullied to his death.

Publish and perish at Imperial College London: the death of Stefan Grimm

This week’s Times Higher Education carried a report of the death, at age 51, of Professor Stefan Grimm: Imperial College London to ‘review procedures’ after death of academic. He was professor of toxicology in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial.

Now Stefan Grimm is dead. Despite having a good publication record, he failed to do sufficiently expensive research, so he was fired (or at least threatened with being fired).

“Speaking to Times Higher Education on condition of anonymity, two academics who knew Professor Grimm, who was 51, said that he had complained of being placed under undue pressure by the university in the months leading up to his death, and that he had been placed on performance review.”

Having had cause to report before on bullying at Imperial’s Department of Medicine, I was curious to know more. 

Martin Wilkins wrote to Grimm on 10 March 2014. ………

……. It didn’t take long to get hold of an email from Grimm that has been widely circulated within Imperial. The mail is dated a month after his death. It isn’t known whether it was pre-set by Grimm himself or whether it was sent by someone else. It’s even possible that it wasn’t written by Grimm himself, though if it is an accurate description of what happened, that’s not crucial.

No doubt any Imperial staff member would be in great danger if they were to publish the mail. So, as a public service, I shall do so. ……

Read the rest at DC’s Improbable Science

Academic progress and goodness of research are not necessarily connected.


From perverting schools to perverting children to being perverted ISIS murderers

August 27, 2014

Why so much perversion among Bristish Muslim youth?

It could just be my perception, but on the basis of recent news reports one would be justified in concluding that Muslim youth in Britain – in particular – are a perverted lot. And protected and shielded by others of their communities. From the stealth hijacking of Birmingham schools  in an effort to create bigoted madrassas by the back door, or the obscene perversions of their Rotherham brethren, to the apparently retarded youth joining ISIS and exulting in murderous  jihadi cool.

The centre of any religion or movement is defined by the extremes that the centre allows. Clearly the extremes of perversion being exhibited among their youth are not sufficiently opposed by main-stream “moderate” Muslims in Britain. The extremes are defining Islam in the UK. The travails of immigrant youth are not restricted to just the Muslim community in the UK. Other immigrant groups have the same difficulties of language and alienation and unemployment to contend with, but the Muslim youth of the UK seem to be grossly over-represented in the perversion stakes.

It cannot just be poor academic achievements at school except that that may be an indicator of something else. Possibly they mirror something in the environment in which they are brought up and the attitudes of their parents.  But political correctness and the fear of being seen as racist by the authorities has probably led to the “appeasement” policies that have been followed. Turning a blind eye to barbaric practices because they are “religious” is a poor excuse. As in this University of Warwick paper from 2010 where the problem statement is fine,

Including the religious viewpoints and experiences of Muslim students in an environment that is both plural and secular

…….Another reason for the persistence of the Muslim education question is a concern that has greater priority for education professionals than observance of religious practices, the serious underachievement of children and young people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi heritage, and, more recently, of Somali and Turkish heritage groups. In 2004 the Office for National Statistics reported that 33% of British Muslims of working age had no qualifications, the highest proportion of any religious group in the country. They also had the highest rates of unemployment and poorest health.

but where the proposed solution seems to shirk the issue of values and panders instead to “religious” viewpoints

…… I shall argue for a form of inclusion that moves beyond making Muslim pupils feel affirmed or comfortable and allows them to contribute their religious perspectives to their own and others’ learning. A directness of communication is needed that is not found in the identity-based approaches where the language used about religion is secondary and indirect. Identity-based approaches justify the accommodation of aspects of Muslim pupils’ religion in school in terms of the self-esteem and self-confidence of the believer, rather than of any intrinsic value in that which they believe.

I suspect that it is not the schools alone that are the problem (the Chinese and the Indian immigrant children seem to do fine there) but that the home environment (not wealth or poverty but attitudes) which is the major factor which distinguishes the under-achievers.

No doubt this article in The Spectator is “politically incorrect” and a little over the top but it is not wrong.

The Spectator

Under the Conservative and then Labour governments, radical preachers toured Britain trying to rally and isolate Muslim youth. They said that to be a Muslim you had to sympathise with your Muslim ‘brothers’ anywhere in the world. What you should not do was to feel any of that gratitude or desire to assimilate which had existed in their parents’ generation.

Everywhere, this madness was allowed to spread. Religiously segregated areas were accepted, separate values were allowed to thrive and, eventually, even separate rules of law tolerated and encouraged. All the time, we pretended to ourselves that this was simply ‘diversity’. I remember one Muslim woman in particular, who I interviewed in Birmingham some years ago. Born and bred in the area, she had been horribly mistreated by her local sharia court. ‘All my life,’ she told me, ‘I have been told what my rights are as a Muslim woman. No one ever told me what my rights are as a British woman.’ …..

In 2007, one of Michael Howard’s creations, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) published a 72-page blueprint on how to Islamicise secular state schools. It called for schools to avoid teaching any art involving ‘three-dimensional imagery of humans’, and discourage any play ‘associated with celebrating aspects of other religions’. There was no particular complaint. One of the two authors of the MCB report, Tahir Alam, is now a central figure being investigated in the Trojan Horse plot.

Culture changes inevitably with immigration. It evolves and must be allowed to. But far too often the politically correct “multi-culturlaism” as practiced in Europe is more concerned about keeping cultures in isolated silos. It tries to preserve the past rather than to forge the culture of the future. A medieval barbarism should not be acceptable or allowed to overthrow existing values just because it has been labelled as being part of a “religious culture”.

Why are Indian-Americans sweeping the US spelling bee?

May 30, 2014

I have watched the US spelling bee competition on TV a few times when visiting the US. For excitement and entertainment I would place it below the Olympics, the World Cup and a good cricket test match but above a 20/20 junket or the Eurovision song contest (which in recent times has just become ridiculous).

But there is something remarkable that is showing up. This year 6 out of the 12 championship finalists, and the top four, were of Indian origin.

The HinduIndian-Americans Sriram Hathwar of New York and Ansun Sujoe of Texas shared the title after a riveting final-round duel in which they nearly exhausted the 25 designated championship words. ………. The past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999 after Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”

American Bazaar:

…… although it’s an American competition open to students from all over the country, students of Indian origin have dominated the competition by a significant margin over the last several years. In fact, in both 2012 and 2013, all the top three contestants were of Indian origin.

From 2008-2013, the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been Indian American: Sameer Mishra, Kavya Shivashankar, Anamika Veeramani, Sukanya Roy, Snigdha Nandipati, and Arvind Mahankali. Since 1999, only five winners have not been of Indian descent, meaning 67% of winners over the last 15 years have been Indian.

Is the ability to spell then learned or is it genetic or both? From the manner in which Indian-Americans have swept this competition in the last few years, there is clearly some genetic component.

Spelling ability is not a measure of intelligence. But intelligence is a necessary – but not a sufficient – ingredient.  Excellent spelling ability as exhibited in the spelling bee competitions would seem to also need memory, drive, focus, education, supportive families and peers in addition. They also practice a very great deal.  A recent winner trained for 4 hours a day and a few thousand hours in total and committed some 100,000 words to memory. Spelling ability and reading skills are known to be linked but it is not too clear as to which depends upon which. Good spellers have been found in some surveys to be more organised than the “average”.

The Age: Kids who are good readers are often great spellers too, and now Australian scientists have uncovered a genetic explanation as to why. Researchers from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane tracked 650 sets of young twins to work out how much reading and spelling abilities are controlled by genes. 

The study found that the ability to read and spell were about 50 per cent inherited, with a child’s upbringing and schooling controlling the other half. But what was most remarkable, says University of Melbourne researcher Anne Castles, was the discovery that the same genes were involved in both activities. …… 

…… The scientists also evaluated the two main skills involved in reading – the ability to sound out words aloud and the ability to recognise words by sight that don’t follow the phonic rules, like “yacht”.

They discovered that these specific skills involved two distinctly different sets of genes, which explains why kids are often competent at doing one but not the other.

Poor spellers may be subject to a neurological deficiency. Lesions in the right brain which impaired some visual activity are known to have also causes spelling difficulties – a “spelling dyslexia”. It is also thought that personality traits have some connection to the ability to spell. It is thought that spelling ability is associated with a deep interest in language, its roots, in words and how they sound. Many good spellers make and use mental, visual representations of words.

There may not be a specific spelling gene, but genetics surely have a part to play.

Learn that word:

Why is a population that makes up roughly 1% of the US population so heavily represented at the event? 

1 –  The American school system and culture has a conflicted relationship with memory-based learning. Indian culture values academic achievement highly and values memorization as well, as a building block of higher-level knowledge. This, by the way, is also the reason why Indian Americans are not only dominating the Spelling Bee, but also produce much more than their statistical share of doctors, engineers and executives. 

2 –  Indian Americans/South Asians maintain tightly knit family and social communities, and place a paramount value within their community on academic performance. Social expectations around academic performance tend to be much higher than in other demographic groups. Academic success therefor has a big social pay-off.

3 –  Last but not least, the success at Spelling Bees is fostered by various initiatives that exclusively support Indian American/South Asian students. NorthSouth Foundation and the South Asian Spelling Bee are both set up to support the Indian American/South Asian community of aspiring champions. 

It’s great to win the first prize at the Scripps National Spelling Bee by competing with 10 million students for over $40,000 in prizes. There is certainly more incentive to dedicate the thousands of hours of intense study needed knowing that you can also apply these skills at the South Asian Spelling Bee, where you compete with just a few thousand other kids for a $10,000 first prize. 

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