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March 2018 research round-up

Research highlights in learning and education from around the world

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Go to the profile of Marie-Elizabeth Barabas
Marie-Elizabeth Barabas almost 3 years ago

Genetic differences between selective and non-selective schools

Students attending selective schools have, on average, more genetic variants associated with educational attainment compared to students attending non-selective schools. A team led by Professor Robert Plomin at King’s College London found that these genetic differences between school types were also mirrored in examination differences. Students attending selective schools were performing a grade higher than their non-selective schooled peers. However, once the researchers statistically accounted for student-level factors, including family socioeconomic status, prior ability and prior achievement, there were no significant genetic differences between students in selective and non-selective schools, and only small examination score differences. This research shows that genetic and exam score differences between selective and non-selective schools are primarily due to the genetically influenced characteristics involved in student admission.

Published March 2018 in npj Science of Learning


Genetics: DNA methylation as a marker of education

DNA methylation, one of the epigenetic marks in cells, is associated with educational achievement (EA). A team led by Jenny van Dongen from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam tested more than 400,000 sites across the entire genome for their relationship with educational achievement in 4152 Dutch adults. 58 such sites were found that were located in and near genes with neuronal, immune and developmental functions. DNA methylation signatures of EA revealed differential exposure to cigarette smoke, even after accounting for own smoking behaviour, and differential exposure to folate and air pollution. EA predicts differential life conditions, including life expectancy. This study shows that these conditions leave their traces in the methylome of white blood cells and affect gene expression. Future research may investigate how these genes influence individual differences in behaviour, education, and health. 

Published March 2018 in npj Science of Learning