Late in the day, I have developed an early warning system to detect when an intelligence related story is entering the public domain: politicians start accusing each other of having fouled up the public education system. The exchange of insults indicates that a set of exam results is coming out, and politicians are playing the blame game. This has now become relatively sophisticated, as these things go, because it includes reference to lagged indicators, and estimates of representativeness and error terms. For example, if current UK 15 year olds are scholastically weak by international standards, is that the fault of the current administration (responsible for the last two years) or the previous administration (responsible for the last 13 years)? Or can we trace the fundamental errors back to the 1870 Education Act? Is our political and journalistic class becoming even more sophisticated? There’s a thesis in that for somebody.
Anyway, last week there was a ritual exchange of insults about the United Kingdom education system which, it was intimated, would shortly be shown by an international study to be “stagnating”. Today the story came out, as trailed, with the PISA results showing that the UK is 26th in the world. League tables seem to have more impact than anything else in British culture, a reference to sport, apparently. Makes it hard to see that a whole bunch of countries are “stagnating” together, within the usual error terms. This is the snapshot most people will see on the news. A more detailed look might follow later.
Here is the BBC graphic:
Attention centres on Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong who are way ahead, and South Korea, Vietnam and Japan which also do well, but the discussion is all about the methods of education. At no stage in the discussions is it mentioned that, from the point of view of intelligence, these results are entirely predictable.
For example, here are a list of relevant international intelligence test results, based on the comparison group of white Europeans having a “Greenwich Mean” IQ of 100, sd 15. The columns refer to country, age range of people tested, numbers tested, test used, IQ result corrected for Flynn effect as estimated by Richard Lynn (one of the discoverers of the effect), and the name of the author and date of publication. (I am working on getting these into one easily accessible list).
|China||6/16||660||WISC-R||107||Dan et al., 1990|
|China||14/15||297||Various||103||Li et al., 1996|
|China||6/12||269||SPM||104||Geary et al., 1997|
|China||4||60||Arithmetic||109||Ginsberg et al., 1997|
|China||6/13||463||DAM||103||Cox et al., 1998|
|China||6/8||160||SPM||107||Goa et al., 1998|
|China||17||218||SPM||103||Geary et al., 1999|
|China||19||218||SPM||113||Geary et al., 1999|
|China||6/8||300||BTBC-R||107||Zhou & Boehm, 2001|
|Hong Kong||9/11||1,007||CCT||105||Godman, 1964|
|Hong Kong||16||5,209||AH4||106||Vernon, 1982|
|Hong Kong||10||1,000||SPM||109||Chan & Vernon, 1988|
|Hong Kong||6/13||13,822||SPM||103||Lynn, Pagliari & Chan, 1988|
|Hong Kong||6/15||4,500||SPM||110||Lynn, Pagliari & Chan, 1988|
|Hong Kong||10||197||SPM||108||Lynn, Pagliari & Chan, 1988|
|Hong Kong||9||376||CCF||104||Lynn, Hampson & Lee, 1988|
|Hong Kong||9||479||SPM||122||Chan et al., 1991|
|Hong Kong||15||341||APM||120||Lynn & Chan, 2003|
|Hong Kong: median||106|
|Korea: South||2/12||440||KABC||113||Moon, 1988|
|Korea: South||9||107||SPM||109||Lynn & Song, 1994|
|Korea: South||4||56||Arith||103||Ginsburg et al., 1997|
|Korea: South||6-16||2,231||WISC-3||100||Georgas et al., 2003|
|Korea: South: median||106|
|Japan||5/10||760||MFFT||107||Salkind et al., 1978|
|Japan||10||212||Kyoto||106||Lynn & Dziobon, 1980|
|Japan||8/11||97||WRAT||108||Tarnopol & Tarnopol, 1980|
|Japan||9||223||CEFT||112||Bagley et al., 1983|
|Japan||4/9||347||CMMS||107||Misawa et al., 1984|
|Japan||6/11||480||Various||105||Stevenson et al., 1985|
|Japan||6/16||1,100||WISC-R||103||Lynn & Hampson, 1986|
|Japan||4/6||600||WPPSI||105||Lynn & Hampson, 1987|
|Japan||14||2,100||Kyoto||104||Lynn et al., 1987a|
|Japan||13/15||178||DAT||104||Lynn et al., 1987b|
|Japan||2/8||548||McCarthy||103||Ishikuma et al., 1988|
|Japan||6/12||142||KABC||101||Kaufman et al., 1989|
|Japan||16||175||AMM||113||Mann et al., 1990|
|Japan||9||444||SPM||110||Shigehisa & Lynn, 1991|
|Japan||5/7||454||CCAT||109||Takeuchi & Scott, 1992|
|Japan||6/12||451||MAT||105||Tamaoka et al., 1993|
|Japan||14/15||239||Various||103||Li et al., 1996|
|Japan||6/17||93||Gen Info||100||Chen et al., 1996|
|Japan||7/11||60||DAM||102||Cox et al., 2001|
|Japan||17||1,119||Gen Info||105||Evans et al. 2002|
So, even if we just consider an IQ test to be a “school far” test (testing things which anyone should know who has been brought up in a particular society), and a scholastic test to be a “school near” test (testing things that are taught at most schools in a particular society) then it is clear that we can test ability early in the life cycle, and use that to predict scholastic outcomes at 15. If you accept that people vary in intelligence, and that some societies are composed of people who are brighter than people in other societies, then intelligence is part of the mix to be considered when doing international comparisons of scholastic attainments.
And now a few things about PISA: there is no real enforcement of the requirement that the schools tested should be representative of the countries concerned; some countries have strength in depth (appears to be true of China, where even poor provinces do well) while others have much more variability (India), and it is possible to game the test by teaching to it, rather than to a general curriculum. National exams probably have better coverage of the school population and of the curriculum, but they too can be gamed in various ways, by training children in particular test formats. As a rule of thumb, don’t let the providers of education have the final say about the outcomes of education. Get someone else to judge: universities, employers, patent offices, research labs.
However, whatever the quibbles, the results show that the Far East is about three school years ahead of the West. Sure, the West can ask for a re-count with recent immigrants excluded (PISA does actually provide some of those figures, and even second generation immigrants are usually not at the same standard of the locals), but if you combine a population of IQ 106 with an open economy you get high scholastic attainments, higher than societies with IQs of around 100 and moderately open economies.
Within our own society we probably have 7 tribes of intelligence. The same seems to be true of the world, though we are talking mean differences, not different bands of ability on a single national bell curve. It appears to be the case that the Top Tribe of Global Intelligence reside in China, Japan, Korea and Singapore and thereabouts. (For the moment, we leave to one side small minority groups like European Jews, who are as far ahead of the Chines as the Chinese are ahead of the Europeans). If we take 2011 estimates of a world population of 7.1 billion persons, then with China, Japan, South Korea we have roughly 1.6 billion persons. If they are three school years ahead of the West (three years of full time instruction that will not be easily made up as people take on full time work, so are likely to be permanent) then we (Westerners) have a competitive challenge on our hands.
If we assume that Europe has 740 million inhabitants and the USA 314 then that gives us an estimated Western European population of 1.05 billion. Assuming Easterners have a real IQ of 106 they are 0.65 of a standard deviation above the West. By my crude calculations that implies that only 35% of Westerners are above the Chinese mean, whilst 50% of the Chinese are above their mean, of course.
So, 369 million bright Westerners will be slugging it out against 800 million equally bright Easterners (all of them above GMIQ 106). Western wages are currently about 6 times as high as Chinese wages.
Have I ever explained to you that IQ is only a single number, that there is much more to people than IQ, and that Westerners are very creative, and have multiple intelligences, so many intelligences that, so far, they have never been measured?