How Heredity and Environment Influence Learning of the Child


Learning is generally defined as a change in behavior that is more or less permanent and which results from activity, training, and observation.

Learning as a process


Learning is a process with which everybody is familiar. We all come about learning (though unaware at times) virtually every activity in which we take part because the process of learning begins from the birth of the child and continues throughout his life till death.

It is obvious therefore that the primary reason children attend school, as an institution, is to promote certain desirable changes in their behavior.

Teachers are employed, trained, and paid because it is assumed that they will be able to deliberately arrange school experiences to make learning occur. This makes learning more important in both education and psychology.

Learning Defined

Learning therefore is defined in the following ways:

  • Ayeni (1991) defines learning as the process of adopting a new response to a situation.
  • The acquisition, retention, and application of knowledge, skills, attitudes, ways of thinking, and some other responses
  • The process by which behavior or the potentiality for behavior is modified as a result of experience
  • A fairly permanent change in behavior (or behavioral tendency) that is a result of experience or reinforced practice
  • Permanent change in the behavior of an individual as a result of an interaction with the environment

Both heredity and environment have powerful effects on the learning of an individual.

Individual characteristics

Individual characteristics such as the color of the hair, the color of the eyes, age at puberty, sex of the individual, body nature, and blood group are determined largely by heredity.

The environment is believed to be responsible to a large extent for determining individual personality characteristics such as interests, attitudes, and emotional behavior. The interaction of both is very important in determining the height, weight, health, and intelligence of a person.

How heredity influences the learning of the child

Heredity is the transmission of characteristics from parents to offspring. These characteristics are transmitted by genes during sexual reproduction.

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Location of genes

The genes are located in the chromosomes which are formed in the reproduction cells – the spermatozoa of the male and the egg of the female.

Fertilization process

Each reproduction cell has 23 chromosomes which are brought together through the process of fertilization, giving a total of 46 chromosomes in any human being. The new organism thus receives a random selection of half of its genetic components from each parent.

Inheritance traits

In this way, the individual inherits his physical, mental, and other characteristics from both parents. This provides evidence-based on which to believe that in many ways children should resemble their parents.

Inheritance traits simplified

The above explains an oversimplification of what happens in the inheritance of characteristics of parents by offspring. Genes usually unite in different combinations and recombination.

Children also inherit traits of their grandparents, and these in addition to some genetic variations, because of of some differences in the characteristics of siblings and between the characteristics of children and those of their parents.

How the environment influences the learning of the child

After fertilization, subsequent effects on the developing organism are due to environmental factors. Environmental factors affecting intellectual capacity and other characteristics can be classified into prenatal and postnatal environmental factors.

Prenatal effects

These factors are also termed congenital factors inside the mother’s womb and are not inherited. During the embryonic period or period of pregnancy, certain factors which can cause intellectual inadequacies are as follows:

The Rh factor of the mother

The Rh factor of the mother leads to the anemic or jaundiced condition of the newborn. If the mother is Rh-negative due to the absence of a certain blood protein component but the child is Rh-positive due to the presence of the component, the mother’s blood can develop antibodies that attack the red blood cells of the child. This results in anemic jaundiced conditions, which interfere with the normal development of the child’s brain and thereby reduce intellectual capacity.

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Disease conditions of the mother

Disease conditions of the mother such as virus infections of the mother and fetus or German measles contracted by the mother during pregnancy influence the learning of the child.

Poisoning of the fetus

Poisoning of the fetus due to lead, drugs, and other substances digested by the mother is also responsible.

Nutritional deficiency

Nutritional deficiency during the period of pregnancy, which can affect the development of brain tissues, affects the learning of the child.

Physical injuries

Physical injuries such as brain damage to the fetus and brain injury at birth affect the learning of the child.

Postnatal effects

Postnatal effects on the child’s intellectual development arise from physical, social, and psychological factors found in the home, school, and the community. The factors are as follows:

The socio-economic status of the home

The socio-economic status of the home, which may determine a range of other factors, influences the learning of the child.

Intellectual stimulation

Intellectual stimulation and motivation to explore the environment and learn from it and engage in intellectual activities affect the learning of the child.

Good teaching in schools

Good teaching in schools which involves structuring the environment in such a way as to stimulate intellectual development affects the learning of the child.

Interpersonal relationship

The interpersonal relationship involves the parent-child relationship, teacher-child relationship, child-child relationship, and other forms of relationship, which may be warm, sympathetic, and loving rather than severe, permissive, and indifferent.

Opportunity for achievement

Opportunity for achievement, motivation, and development of independence and self-concept influence the learning of the child.

The quality of nutrition

The quality of nutrition before and after birth will affect the health of the child and also his/her academic achievement.

It, therefore, follows that to achieve the maximum intellectual development of the child, it is important to enrich the experimental environments of the child before birth. a

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Classroom implication: Teachers’ focus

  • The classroom teacher needs to understand the joint influences of heredity and environment on intellectual development. This understanding will enable him not to take extreme hereditarian or environmentalist views that will affect his attitudes toward the pupils.
  • The teacher should understand the differences in the capacities of the individual children to learn and structure the classroom environment in such a way as to assist each pupil to attain his potential. This can be done by increasing the quality of environmental stimulation arranging for varied activities and providing for good interpersonal relationships.
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