Monday, April 13, 2015

Aptitude Testing & Work Choice – evolutionary perspective

aptitude testing and work-choice history
Aptitude testing for responsible work choice
Aptitude testing for career guidance has existed only since the 1930s. Aptitude testing was not needed until work choice became freely available about 200 years ago. Before that a person had no choice in his field of work. People trained for whatever their parents did. If they had access to patronage or money they could take up a profession. Now, with the concept of Right to Education, governments seek to extend career choice to all socioeconomic strata. With this new privilege of work choice comes the responsibility of choosing wisely. Aptitude testing takes into account abilities, personality, intelligence and motivation for making a career choice.

Work choice

a brief history

For 10,000 years we did the work our parents did. In the initial millennia of mankind’s existence, work was necessary for survival. Primitive man was a hunter-gatherer to fulfil the biological need for food. As the first human settlements evolved man became a cultivator. He learnt to fashion tools, and make storage vessels. This gave rise to occupations like farming, pottery, and weaving. Densely populated centres evolved, as in Jericho. Families specialised in different trades. Son followed father in the family occupation. Skills were learnt and passed on from one generation to the next. Social hierarchies were formed loosely based on occupation. This often comprised a ruling class of administrators, the merchants, and then the labourers.

In India, occupation formed the initial basis of the caste system. Did an individual have the freedom to choose his profession or trade? The Mahabharat tells us the story of Eklavya, a tribal who wished to become an archer. Drona, the greatest teacher of the time, refuses to take him on. Eklavya through an extraordinary feat of dedication and disciplined study becomes a better archer than Prince Arjuna. However, though he had undoubted skill, aptitude and interest; he was not allowed to transgress the rules of society. Martial art was reserved for the warrior caste – the Kshatriyas – and Ekalavya was punished for aspiring to the same.

5000 years ago the first script evolved. Writing of language in a cuneiform script developed in Mesopotamia (Sumer) in 3200BCE. This heralded a radical change in the way knowledge was communicated and disseminated. Education was imparted informally to groups of children until the age of 13-14yrs. Thereafter these usually followed in the profession of their fathers.

2000 years ago we see the first example of career screening. The Jews selected brighter boys to continue studies as disciples of the rabbi. They would then become masters and rabbis themselves. However, the individual himself had no choice in the matter.

1000 years ago the elite had access to education through universities. The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco, is the oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding educational institution in the world. An important development in choice of education is the concept of academic freedom. This concept originated in University of Bologna (est 1088 CE, still extant) which was the first to guarantee students freedom in the interests of education. The university also gave students a choice in the curriculum to be studied. However, university education was still for a privileged few and limited to a career in the church or as a professional (law or medicine).

500 years ago formal apprenticeship was first originated. A young person usually between the ages of 10-15yrs was formally bound to a master craftsman for 3-7 years. A supply of labour in a particular trade and a certain standard was thus ensured. In the early 17th century children of paupers and vagrants were put under compulsory apprenticeship – refusal could lead to imprisonment. Later children of the gentry apprenticed to merchants, manufacturers, doctors and lawyers. By the 18th century, apprenticeship existed in every level of society except the highest. However even then, the boy himself had little or no say in his career. Career was dictated by the financial situation of the father and availability of a master. The poor had no choice.

200 years ago educational reforms were initiated when the UK National Education League began its campaign for free, compulsory and non-religious education for all children in the 1870s. Students can now take up any of a whole gamut of ever increasing fields. There is now a surfeit of careers to choose from. Students are now forced to choose between subjects when they transition from secondary school to high school. From an absence of choice they are confronted with an array of career choices. It is now important to choose a career in which the individual has a high chance of success and job satisfaction.

80 years ago aptitude testing for job screening and career guidance was developed by the US Employment Service to improve the fit between the individual and the job. Many other aptitude tests have been developed since. Aptitude tests are used in career guidance to measure different abilities and match them with the requirements of various work fields. Given the importance of work in relation to individual well-being, aptitude testing is now a basic tools in job selection. Aptitude testing combined with assessments of soft skills like personality and work style provides comprehensive data for individual career guidance. However, even today, society at large believes that career decisions happen ‘naturally’. Though so much has changed – higher education is easily available, social and gender restrictions have eased and we can choose to do what we are good at – many of us still follow the path of least resistance and do just as our forefathers did 10,000 years ago.


  1. Kathleen Mary Kenyon. Encyclopedia Bratannica. Jericho. Accessed 21-Apr-2015
  2. The History of Education. Ed Robert Guisepi. Accessed 21-Apr-2015
  3. Wikipedia. University of al-Qarawiyyin. . Accessed 02-Apr-2015
  4. Wikipedia. University of Bologna. Accessed 06-Apr-15
  5. Family Search. Apprenticeship in England. Accessed 08-Apr-2015
  6. The 1870 Education Act. Accessed 09-Apr-2015
  7. John F. Reeves. Aptitude Assessment for Career and Educational Guidance. Accessed 08-Apr-2015

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dyslexia - Difficulty with Reading, Maths & Spelling

dyslexia LD testing

Difficulty with reading, spelling and maths is rampant among Indian students. Two recent reports have highlighted this academic underachievement. The academic infrastructure is definitely a major contributor. However, unrecognised dyslexia or other learning disability also needs to be considered by every concerned parent and enlightened teacher. We have already discussed the management of dyslexia. Here we underline the urgent need for action.

India ranked 72nd of 73 countries in a comparative international survey (PISA) of 15-year-old students. All students were assessed on the same test for knowledge and skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. A sample of more than 5000 students from 200 Indian schools were assessed in this program. In none of these categories did more than 17% of Indian students scored above baseline levels as compared to 81% of students from OECD countries (US, UK, Australia etc).

15-year-olds scoring above baseline 

Test India China OECD avg
Reading 11-17 % 95.3% 81%
Mathematics 12-15% 94.5% 75%
Science 11-16% 96.3% 82%

The Annual Status of Education Report (2010) paints an equally dismal picture.
Reading ability
  • Only half the students in Class 5 can read the Class 2 text
  • Only a third of Class 1 children can recognise numbers 1-9
  • Only a third of Class 3 students can do subtraction in two digits
  • Only a third of Class 5 students can do simple division
  • A third of Class 8 students could not use a calender

This may be a scathing indictment of our education system, but it also reflects the presence of unrecognised Learning Disorder in our students. Learning Disorder affects 5-10% of students worldwide. Learning Disorder manifests in varying combinations and severity of difficulty with reading, spelling and arithmetic.

If your child has difficulty reading, spelling or in mathematics
  • Have them assessed for dyslexia or other learning disability
  • The earlier remedial teaching is instituted the more likely the child is to benefit
  • Identification of dyslexia or learning disability entitles your child to waivers at the 10th and 12th board exams.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) of 2009 lays down the duties of government, local authorities and parents; the responsibilities of schools and teachers; and the norms for schools. These norms include the number of teachers, buildings, minimum teaching hours, teaching aids, library, and recreational equipment. However, the teaching to be done is not mentioned and nor is it monitored. Rote learning is emphasised. Students fail to acquire basic reading, writing and calculation skills that are required to continue learning as adults.

Don't just wait for the government 
Act NOW to secure your child's place in a global future

  1. ASER 2010 - Rural. Annual Status of Education Report (Rural)Date of publication: January 14, 2011
  2. Maurice Walker. PISA 2009 Plus Results: Performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science for 10 additional participants. ACER Press. Victoria. 2011.  ISBN: 978-1-74286-067-1
  3. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Diagnosing Alzheimer's Dementia

Alzheimer's Disease amyloid plaques and neuro-fibrillay tangles in brain tissue
Microscopic picture of the brain showing amyloid plaques and
 neurofibrillary tangles first seen by Alois Alzheimer in 1907

The diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease became headline news when the defence counsel of a prominent citizen of  Pune stated they were awaiting results of his brain MRI to finalise the diagnosis of dementia. Recently a patient's medication was stopped when his neuro-physician declared there were 'no plaques on MRI so it is not a case of Alzheimers'. The caregivers returned to me when his behaviour problems recurred.

Dementia including that of the Alzheimer's type is a clinical diagnosis (Grand 2011). Dementia is characterised by a triad of
  1. Progressive deterioration of mental processes (cognitive abilities)
  2. Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD)
  3. Difficulties carrying out day-to-day activities (activities of daily living or ADL).  
Alzheimer's Disease is commonest dementia after 65 years of age Alzheimer's dementia has an insidious onset, and progresses gradually and inexorably. This natural course is a key differentiator Alzheimer's from other forms of dementia. Dementia is suspected when a caregiver of an elderly person, or sometimes a person with a family history of dementia, becomes concerned about problems with memory. The diagnosis is purely clinical. No laboratory test or imaging (including MRI) is required to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. These investigations can only help differentiate the other forms of dementia when those are suspected.

Memory problems are a core feature of the disease. These manifest as
  • Difficulty recalling details of recent events (forgets he has already dropped his grandchild to school), personal conversations, or specific elements of a task she is performing (eg, preparing a meal)
  • Asking the same question multiple times while denying repeated questioning
  • Tendency to make up events to fill memory gaps and to give inaccurate responses to questions (what he had for breakfast)
Other common cognitive concerns that could indicate dementia of the Alzheimer or any other type
  • Disoreintation to time and place. As the illness progresses orientation worsens to include problems identifying familiar places, family members, or other well known people.
  • Difficulties with activities of daily living (ADL). Problems with dressing or using common utensils
  • Language impairments resulting in decreased conversational output, word-finding difficulties, and limited vocabulary.
  • Visuo-spatial dysfunction manifest as impaired driving ability, and getting lost
  • Problems with mathematical calculations impair ability to use money and balance finances.
  • Impaired judgement in novel situations (difficulty planning a vacation).
Behavioural and psychological symptoms (BPSD)
  • Depression occurs in up to 50% of individuals with Alzheimer's Dementia, and may be attributed to awareness of cognitive changes
  • Lack of feeling or emotion (apathy) is associated with significant caregiver distress
  • Psychosis generally occurs later in the disease course. Delusions are predominantly paranoid in nature, with fears of personal harm or mistreatment, theft of personal property (usually related to financial matters), and marital infidelity. Hallucinations are less common than delusions, and tend to be visual.
  • Other behavioural symptoms include agitation, wandering, and sleep disturbances.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease is based on 
  1. Detailed history to identify memory deficits, and other cognitive symptoms and assess their impact on the individual and family.
  2. A thorough clinical exam (mental status examination) confirms the impairments in memory and cognition, and delineates the behavioural and psychiatric symptoms that cause caregivers concern. This usually includes using validated and standardised screening pencil and paper tests. 
  3. Psychological testing confirms and quantifies the impairments across various areas of brain function (memory, language, visuo-spatial), assesses the treatment response, and documents progression of the illness with time.

Laboratory tests including MRI only differentiate Alzheimer's disease from other disorders such as subdural haematoma, brain tumour, hydrocephalus, and dementia associated with vascular disease. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has no other clinical utility in Alzheimer's disease. These tests are not required or mandated by any classification system including that of the WHO (ICD) or the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association (NINCDS-ADRDA).

Amyloid plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease and are required for a definitive diagnosis. These were first discovered by Alois Alzheimer in 1907.  His slides were rediscovered in 1992 and 1997. The rediscovered images show the classical pathological signs of the disease named after him. Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are seen on microscopic examination of brain tissue using special staining techniques or by electron microscopy. Therefore the only way to obtain a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is to obtain a brain tissue sample by biopsy or on autopsy. No MRI, however advanced can detect plaques.
For the purpose of treatment a probable diagnosis using bedside techniques of history and clinical examination is all that is required to diagnose Alzheimer's disease.

  1. Dickerson BC. Advances in quantitative magnetic resonance imaging-based biomarkers for Alzheimer disease. Alzheimers Res Ther. 2010 Jul 6;2(4):21.
  2. Graeber MB, Kösel S, Egensperger R, Banati RB, Müller U, Bise K, Hoff P, Möller HJ, Fujisawa K, Mehraein P. Rediscovery of the case described by Alois Alzheimer in 1911: historical, histological and molecular genetic analysis. Neurogenetics. 1997 May;1(1):73-80.
  3. Grand JH, Caspar S, Macdonald SW. Clinical features and multidisciplinary approaches to dementia care. J Multidiscip Healthc. 2011;4:125-47. Epub 2011 May 15.
  4. McKhann G, Drachman D, Folstein M, Katzman R, Price D, Stadlan EM. Clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease: report of the NINCDS-ADRDA Work Group under the auspices of Department of Health and Human Services Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease. Neurology. 1984 Jul;34(7):939-44.