Cognitive capability: a focus on science

Addabbo, Tindara, Anna Maccagnan, and Maria Laura Di Tommaso (2011). "Cognitive capability: a focus on science" Paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the HDCA, 6-8 September 2011, the Hague, the Netherlands.

The aim of this paper is to investigate the determinants of children’s cognitive capabilities in Italy accounting for the impact of institutional factors and family socio-economic status. The current focus on the cognitive capability is related to its crucial role for children development and its role for the development of other capabilities. Unicef (2007) analysis on the different dimensions of child well-being measures six dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviour and risks and subjective well-being. Amongst the 21 OECD countries on the whole Italy obtains the average rank over the six dimensions with a better than average rank in the family and peer relationships dimension and a low achievement in the educational wellbeing. OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows very low results for Italy with respect to other OECD countries and a high regional variation (Boarini, 2009). We focus on a particular dimension of the cognitive capability: science. OECD 2006 PISA data show that Italian children perform particularly bad in this dimension. In addition, PISA 2006 contains a particular focus on sciences, which is useful to extend the estimation of the cognitive capability in science beyond the test results. In addition to the tests score, we use data on awareness of environmental issues and enjoyment in science as indicators of the cognitive capability in science. We apply a MIMIC (multiple equation multiple causes) model to OECD 2006 micro-data. The indicators used to represent the latent capability are test scores in science, awareness of environmental issues and enjoyment in science. The estimated model shows that all the indicators are strongly correlated with the unobserved latent variable (the cognitive capability in science). We aim at taking into account the possible different effect of institutional and social factors on the development of the capability and on its conversion into functionings by extending our Structural equations model in line with Krishnakumar (2007). School type and quality matter. Other important social factors affecting the development of the capability are cultural possesions and education resources at home. School factors have a different impact on different indicators of the scientific cognitive capability.
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