Teachers play a significant role in shaping the future of our children. We all remember one teacher who showed us the right path and built the foundation for a successful life. On the flip side, we also recognize the teacher, whose mere presence would make us feel like a deer caught in headlights. We are all products of a still-developing educational system, one that had a few bumps along the way. Thankfully, it is now safe to say that conditions have improved a lot since then.

Now, both teachers and parents are always looking for ways to improve our children’s academic prowess. In one such attempt, researchers started to ask if there was a correlation between teachers’ intelligence levels and their students’ eventual success or failure. Teachers of all levels of ability exist. Many times, it so happens that a student’s academic success is despite a particular teacher’s role in their lives, rather than because of. The student’s natural ability certainly plays a role in achieving. However, it is worth exploring how a teacher’s ability impacts their students’ development as a whole.

What the research says!

Students across the world show various levels of progress in different international tests. When we investigate why students in some countries always outperform others, we find that there is a link between students’ cognitive skills and those of their teachers. According to a recent study, ‘…an increase of one standard deviation in teacher cognitive skills is associated with an increase of 10 to 15 percent of a standard deviation in student performance.’ The OECD compared teachers’ literacy and numeracy skills to gauge their cognitive skills. They showed vast variations, with many developed countries showing poor results.

Finland, the world leader in education, has teachers whose cognitive skills also outweigh its competitors. Some scholars pointed out that teachers’ academic performance also correlates to that of their students. This theory is supported by the fact that teachers in Finland, Korea, and form the crème de la crème of their college graduates. Whereas in countries like the United States, only 23% of teachers are among their respective colleges’ top scorers.

Complementary Factors

The difference in teachers’ cognitive skills alone cannot be attributed as the reason for their students’ performance. First of all, we find that in all these countries, teachers enjoy moderate to good salaries and high societal status. These factors contribute to the recruitment of teachers as well. It is only logical that young students would only opt for teaching as a career if there existed adequate job security and remuneration. In the absence of these factors, students increasingly look towards tech as a far more lucrative career prospect. In countries like India, teaching is a sizeable women-dominated industry and is thus seen as a less critical career. Citing factors like half a day of work and more vacation days is not considered a ‘serious’ job. People fail to recognize the effort that goes into teaching and the fact that a teacher’s job is not done when the school day ends. Teachers do much administrative and strategic work after school and assess tests and assignments at home.

Additionally, job opportunities for women and the wage gap between men and women are also linked to the difference in teachers’ cognitive skills. In countries where teachers possess high cognitive skills, women are frequently found to occupy high ranking positions across fields. In contrast, in countries with lower cognitive skills among teachers, women make up a small percentage of high-ranking positions.


It is quite clear that smarter teachers do indeed lead to smarter students. However, more intelligent teachers cannot be willed into existence overnight. There are complex social and financial factors associated with raising the bar for teachers worldwide. It can quickly become a chicken and egg problem if we keep focussing on teachers’ academic prowess and its link to those of students. To arrive at true, sustainable change, we need systemic change in the education industry. Teachers are consistently underpaid and overworked, and this cycle year after year begins to reflect in their students’ performance. If we want to better the quality of education for children, it is possible without teachers’ betterment.

Once teachers’ working conditions improve, it will most likely trigger a chain reaction. Teaching will start to be counted among coveted professions, and a better caliber of students will be drawn to teaching as a career. Subsequently, the quality of teachers and teaching will improve, reflecting on their students’ success.