Tag Archives: education

Neuroscience is not ready for schools

I don’t believe that children’s education should be experimented with. This is a personal concern of mine. I am dyslexic and entered school in a short period when a drastic change in curriculum had banished all phonetics from learning to read/write. That may work for some students but it certainly did not work for me or any other dyslexics or just plain slow readers. Why was I experimented on? Why are children today being experimented on? It seems like the fads in language and mathematics just keep coming year after year. From a distance, I see a four cornered fight between parents, teachers, academics, and civil servants about who knows best and who should be in charge.

In the middle of this tug-of-war, there appears a new ingredient – neuroscience. D. Bishop drew attention to this in a tweet recommending an articles by Stephen Exley, Max Coltheart, Science editorial and the Santiago Declaration.

The teachers in the UK are demanding training in neuroscience. They feel that they need this – It is true that the emerging world of neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education, and it’s important that we bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists.” But what do they envisage they will do with this additional knowledge? Apparently one example was to tailor lessons for creative right-brain thinkers. I have to say I cannot think of a better reason not to have this training. What we do not need is people in education following every half-baked popular idea that the press and companies selling their ‘neuro’ wares put out there. The last thing we want is teachers dividing their classes in the right and left brained children. Nor do we want visual learners as opposed to auditor learners, or whatever the next fad is. Even the Common Core mathematics in the US seems very faddish. This is just not fair to the children who will be the subjects of these experiments.

This is a repeat of seven years ago when neuroscientists were asked to explain learning and issued the Santiago Declaration. Nothing has changed – neuroscience is still not a settled body of knowledge on which you could base an education system. The neuroscientists were saying that at present, neuroscience is not the appropriate science to help education; instead it is the developmental and social sciences that will be helpful.

Here is the declaration signed by 136 neuroscientists in 2007. (the underlining is mine)

The education of young children has become an international priority. Science offers irrefutable evidence that high-quality early childhood education better prepares children for the transition to formal education. It helps each child reach his or her potential in reading, mathematics, and social skills. Around the world, there is renewed interest in investing in young children to prepare them for future participation in a global economy. This interest is manifest not only in governmental policies (from Japan to the United States to Chile) but also in popular culture through the media and commercial endeavors marketing educational products to the parents of young children. As internationally recognized scientists in child development, we applaud the attention now directed to the world’s youngest citizens, but we also urge that policies, standards, curricula, and to the extent possible, commercial ventures be based on the best scientific research and be sensitive to evidence-based practice. We also recognize the limitations of our own scientific disciplines. Our research can provide guides in designing the most efficient means to a policy ends, but cannot dictate those ends, which must arise out of political debate and social consensus. Our research can also be abused in attempts to rationalize pre-conceived policies and popular notions about early childhood, putting science to a rhetorical and selective, rather than rational use. For our part, we pledge to actively oppose this practice and to speak out whenever it occurs.

We assert that the following principles enjoy general and collective consensus among developmental scientists in 2007:

  • All polices, programs, and products directed toward young children should be sensitive to children’s developmental age and ability as defined through research- based developmental trajectories. Developmental trajectories and milestones are better construed through ranges and patterns of growth rather than absolute ages.
  • Children are active, not passive, learners who acquire knowledge by examining and exploring their environment.
  • Children, as all humans, are fundamentally social beings who learn most effectively in socially sensitive and responsive environments via their interactions with caring adults and other children.
  • Young children learn most effectively when information is embedded in meaningful contexts rather than in artificial contexts that foster rote learning. It is here where research coupling psychology with the use of emerging technologies (e.g. multimedia and virtual reality) can provide powerful educational insights.
  • Developmental models of child development offer roadmaps for policy makers, educators, and designers who want to understand not only what children learn but how they optimally learn and further imply that educational policies, curricula, and products must focus not only on the content, but also on the process of learning.
  • These developmental models along with advances in our understanding of learning in children at cognitive risk can be applied to improve learning among all children.
  • The principles enunciated above are based primarily on findings from social and behavioral research, not brain research. Neuroscientific research, at this stage in its development, does not offer scientific guidelines for policy, practice, or parenting.
  • Current brain research offers a promissory note, however, for the future. Developmental models and our understanding of learning will be aided by studies that reveal the effects of experience on brain systems working in concert. This work is likely to enhance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying learning.

We, the undersigned, recognize that the political agenda and marketplace forces often proceed without meaningful input from the science of child development. Given the manifest needs of many young children throughout the world, the current state of knowledge and consensus in developmental science, this gap between knowledge and action must be closed. Scientific data and evidence-based practice must be integral to the ongoing global dialogue.