Can the gap between brain research and educational policy be bridged?

15.07.2012
“Neuro science cannot, and should not, give the answers as to how educational policy should be shaped.” Having talked at a seminar at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, Dr Paul Howard-Jones of the University of Bristol responded to a question from the audience, asking for clear answers on how neuro science and brain research can help improve education.

The seminar, called “Mind the gap – connecting brain research to educational policy”, was staged by NordForsk, the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research. It was moderated by BBC science journalist Quentin Cooper, who asked the speakers how our understanding of the brain can improve education.

Myths or truths?

Howard-Jones, a leading expert on the role of neuroscience in education, stressed the importance of policy makers basing their decisions on ethics and overall judgments as well as knowledge of the brain’s learning capacities. He mentioned two myths from his field of research. One being the notion of different learning styles. Although there is clear evidence of the existence of learning styles, Howard-Jones  pointed out that this knowledge does not help us in educational practice. The other myth is the idea that learning begets learning, similar to the amalgamation of capital. According to Howard-Jones, there is no evidence that this is true.

A fabulous learning device

Also speaking at the seminar was Bruno della Chiesa, who teaches at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and is the founder of an OECD project called “Brain Research and Learning Sciences”.

“Our brain is a fabulous life-long learning device. You sometimes hear that if you are too old, you cannot learn another language. But this is totally untrue – you never get too old to learn,” della Chiesa stated.

On the question of what brain research can do for education, he said:  ”Brain research isn’t going to solve any educational problem, but it can shed light on the issue. And it can raise new questions.”

Also speaking at the “Mind the gap” seminar were professor Catherine Odora Hoppers of the University of South Africa, professor Maria Slowey of Dublin City University and professor Jarl Bengtsson of Aarhus university.

(Text:  Dag Inge Danielsen    Photo:  Terje Heiestad)

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