Any American who has attended a public school has likely walked out of a classroom having no idea what that boring, Charlie Brown-esque (Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah), lecture they just listened to was about. But, just as many people likely have stories of those one or two miraculous teachers who inspired them to learn and to think in new, innovative and creative ways. What is it that makes some lessons incredibly ineffective and others amazingly stimulating?
The emerging field of Neuro-education is hoping to find the answer to this question and many others concerning the most effective ways to teach the world's kids. Neuroscientists and educators are working in collaboration to blend findings in both fields to better understand how humans learn in order to develop more effective educational methods and policies. New programs are opening up in the U.S., and throughout the world, that are hoping to develop connections between disciplines in order to create a better educational system for our kids. One such organization, the International, Mind, Brain and Education Society states its mission, to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education and the cognitive and developmental sciences in order to bring science and practice together.(http://www.imbes.org/) Many graduate programs at universities ranging from Cambridge's science based "Centre for Neuroscience In Education" (http://www.cne.psychol.cam.ac.uk/) to Johns-Hopkins School of Education's "Neuro Education Initiative"( http://education.jhu.edu/nei/) have been formed with similar mission statements.
The ideas behind these programs and this field are innovative and logical. The goal of scientific research in Neuroscience is to better understand how the brain works. The goal of education is to help the brain work to its best potential. Combined, these fields can provide groundbreaking ideas to change and improve how kids learn. In the US, many people believe that the public education system is failing kids, thereby lowering the prospects for this country's future. Between budget cuts and outmoded and unsuccessful teaching methods, people are calling for reform. But one central question is: how should we reform and what direction should it take? Neuro-education has the potential to provide the evidence on the science end and the experience on the educators end to form and shape education reform.
So, what is necessary to make this happen? First of all, like everything involved in education, it needs more funding. From the university to the federal government level, funding must be provided in order to promote new research, to integrate findings from multiple fields, and to implement new ideas into the classroom. Currently, less than .5% of all educational funding goes to research. The prospects of this changing in the current economic climate, where schools are struggling just to buy books for the classroom and keep class sizes at a reasonable level, seems slim.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the lines of communication need to be opened between researchers in scientific fields and the people who are directly involved in the education of kids. This means that research findings must be presented in forms that are accessible to busy parents and teachers. Already, Neuroscience has developed an extensive body of knowledge about areas of high importance to education. The effects of sleep, stress, exercise and musical training on memory retrieval and learning consolidation are already well understood. Our country and public education system must find a way to get these finding to educators so that they may be translated into real practice.
In order to give kids the best prospects for their futures, and thereby, the best prospects for our country, the ultimate goal of education should be to inspire kids and imbue in them a sense of curiosity, creativity and competition. This combination between a scientific understanding of the brain and educational reform has a real and exciting potential to make a difference in the futures of our kids and our country.
Main Article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006380