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Can neuroscience improve education?

7 Jan, 2014

Wonder Season at the Barbican

As well as funding a wide range of biomedical research, the Wellcome Trust is a keen advocate of science in education. This doesn’t just mean promoting science in the curriculum, but also includes ensuring that educational approaches are evidence-based. Over the past decade, much has been made of the potential for neuroscience to be used to improve learning, yet there is scarcity of systematic proof that these approaches work. The Wellcome Trust’s Project Manager for Education and Neuroscience, Dr Anna Simmonds, has been exploring the issue. Here she explains….

There are few, if any, interventions which have been developed from neuroscience and have been systematically proven to have benefit educational performance in classroom settings. Despite this, many teachers are eager to apply neuroscience to improve their practice, and many neuroscientists believe their work has potential uses in education. To improve the evidence base for neuroscience-based interventions  the Wellcome Trust has partnered with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)  with the aim of creating a better understanding and application of neuroscience in education.

Today we announce Education and Neuroscience, a new funding initiative from the Wellcome Trust and the EEF. This £6million scheme aims to develop, evaluate and communicate the impact of education interventions grounded in neuroscience research.

The decision for this funding round was informed by three key pieces of work. First, the Wellcome Trust surveyed teachers and parents to understand their perspectives on education and neuroscience. The resulting report, How neuroscience is affecting education, presents the sorts of ideas believed to be based on neuroscience that are being applied in education, how they are selected and evaluated, and the appetite that there is for further interventions based on neuroscience. We found that many teachers were optimistic about the ability for neuroscience to improve teaching practice over the next decade, they had a real appetite for such interventions and wanted them to be evidence-based. However, in the absence of a rigorous evidence base, many are already changing their practice, typically learning about new activities from schools and other teachers. Few teachers said they had much evidence of significant impact on academic performance from the interventions they were using (or had used) in the classroom. Most believed that there was impact, but that it was difficult to measure.

There is therefore not just a need to improve the evidence base of educational interventions based upon neuroscience, but also to support teachers in developing both their understanding of neuroscience and their ability to evaluate available evidence before implementing change.

In addition Paul Howard-Jones was commissioned by the EEF, to review the available educational literature about initiatives that are, or purport to be, informed by neuroscience. His research showed that while there is much potential, teachers struggle to find educational interventions proven to be effective which are based upon neuroscience. This is supported by our survey report which found that the approaches respondents were using were not based on robust evidence.

Finally, we asked neuroscientists to consider the extent to which they think their area of expertise has influenced or has the potential to influence education. Their input leads us to be optimistic about the potential of neuroscience to be successfully applied to education, and we look forward to seeing how it can be effectively used in schools. Selected summaries of these reviews will be posted on the Wellcome Trust’s ThInk blog, covering a wide range of topics, from brain stimulation to neurogenesis and learning. 

Neuroscience has benefited many areas of the human condition, from mental health to rehabilitation from illness, and we are excited by how it might be applied to improve educational practice. This one-off funding scheme aims to develop, evaluate and communicate the impact of education interventions grounded in neuroscience research. We hope that this new funding scheme will help identify approaches that are proven to work, as well as those that do not, and thus help teachers decide what to include in the classroom. We look forward to further collaboration with the EEF to explore these possibilities and also to work together to promote the use of evidence in education.  

For more information on the Education and Neuroscience funding scheme and how to get involved, please visit the Education and Neuroscience page on our website.

One Comment leave one →
  1. education permalink
    31 Jan, 2014 6:02 am

    Will share this on my networking site ,Its really good.I really appreciate your work.

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