Science

Álvaro Pascual-Leone, neuroscientist at Harvard: “The brain needs to have a definite life purpose”.

Having a healthy brain is a fundamental part of having health (a term that not only refers to the absence of disease). From here, education has to promote, educate and maintain that brain health in children and young people so that this organ functions optimally throughout their lives. This is the great challenge of education, according to neuroscientist Álvaro Pascual-Leone, professor at Harvard Medical School, in a previous interview with ABC prior to the III Educational Innovation Forum organized by the Caxton College in Puzol, Valencia.

“To realize that maintaining a healthy brain throughout life is essential, but sometimes we forget about the brain,” says the professor, who adds that a healthy brain is different at 2, 5, 15, 50 or 80 years, so the term “healthy” does not refer to having a “young” brain, but to having a healthy brain working as well as it can for the age of the person, who has different capacities and functions according to age. Pascual-Leone will deal with this need to maintain optimum brain function in the centre, as well as the need to achieve it as soon as possible.

“There are things we can do to keep having the healthiest, the most vibrant or the most capable as possible. But education can also do a lot. To start, we need to become more aware of how important it is to have a healthy brain all our lives and to have a brain as a target for health in general,” the neuroscientist points out. The role that teachers play – as well as parents and even society – during the development of young people is fundamental for the student as an individual, explains the expert, “because he has involvement at all levels.

In this sense, Pascual-Leone adds that “there are things that make some sense to do now and there are things that don’t, and to have a definite life purpose -even if you change it-, your brain needs it. And it doesn’t matter if you say it with neurosciences that with poetry, as Machado said with his “Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino a caminar”. There Machado is saying “Go, if you don’t walk, you die”.

“If education does not begin to apply the techniques to educate and keep the brain healthy, we are going to lose entire generations”.
Álvaro Pascual-Leone , Neuroscientist
Thus, to make it clear to children, educators in schools have the “great challenge” of “navigating the uncertainty” of what is known and what is not, based on all the sources of information they have, risking and “maximizing the chances of success,” insists the Boston-based teacher. “And that has to be applied now because, if not, we are going to lose entire generations,” he says.

In this encounter between the educational community and the Valencian teacher, expressly displaced for the conference, one of the concerns to be addressed is the burden generated by anxiety disorders, depression and health problems in young people and adolescents. Pascual-Leone believes that there are three factors that give the vision of a possible increase of these diseases in young people without having grown the number of them in reality.

Pascual-Leone, on his visit to Caxton College
Pascual-Leone, on his visit to Caxton College – ABC
On the one hand, improved diagnoses have evolved over time, so there are now more tools to find out if a child has dyslexia or autism spectrum disorder (for example), when some cases were not previously diagnosed. Secondly, the neuroscientist points to the social context as a possible factor in the increase of disorders: schooling, social changes, etc., as well as the speed of evolution and the difficulty for human beings to adapt to change quickly (for example, with communications, the stress produced by feeling the obligation to answer an email or whatsapp instantly). And finally, the inability of people to accept frustrations (parents believe that their children have to be perfect, when they have to assume that they are not).

In the vast sea of ideas focused on improving brain health, one of the professor’s great conclusions is that “There is no general recipe. There are general pillars, such as getting enough sleep, resting your time, setting new challenges, having social support…” And this, he adds, “is true for the child as it is for the older one. But one recipe doesn’t fit all. It must be individualized, this is how it is implanted on a concrete person”.

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