Science

Is neuroscience the recipe for better education?

Anna Carballo (Barcelona, 1982), PhD in Neurosciences from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, does not speak of neuroeducation because she believes that it is a discipline that does not yet exist. She defends it well: neuroscientific studies on learning are carried out in laboratories, which have nothing to do with a classroom in which 30 students learn together spontaneously and naturally. He believes that the problems of education cannot be solved with the knowledge one has of the brain and that it is the pedagogues who must rethink teaching.

Professor of the Master’s Degree in Learning Difficulties and Language Disorders at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and trainer and researcher in neurosciences applied to education, Carballo believes that school failures cannot be reduced to a lack of student motivation. She criticises a system that measures results and not learning, exorbitant student-teacher ratios and a lack of teacher training and education, ideas that she puts forward in her next book 10 key ideas in neuroscience and education (Graó).

Carballo, who last week moderated the debate Aprendizaje: aula y neurosciencia organised by the think tank Aspen Institute and the Fundación La Caixa, calls for prudence in the face of “the seductive power of neuroscience”, as he does not have a formula to design the perfect school. It acknowledges that the brain needs to get excited to learn, but warns teachers about the danger of turning classes into a “constant emotional frenzy”. Children also have to learn to be bored.

Ask. In recent years, neuroscience applied to education has attracted many teachers eager for change. The idea that students need excitement to learn has become popular, but teachers still don’t know how to put it into practice.

Answer. The theme of emotion is what has been most magnified and popularized within neuroscience, the repeated phrase that you only learn what you love. That principle can confuse teachers, who may interpret their students as having to freak out all the time in the classroom. That would be stressful, unsustainable. We cannot focus our educational practice on a constant emotional frenzy. The key idea is that learning experiences are accompanied by positive emotions, to ensure that the student does not associate them with failure, when I do not arrive. Otherwise, in the long run he will not want to continue learning. The brain tends to want to repeat any pleasant experience. Furthermore, it is absurd to try to get all children excited about the same thing. The pedagogical proposal has to be diverse. Curricular uniformity is a failure.

P. Now the debate is on the table as to whether it should be the pedagogues or the neuroscientists with their discoveries on the functioning of the brain who set the keys to the new education. What is your position?

R. I see a bestial instrusism of neuroscientists. Neuroscience can provide a theoretical foundation for the learning process, but it should not be put into the field of didactics at all because we are not pedagogues, we cannot say what needs to be done in the classroom. The ideas contributed from the neuroscientific field support pedagogical theories that have existed for more than 100 years, as happens with project work that seems such an innovative methodology and is not. Everything has been invented. It can help start educational change, but neuroscience does not have the recipe for educational problems.

The first year the child should be at home with his parents because that is when the emotional bond develops.

Q. What do you think is the school’s main problem and why do you think it can’t be solved with neurodidactics?

R. Educational problems are influenced by multiple factors. On the one hand we have a system that demands results in terms of performance, not learning; a lack of resources, ratios that do not help. What I have detected most in the training I have given to teachers is that there is a lack of teacher training, they see the need for change, but they do not know how to do it. They see that opening the book and taking exams no longer works because there is a 20% of school failure. It’s not the children who fail, it’s clearly the system. The results of neuroscientific studies on learning cannot be extrapolated to a class. We have information about what a brain does inside a functional MRI tube when it makes a decision. But all the complexity that comes with a learning context like the classroom escapes us.

Q. Haven’t you participated in any research project that measures student activity in a classroom?

R. We now have encephalographic registration systems through wireless helmets. It’s a step forward because before you had to plug it into a monitor to record brain electrical activity. Anyway, it’s still

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