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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
The appliance of neuroscience
EEG readout
Research will track brain activity during school-type tasks
Parents might in future have something a little more technical to discuss with teachers during consultation evenings than their offspring's writing, artwork and test results: brain scans.

The prediction comes from two education professors who think neuroscience could transform education.

John Geake of Oxford Brookes University and Paul Cooper of the University of Leicester say that recent research into the functioning of the human brain has greatly enhanced the understanding of learning, memory, intelligence and emotion.

They are now working on applying this new knowledge specifically to education.

'Fantasy'

In an article in the journal Westminster Studies in Education, they describe a parents' evening where a teacher shows a mother that her son has a weak short-term memory circuit for number solutions - explaining his poor maths work.

The teacher recommends mental tasks to improve that aspect of the brain's function.

The parent is pleased that teacher knows what is the matter and can so something about it.

"This is a future fantasy scenario, let's be clear about that," Prof Geake told BBC News Online.

"It was simply to make the point that data from the neurosciences could add to the sorts of diagnoses teachers have to make about learning problems."

And not only problems - the work could also help to explain the performance of gifted children.

He said brain imaging could display areas of neural activity, but tended to be used to diagnose medical problems.

Educational application

The sort of research he was beginning involved watching what happened to brain activity when children were doing things which were more like the tasks they did in school.

The starting point was that it was known that the way the brain divided up a task was not the way the task would normally be categorised.

For example, the arithmetical steps required so solve a sum were not at all like the steps the brain went through in arriving at an answer.

"To put it crudely, we didn't evolve to do arithmetic so there's no brain module for that," he said.

Prof Geake said new techniques might also tease out the differences between individuals - not least, between boys and girls.

The hope was that the work could lead to better-informed ways of teaching and learning.

"It would show us different styles and curriculum designs that might recognise and accommodate how the brain goes about doing things."




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