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Neuroscience and education

In recent years there has been a global emergence of educational neuroscience (OECD, 2007, p. 21). While many neuroscientific studies have shed valuable light on brain function and structure, there has also been an expansion in the commercialisation of ‘brain-based education’. Unfortunately, many myths have been created and circulated in this rapidly developing field, particularly regarding hard-wired brain differences between males and females. "We're very fond of regarding any differences in attainment between boys and girls as the result of some inbuilt, unchangeable essence... usually discussed in the pseudoscientific language of differences in brains, brain wiring and learning styles supposedly caused by genes" (Scott, 2008, p. 46).

A new wave of academics and researchers are arguing that extreme caution should be used when considering sex differences in the brain. The OECD published a report in 2007 which described ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ brains as a neuromyth. Neuroscientists and academics such as Kurt Fisher from Harvard, Jay Giedd from the National Institute of Mental Health (USA), Lise Eliot from the Chicago Medical School, and Cordelia Fine an Australian academic psychologist, urge educators to be wary of how they use neuroscience in the classroom.

Each girl's brain is individual and unique. Girls' schools provide wonderful environments where every girl can develop and be stimulated cognitively. Recent research has provided little evidence of hard-wired brain differences between girls and boys. These findings suggest that here may be an even greater need for girls to be educated in single-sex schools because their developmental environment plays such an important role in neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the way in which "the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity" (Doidge, 2008, p. xvi).

References

Doidge, N. (2008). The brain that changes itself. Carlton, Victoria: Scribe Publications.

OECD. (2007). Understanding the brain: the birth of a learning science. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Scott, C. (2008). Boys and girls and stereotypes. Teacher: The National Education Magazine. October, 44-47.

Below is our In Alliance magazine Research Review on the Brain and Learning, which contains a list of references and further reading on the topic of neuroscience.

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