Don't waste funds on 'neuro-myths', academic warns

24th May 2013 at 01:00
Schools are too focused on unproven methods, he says

Teachers should question the validity of "neuro-myths" and not waste resources on empty promises when trying to improve learning, a leading neuroscientist has warned school leaders.

When considering new methods of teaching or training, schools should "look at the data, not at the promises", Sergio Della Sala, professor of human cognitive neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, said.

Too many schools waste their time and money on supposedly scientifically proven developments without examining evidence as to whether they actually work, he claimed. Schools should demand to see a reputable scientific study, which has been peer-reviewed.

"It is easy for a scientist like me to say 'evidence' and 'data'. But we have to apply this to life in the classroom. What you should avoid is listening to people telling you what to do," Professor Della Sala told the annual conference of the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration in Edinburgh last week.

It is widely assumed that some people are "verbalisers" and others "visualisers" when it comes to how they learn, Professor Della Sala said, but added: "There is no such thing." He argued that spending money on establishing which category a child falls into is "a wasteful use of limited resources".

The Irlen method, where children with reading difficulties are given coloured glasses, is also used in many schools despite there being no scientific evidence for its effectiveness, he said.

Professor Della Sala added that schools are investing in unproven initiatives, believing that at least they will "not do any harm". "I disagree," he said. "Give me that money, and I will buy thousands of computers for the school."

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