Why grey matter is the new black

25th July 2003 at 01:00
TEACHERS in the future will scan pupils' brains to help understand why they have difficulties with particular subjects.

That may sound like science fiction but it is seriously predicted by two education professors who believe neuroscience - the science of the brain and nervous system - will transform teaching.

John Geake of Oxford Brookes university and Paul Cooper of Leicester university predict that primary pupils will be tested using neuro-imaging headsets to scan brain activity. A computer will analyse the data and produce reports for parents and teachers.

The professors describe a future parents' evening where a mother discusses the poor maths results of her child, Chris, with his teacher.

Chris's brain report shows a weak short-term memory circuit for number solutions. She recommends a course of "real-time biofeedback"- tasks to improve this brain function, which includes mental arithmetic. "The parent is pleased with the professionalism of the teacher, especially that the teacher knew what was the matter and could do something about it," the academics write.

Professors Geake and Cooper admit trying to predict the future is "a guarantee for retrospective embarrassment". But they argue that theories about how the brain functions already have uses. For instance, the concept that nerve pathways in the brain become more efficient in response to repeated stimulation reinforces the importance of repetition during lessons.

But John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said he feared there were sinister implications and that the Government might make teachers collect data on their pupils' brains.

"I'm all for teachers gaining as much knowledge as possible about the way kids think, but this sounds like Brave New World," he said.

"Cognitive Neuroscience: Implications for education?" appears in Westminster Studies in Education Vol 26 no 9

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