Adopting a Biological Approach in the Child-caring Design of Education - Honorary Director's Blog



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Honorary Director's Blog

Adopting a Biological Approach in the Child-caring Design of Education


Keywords: Child-caring design, human science, emotion, neuroscience, brain and education, brain science, cognitive science, Noboru Kobayashi

When we consider education today, the need for child-caring design from the child's perspective is clear. The long history of research in the study of education has, of course, included psychological research, but until recently, very little research was done from a biological perspective in a broad sense.

As a member of the committee of the National Council on Educational Reform of Prime Minister Nakasone for three years from 1984, this is what I keenly felt. Moreover, this was an issue that concerned not only Japan, but also the study of education in North America and Europe during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Here biological research refers to understanding the human being as a biological being and taking a biological approach to analyze and research educations. As biological beings, humans use the brain to both teach and learn, and this means that in addition to human science, new sciences such as brain science, neuroscience and cognitive science, are important. These were all formed in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Since the beginning of this century, however, an increasing number of educators and researchers in North America and Europe have been actively incorporating the ideas of brain science into their work. This is possible because we now know much about how brain activity is related to education, such as which part of the brain is active when thinking, learning arithmetic, reading or listening to music. Since the end of the twentieth century, the knowledge contributed by brain science, neuroscience and cognitive science, fields related to education, has rapidly grown.

In 2002, the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) published a booklet titled "Understanding the Brain; Towards New Learning Science," and we could say that it marked a new beginning. Note that it introduced the term "learning science." In other words, in order to make a science of learning, both neuroscience and cognitive science are necessary, in addition to brain science. This booklet has been translated into Japanese by Dr. Hideaki Koizumi, editor, and Maki Koyama, translator, and published by Akashi Shoten in 2005 as No o hagukumu gakushu to kyoiku no kagaku.

This was followed by the establishment of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society by its founding president Dr. Kurt W. Fischer, Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the first international conference was held at Fort Worth, Texas for three days from November 1 to 3, 2007. There is also a quarterly publication titled Mind, Brain and Education.

In line with these developments, at CRN, we created a section called "Brain & Education" on our website where I introduced selected abridged articles from this journal along with commentary. Professor Yoichi Sakakihara, Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences, Ochanomizu University, is now responsible for this section, and this is because I am sure that he, as a child neurologist, will bring up topics that are relevant to the present-day. I hope that you will take a look at his articles, which will be available in English shortly.

Dr. Hideaki Koizumi, a neuroscientist with Hitachi Central Research Laboratory and developer of a device to measure brain activity according to blood flow, is one of the founding members of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society from Japan and an associate editor of the society's journal. Over the past decade or so, he has also been in charge of research projects regarding brain science that are directly or indirectly related to education in organizations under Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

Another recent promising development was a conference organized by MEXT on brain science in order to gain an overview of research on the scientific understanding of emotions and its application in education. The conference particularly aimed to identify the relation between the brain science of emotions and the educational problems of children. It was an honor for me to serve as chairperson. The first conference was held on May 28, 2012. Dr. Koizumi was also present.

Children are educated through the power of culture in the society and the family while learning many things at the special place that is school. At the same time, education also has the power to develop the human mind and shape a culture. By looking at the emotions that do not appear on the surface, that is, brain activity, we can scientifically assess the biological effect of education. Research using brain image processing has made rapid progress and consequently has a large role to play. As children develop physically and mentally, it is important for learning and emotional development to be closely linked. An evolutionary approach that focuses on the fundamental aspects of living beings is also a necessary one in thinking about education. In particular, considerations of mental evolution and the results of primate research, for example, can be effectively incorporated into thinking about education.

The results of this new research that is based on brain science can be applied not only in the school curriculum, but also in the child-caring design of schools and other places of learning. In particular, we need to pursue research using brain imaging and genetic analysis such as research on twins. This will take researchers out of the ivory tower into the real environment of education and facilitate the development of research.

The insights of brain science are essential to improving the child-caring design of education for children. This is only possible by understanding human beings as biological beings and education as an activity of the brain.