Mind control in China’s classrooms


Shaping young minds: Students at Jinhua Xiaoshun Primary School wear headbands with sensors developed by a Massachusetts company, and a UNESCO delegation visits the State Key laboratory of Neuroscience and Cognitive Learning PHOTO/Wall Street Journal and Beijing Normal University)

China embraces neuroscience research – sensors, brain images and more – to enhance schoolchildren’s learning and performance

Competitive nations recognize that education helps societies advance. China is embracing research in sensors, brain-image scanners and other high-tech equipment to study children’s learning and performance in real time. “Neuroscience – studies of brain development, structure, function and abnormalities – can help improve educational practice,” explains Bruce E. Wexler, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Yale University. But Wexler cautions on the many unknowns, pointing out the challenges of a range of learning styles, a lack of consensus on ideal attention levels, and the possibility that constant interventions might inhibit self-discipline and discourage creativity. A Wall Street Journal news video features a classroom in China where students wear headbands with sensors, purportedly providing teachers with neurofeedback on attention levels via color-coded lights. Wexler warns that interventions based on inaccurate data could have negative consequences, and far more research is needed before outfitting classrooms with such technologies. Early labels for children can be flawed, and some of the world’s great minds, including Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Jack Ma, admitted to not being the most attentive students. – YaleGlobal

China recently surprised the world with its neuroscience-backed pedagogy for children, but the program has been a long time coming. Eight years ago, a professor shared some slides after I gave a lecture at Beijing Normal University, the country’s leading institution for teacher training and education research. One slide included a quote from the Chinese National Minister of Education: “China needs a neuroscience-based pedagogy.” Now some Chinese children attend class with probes attached to their heads, informing teachers about their brain activity in real time.

Neuroscience – studies of brain development, structure, function and abnormalities – can help improve educational practice. Already, neuroscience-informed understanding of the importance of environmental input in the post-natal development of brain structure and function has made clearer that children from impoverished and otherwise disrupted communities have environmentally-induced compromises in neurocognitive development and still unrealized potential for neural growth and improved academic performance. In addition, neuroscience research has identified a number of specific factors that compromise neurocognitive development, and this research has in turn led to the development of interventions to address related dysfunctions that impact educational outcomes. Third-party expert reports have summarized this research and provide guides to evidence-based neuroscience-informed interventions shown to improve academic outcomes.

Interestingly, the responses in China and the United States to such findings have been different, and problematic in different ways. Adoption of innovative, neuroscience-informed practices has been extremely limited in the United States. For example, the US Department of Education’s 2019 Education Innovation and Research program to develop innovative practices to improve academic achievement for students in disadvantaged communities, and reduce the achievement gap related to poverty in the United States, funded 41 projects for a total of more than $120 million dollars. Not one was neuroscience-based or informed. In China, in contrast, a Key National Neuroscience Laboratory has been established at Beijing Normal, fully equipped with the most advanced functional MRI brain imaging scanners and EEG, ERP and other systems that record brain electrical activity. Beijing Normal is widely considered among China’s top neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience universities, a leader in studies of human brain development and quantitative analytic approaches.

Yale Global for more

Comments are closed.