Cambridge neuroscientist claims world’s richest award for education research

Usha Goswami’s work has allowed educators ‘to arm themselves with scientific understanding’

September 19, 2019
Usha Goswami Yidan Prize professor of cognitive developmental neuroscience director of Cambridge’s Centre for Neuroscience in Education

Usha Goswami, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, has won this year’s Yidan Prize for Education Research, considered an educational equivalent of the Nobel prizes.

Professor Goswami has claimed the HK$30 million (£3.1 million) award for her research into the neurology of language acquisition.

Andreas Schleicher, director of education at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, led the award’s judging panel. He said Professor Goswami had “made great strides” in understanding brain function and development, and he described her discoveries as having “far-reaching implications for people’s well-being in later life and their participation in society”.

“Thanks to her work, educators can now understand how children’s phonological awareness underpins reading development and dyslexia across languages,” Mr Schleicher said.

“It has allowed educators to arm themselves with scientific understanding of how different children learn, so that teachers can embrace that diversity with differentiated pedagogical practice and make educational success predictable, scalable and sustainable.”

Professor Goswami is founding director of Cambridge’s Centre for Neuroscience in Education, which was the first facility of its kind in the UK when it was established in 2005. She researches the neural bases of speech and language impairments, including dyslexia, and of rhythmic motor behaviour.

The companion award, the Yidan Prize for Education Development, has gone to Bangladeshi social worker Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. The Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC), which Sir Fazle founded in 1972, is considered the largest development organisation in the world.

BRAC helps an estimated 110 million Bangladeshis through its work in education – including its own private university, established in 2001 – as well as in healthcare, agricultural support, legal services, microfinance and enterprise development.

Now in their third year, the Yidan Prizes have been cultivated to encourage educational innovation by boosting its profile. They are the brainchild of Charles Chen Yidan, co-founder of Shenzhen-based internet services giant Tencent, who has injected copious funding into his awards to help compensate for the Nobel prizes’ 120-year head start.

He has committed to bankrolling the education prizes, considered the richest such awards in the world, for 50 years. “Knowledge attainment is an area that transcends racial, religious, economic and national boundaries,” he said.

“Education will continue to evolve alongside technological breakthrough and social change. Every country and region can benefit from the best research and education development work.”

This year’s prizes are scheduled to be presented at a ceremony in Hong Kong on 1 December.

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