OECD Study Shows Brain Research Can Help in Designing Educational Systems

September 23, 2002

Paris, 20 Sep 2002

Modern technologies of non-invasive brain scanning and imaging are revealing new insights into the biochemical functioning of the brain, shedding light on how the brain produces perception, memory and language, according to a new OECD publication.

Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science highlights these findings and shows how medical technology may influence the way educators design teaching programmes and how policymakers evaluate school systems.

OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) launched a project three years ago on "Learning Science and Brain Research" to bring together information on how the brain works, how people learn best, and how best to integrate the two fields. The findings cover such areas as the brain's ability to learn anew over an individual's lifetime, the chemistry behind dyslexia, how emotions affect learning, and the effectiveness at different ages of learning a foreign language.

Learning modifies the brain physically by increasing the growth of new connections among neurons, the cells that facilitate communication between the brain and the rest of the body. This is relevant for policymakers as they consider funding continuing education projects or finding ways to facilitate employment for the elderly in an ageing workforce environment. It also has applications for treating conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and depression.

In parallel, the report suggests a need to reassess the common belief that the brain deteriorates with age. While studies show that with ageing the numbers of large neurons shrink, those of smaller neurons increase, rather than brain cells simply dying. While this may cause some decrease in the number of synapses, or links between neurons, thus affecting the speed of thought, it doesn't reduce intelligence. In one study on adults aged between 25 and 83, no age-related differences were found in fluency, originality of thought, productivity and application of creative ability.

Another example is the language-learning and reading disability known as dyslexia. Recent findings have not only pinpointed a tiny section of the brain that is responsible for the condition but also indicated a way to correct it. This could have an impact on the structure of special education classes and the eventual improvement of national reading scores, potentially making the study and treatment of dyslexia one of the major success stories of cognitive neuroscience in the near future.

To obtain the publication, journalists should contact the OECD's Media Relations Division. For further information, they are invited to contact Bruno Della-Chiesa (tel. [33] 1 45 24 92 54)/.

The report is on sale through the Online Bookshop

"Understanding the Brain. Towards a New Learning Science"
114 pages, OECD, Paris 2002
¬#128;23; US$20
ISBN 92-64-19734-6 (91 02 02 1)

Also available: Une étude de l'OCDE montre que la recherche sur le cerveau peut aider à la conception des programmes pédagogiques (French)

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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