Is brain research too reductionist - ever searching to pin-point precise areas in the brain that correspond to various mental and physical activities - to have implications for education?

Brain research does not require acceptance of a reductionist position although many researchers prefer to think this way.    Brain research can be used  to gain additional information or perspectives on questions of importance for education.  Certainly many issues of education involve values of a particular culture or school district.  These certainly need to be considered in adopting any particular policy.  However, brain research has the potential of providing additional light that aid teachers or others in the  design of curricula. Examples are in the study of reading and arithmetic brain research helps understand the pathways involved and can aid in putting together techniques to improve aspects of these pathways.

 Does neuroscience mainly or even exclusively relate to students with disabilities of some kind such as dyslexia/dyscalculia?

No.  Most cognitive neuroscience research is done with normal persons.  The development of fMRI has made it possible to run normal persons in neuroimaging studies and determine the network of neural areas involved in a given task.  Since these networks change with development and practice they can  provide  insight into questions of how normal individuals  carry out skills like reading or computing and allow us to explore how various learning procedures modify these networks in normal participants.  For example, neuroimaging has shown a number of brain areas involved in skilled reading.  We and ask what education method is most effective in altering the activation of these brain areas and how do they influence the time course of this activation?  This can be done at various stages of the acquisiton of the skill.   It is altogether possible that different forms of learning, all generally effective could have their influence on different parts of the network.  This information could be very useful in the design of overall curricula. Other sudies do target people with special difficulties in acquiring the skill.  By studying the brain in dysfunction, or in its very rudimentary expression among primates and human infants, we are able to some extent control this complexity and to gain an important window into how the brain is structured, how it functions and how structure and functions are related to improving learning.  Taken as a whole,  efforts to understand the human brain can be useful in the design of the education for all people.

 Are brain scanning results too readily interpreted for remediation of reading skills, i.e. is reading too focused on phonetical awareness?

It is certainly true that the results of any study can be overinterpreted.  Fore example, in her early work Sally Shaywitz studied remediation of phonological systems. This may have led to the premature view that all that was involved is phonology.   In her more recent papers she also examine brain areas that are more visual in character.  Both of these brain areas seem important for fluent reading.  It is an empirical question to ask what  the best method is for improving each of these systems.

 Why is research often criticised as being too politically driven or that studies are self-serving?

This is indeed a difficult question to answer.  Of course most researchers are anxious both to understand issues and to advance their own research careers.  It is doubtful that a political agenda would be helpful in either of these goals.  The results of research can get tied up in issues that are political in the sense that they involve values about what it is important to teach and learn.  Researchers should recognize that on these issues they may not have any special insight, although, of course,  they can express their views just as other citizens do.

 How does the educational research community react towards the Learning Sciences and Brain research project?

No.  Most cognitive neuroscience research is done with normal persons.  The development of fMRI has made it possible to run normal persons in neuroimaging studies and determine the network of neural areas involved in a given task.  Since these networks change with development and practice they can  provide  insight into questions of how normal individuals  carry out skills like reading or computing and allow us to explore how various learning procedures modify these networks in normal participants.  For example, neuroimaging has shown a number of brain areas involved in skilled reading.  We and ask what education method is most effective in altering the activation of these brain areas and how do they influence the time course of this activation?  This can be done at various stages of the acquisiton of the skill.   It is altogether possible that different forms of learning, all generally effective could have their influence on different parts of the network.  This information could be very useful in the design of overall curricula. Other sudies do target people with special difficulties in acquiring the skill.  By studying the brain in dysfunction, or in its very rudimentary expression among primates and human infants, we are able to some extent control this complexity and to gain an important window into how the brain is structured, how it functions and how structure and functions are related to improving learning.  Taken as a whole,  efforts to understand the human brain can be useful in the design of the education for all people.

 Are there any interdisciplinary projects in which neuroscientists search for implications of their findings (and methods) together with educational scientists?

One example where scientists from various disciplines are already starting to work with practitioners from different educational institutions, is in Ulm Germany, where a Transfer Center for Neuroscience and Learning  for this purpose opened its doors  in April 2004 .  The aim of the center is to form  interaction  between fundamental research and pedagogical application  in order for a quick and direct transfer of insights in brain research to learning in kindergarten, schools and other educational institutions.    We envisage that in a third phase of the project the time will be ripe for undertaking a specific research programme involving both educational researchers and neuroscientists into school settings across OECD countries.

 How does work on the brain fit with the general work of OECD?

The OECD is trying to promote a model of human society which encompasses better and sustainable economic health, wellbeing and status of people throughout life.  In this human society, we should not forget about the primary element of importance which is our brains - we are our brains.  With our brains we are able to gain, foster and spread knowledge.    By gaining a deeper understanding of our brains we hope to gain new knowledge which can help to decipher human beings at individual and societal level.  The work on the brain is therefore indirectly related to all of the OECD work, and directly related to several horizontal themes within the OECD such as: education, ageing, health, social issues and science and technology.  As opposed to the OECD indicators work , the work on the brain is a future thinking project -  we are moving forward unfettered by postulated answers  into unknown territory to explore the brain, how it learns, and how this knowledge might make an impact on society.

 How quickly is new information on how the brain learns being fed into/picked up by educators and applied in the classroom?

The OECD Learning Sciences and Brain Research project is unable to guarantee quick transfer of neuroscientific findings to educational practise  for two reasons: firstly it takes time to make sure all scientific findings are validated and to get consensus on their implications for educational practise; and, secondly it is a fact that educational research results are notoriously often put into practise only decades later.   This realistically means that the recommendations we will make for policy-makers at the end of the second phase of the project may not be necessarily taken into consideration or ever adopted into practise.   The project has been, however, very encouraged to find that teachers all over the world have shown to be especially eager and ready to incorporate brain findings into the classroom, and to respond  this, a special Teacher Forum intereactive has been set up see: www.teach-the-brain.org.   However, it is for the most part too early to be able to disseminate solid recommendations for policy makers.  For the current phase of the project (2002 - 2006) our goals are to inform policy makers and practitioners on: how the brain learns and functions over the lifecyle; the emotional and environmental factors that play a role in the development, health of brain, and aptitude for learning; making them aware of ethical issues and neuromyths; and to introduce scientifically tested multi-language educational tools on our website to help remediate common brain based disorders such as attention deficit, dyscalculia, and dyslexia.  Our aim for the third phase of this project would be to lead a cross-cultural research programme towards making a pathbreaking contribution in this field towards new brain based pedagogy.