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IBE-UNESCO leads global dialogue on neuroscience and the future of education and learning

DAEGU, KOREA — Between 21 and 25 September 2019, IBE-UNESCO participated in the 10th International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) World Congress of Neuroscience.

Held once every four years since 1982, the Congress is one of the most prestigious and ambitious events in the field. It aims to share the latest research and knowledge in the diverse areas of brain research and neuroscience, increase awareness about neuroscience research, and facilitate collaboration between researchers, students, educators, and other stakeholders.

Co-organized by IBRO and the Federation of Asian-Oceanian Neuroscience Societies (FAONS) and co-hosted by the Korea Brain Research Institute (KBRI) and the Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences (KSBNS), the 2019 Congress brought together a record participation of nearly 4,500 neuroscientists and business, government, and civil society leaders from over 100 countries.

Within the Congress, IBE-UNESCO played multiple prominent roles, ranging from co-sponsoring the Congress to co-organizing two Presidential-highlighted events.

During the Congress Opening Ceremony, IBE-UNESCO Director Marope joined other key speakers in delivering welcoming remarks to the Congress. Other speakers included Dr. Sung-Oh Huh, Co-chair of IBRO 2019 Organizing Committee; Dr. Pierre Magistretti, IBRO President; the Mayor of Daegu; and the Special Advisor to the Minister of Science and ICT of South Korea. In her remarks, Dr. Marope extended a special welcome to ministers of education and senior experts she had jointly invited with the President of IBRO. She highlighted the importance of a real dialogue between researchers on neuroscience, and education policymakers and practitioners: “There is not always deep understanding of the neuroscientific research-based knowledge and its implications for policy and practice in education. That understanding is urgently needed to improve our facilitation of student’s learning”.

IBE-UNESCO co-convened two Presidential Highlighted Sessions of the Congress.

The first session on 21 September, titled The Global Gender Imperative in STEM Education, was co-convened with the Korea Center for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology (WISET). South Korea’s former Minister of Environment, Ms. Young Sook Yoo, chaired the session, while Ms. Hye-yeon Ahn, WISET President, presented South Korea’s policy for women in STEM.

Director Marope delivered the keynote address, Why Gender Equality in STEM is a Global Imperative. She shared longitudinal evidence from diverse sources, including the broader UNESCO work, pointing out that, in general, the world is moving toward gender parity, but it is still too far from target. She underscored implications of gender inequality in STEM at individual, national, and global levels. Regarding the last, she highlighted the significant role of STEM-based professions in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), warning that the persisting shortage of such professionals will undermine efforts to achieve a significant number of SDGs and their targets. Director Marope earnestly appealed for redoubled, joint efforts toward gender parity. She concluded her keynote address with a sobering message that, “since gender bias is a social construct, society can deconstruct it. It starts very early on with the way we socialize our children, and this includes women, given their prominent role in the socialization of new generations.”

An esteemed IBE-UNESCO Senior Fellow, Professor Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington presented his empirical work on STEM stereotypes and provided insights into how the STEM gender gap arises from social and cultural factors rather than capacity. He argued that girls’ underrepresentation is not due to an intractable, immutable lack of interest or ability. Instead, girls’ choices are driven, to a large degree, by sociocultural factors—for example, stereotypes about who typically does STEM and who has abilities in STEM. These stereotypes act as barriers that communicate to girls that they do not belong or cannot succeed in STEM. “To make a difference worldwide, we need to change the messages we send to young girls and boys about who belongs in STEM. We should start early—before pervasive societal STEM stereotypes take hold. Without these barriers, girls will have more truly equal opportunities to pursue the benefits of STEM”, Professor Meltzoff concluded.  

The second Presidential Highlighted Session, held on 23 September, showcased results from a four-year IBE-UNESCO/IBRO joint initiative that aims to strengthen educators’ understanding and application of credible neuroscientific knowledge to education policy and practice. In terms of practice, the initiative emphasizes the application of neuroscience to teaching and learning to improve their effectiveness, and ultimately, to contribute to the redress of the current global learning crisis.

Convening under the theme Neuroscience and the Future of Education and Learning, a High-level Forum brought together, for the first time, ministers of education, their senior experts on teaching and learning, and world-class neuroscientists to explore the untapped potential of science to transform education and learning. Just as the health sector opened out to science to transform it a century ago, this initiative strives to open spaces for science to contribute to the transformation of education, particularly teaching and learning, for the better.

Over two hundred participants attended the Forum. Fourteen countries were formally represented: Bangladesh, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Ghana, Japan, Mongolia, Philippines, Qatar, Spain, Turkey, Seychelles, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Delegates from six countries were respectively led by the Honorable Ministers of Education for Bangladesh (H.E. Dipu Moni), Burundi (H.E. Janvière Ndirahisha), Cambodia (H.E. Im Koch), Seychelles (H.E. Jeanne Simeon), South Africa (H.E. Angelina Matsie Motshekga), and Zimbabwe (H.E. Paul Mavima). The other countries were led by senior experts representing their ministers of education.

The Forum began with welcoming remarks from Dr. Mmantsetsa Marope, IBE-UNESCO Director, and Dr. Pierre Magistretti, IBRO President. Dr. Marope and Dr. Magistretti shared a brief overview of their joint initiative and its place in the Forum. They highlighted their conviction that, unlike other sciences of learning, neuroscience is the least integrated into education programs. Yet, neuroscientific research contributes substantially to the understanding of human learning. Given that part of the core mandate of education systems is to facilitate learning, it seems intuitive that a deep understanding of neuroscientific aspects of learning have something to contribute to how educators (particularly teachers) facilitate learning. They highlighted that limited access to easily understandable research findings is a key barrier to educators’ optimal use of insights from cutting-edge neuroscience research.

They pointed out that the IBE-UNESCO/IBRO knowledge-brokerage initiative is addressing this challenge by reviewing, meta-analyzing, synthesizing, and rearticulating extensive neuroscientific research findings into accessible technical briefs that make vivid, implications for education policy and practice, with emphasis on teaching and learning. Over the past four years, the IBE-UNESCO/IBRO collaboration has built up a fair base of these technical briefs. More importantly, the initiative has attracted partnerships from sciences of learning centers in premier universities across the world, which have undertaken to contribute to the articulation of technical briefs—or translations, as commonly referred to.

IBE-UNESCO disseminates these briefs through multiple channels. During the Forum, Dr. Marope and Dr. Magistratti launched one of these channels: the IBE Science of Learning Portal. Integrated in the portal is the new IBE-UNESCO blog, IBE Speaks, where prominent scholars critically assess the present and potential contribution of the science of learning, particularly neuroscience, to education policy and practice.

Another highlight of the Forum was the presentation of research findings and translation works by prominent neuroscientists and educators. Presentations were organized into four key themes:
Why neuroscience matters in the future of education and learning [Stanislas Dehaene, College de France; Brian Butterworth, University College London; and Mmantsetsa Marope, IBE-UNESCO];
Cutting-edge neuroscience findings with implications for education policy, teaching, and learning [Andrew Meltzoff, University of Washington; Michael Thomas, Birkbeck, University of London; and Jerome Prado, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and Brain, Behavior, and Learning Lab, University of Lyon];
Promising practices in applying credible neuroscientific research findings to improve education policy and classroom practices for teachers and learners [Vivian Reigosa-Crespo, National Institute of Learning Evaluation, Montevideo, Uruguay; Helen Abadzi, University of Texas at Arlington; Paul Howard-Jones, University of Bristol];
What teachers need to know in order to improve their effectiveness in facilitating learning [Donna Coch, Dartmouth College; Daniel Ansari, University of Western Ontario; Dong Qi, Beijing Normal University; and Paul Howard-Jones, University of Bristol].

Presentations were followed by a Ministerial Roundtable, chaired by the IBE-UNESCO Director, where participants discussed how to apply neuroscientific knowledge to strengthen teaching and learning from the policymaking side. Ministers of education from Burundi, Cambodia, Seychelles, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, among many other high-level officials, congratulated the IBE-UNESCO and IBRO for enabling a necessary and urgent dialogue on how neuroscience can address the global learning crisis.

The ministers also highlighted the importance of using neuroscientific knowledge to guide teaching, learning, and assessment. H.E. Angelina Matsie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education of South Africa, stated that the Forum provided a good opportunity to help ministries of education guide education sectors based on a better understanding of how children learn, develop, and grow. Therefore, a more approachable system, leveraging the knowledge of neuroscience and education, should be developed. H.E. Paul Mavima, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Education, stressed the critical role of using the knowledge of brain science to maximize the efficiency of learning and to develop competences that would enable social and economic transformation. H.E. Jeanne Simeon, Minister of Education of Seychelles, focused on the importance of applying the outcomes of neuroscience research in teacher training: “We have to get teachers on board first. If teachers do not understand what it is, then they are not able to facilitate effective teaching”. H.E. Im Koch, Secretary of State, Cambodia, also focused on the importance of engaging teachers in the neuroscience-education dialogue, so teachers can have holistic views of child development, including learning, sleeping, and outdoor activities. He concluded, in a passionate speech, “Without the competency of teachers, we cannot achieve the goals of effective teaching and learning”. H.E. Janvière Ndirahisha, Minister of Education of Burundi, pointed out that understanding “the learning brain” can provide an additional tool to improve learning outcomes. H.E. Dipu Moni, Minister of Education of Bangladesh, expressed appreciation for the excellent Forum presentations and emphasized the role that the science of learning can play to facilitate effective learning.

Mr. Diego Fernandey Alberdi, from the Spanish delegation, congratulated the IBE-UNESCO and IBRO and highlighted the strong commitment of the Spanish government to apply neuroscience findings in order to improve learning outcomes. Prof. Dong Qi, President of Beijing Normal University, from the Chinese delegation, expressed interest in working with IBE, to better understand child development and to facilitate learning. Prof. Shirouzu Hajime, representing MOE Japan, highlighted the urgency of including neuroscientific knowledge in teacher training. Mr. Gokhan Coskun, CEO of the Institute of Technology, Education and Diplomacy (INTED), a vigorous supporter of the IBE’s work in STEM education, argued for more opportunities to connect educators, decision makers, and practitioners to address the global learning crisis.

The Forum concluded with a ministerial dialogue on possible initiatives toward applying neuroscientific knowledge to strengthen teaching and learning, and to improve learning outcomes.

IBE-UNESCO’s prominent participation in the 10th IBRO Congress reaffirms its commitment to provide forward-looking thought leadership and promote innovative thinking to address the global learning crisis, while further consolidating its unique role as a global knowledge broker for the science of learning. 
Read the High-level Forum agenda: bit.ly/2koASr8

View the High-level Forum photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ibe-unesco/albums/72157711438411943