Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience

Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience

Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience

Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience


Large-scale efforts have been made since the 1990s to ensure that all children of the world go to school. But mere enrollment is not sufficient, students must become fluent in reading and calculation by the end of grade 2. Fluency is needed to process large amounts of text quickly and use the information for decisions that may ultimately reduce poverty. State-of-the-art brain imaging and cognitive psychology research can help formulate effective policies for improving the basic skills of low-income students. This book integrates research into applications that extend from preschool brain development to the memory of adult educators. In layman's terms, it provides explanations and answers to questions such as:- Why do children have to read fast before they can understand what they read?- How do health, nutrition, and stimulation influence brain development?- Why should students learn basic skills in their maternal language?- Is there such a thing as an untrained teacher?- What signs in a classroom show whether students are getting a quality education?- How must information be presented in class so that students can retain it and use it?- What training techniques are most likely to help staff put their learning into use?This book would be useful to policymakers, donor agency staff, teacher trainers, supervisors, and inspectors, as well as university professors and students.


“A variety of’inputs’ apparently are tossed into the
classroom, activated in some mysterious way, and out pops
pupil achievement (the ‘output’).”
Fuller and Snyder 1991

Arguably, the least effective strategy to educate the poor in Madagascar is through the medium of the French language. The country has only one national language, Malagasy, which has been written for centuries. Yet, in response to middle-class demand, the government in 1993 decreed that French would be the language of instruction after grade 2. In 2001, the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (1EG) found high dropout rates in rural schools, in addition to graduating students who were unable to read fluently in either Malagasy or French. The government acknoivledges the problem, but has found it hard to implement a solution that serves the poor as well as the middle class.

Responding to the letter of a 10-year-old student in the Brazilian northeast who kept failing because of inadequate instruction, the government launched in 1996 the “Call to Action” initiative. Reforms included a four-year cycle during ivhich children would not repeat a grade, curricula with emphasis on discovery, and enormous amounts of instructional materials and staff training. However, tests showed limited achievement, and an IEG mission in 2002found that in poor areas many students still read haltingly in grade 4. In classes, children were often engaged in fun and creative activities while surrounded by books they could not read. In this middle-income country, many students ivere dropping out, still functionally illiterate after 4–5 years of school.

The above examples illustrate some of the puzzling outcomes and dilemmas encountered in efforts to finance quality education for the poor.

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