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International Conference on the Science of Learning: Shanghai, China

March 07, 2014


Dr. Petitto participated in the International Conference on the Science of Learning which took place in Shanghai, China. The conference was sponsored by the USA National Science Foundation, United Nation’s UNESCO, OECD (Paris, France), The University of Hong Kong, East China Normal University, and the University of Shanghai.


The goal of the conference was threefold:

  • a) To showcase the USA’s advances in the discipline of the Science of Learning, and to identify how we can make this new scientific knowledge most useful to the world

  • b) To provide tangible evidence to countries of the importance of funding and advancing the establishment of Science of Learning Centers and Science of Learning research in their respective countries

  • c) To promote optimal learning and education in all young children in the participating countries and, ultimately, in the children of the world


Here is a summary of some key issues raised at the conference: (written by Dr. Petitto in her final report)

(i) There was consensus that the discipline of Education was in a crisis on the world stage. Although the use of technology has improved in pockets around the world (insofar as the presence of computers in the classroom), the discipline of Education has failed to provide usable knowledge in how to provide optimal learning, equitable learning, and equality of learning to all children around the world, and it has further failed to provide important principles of teaching teachers to promote optimal and culturally-sensitive teaching and learning strategies for children around the world. Head of the Ministry of Education in Hong Kong, China: “Society is different from 100 years ago, therefore the discipline of Education has to be different. Yet the discipline of Education has failed to keep up with societal changes.”


(ii) There was consensus that Neuroscience/Science of Learning can provide the fundamental mechanism to revolutionize the old discipline of Education, Educational Policy, and teaching practices for educating children around the world. The audience was indeed fascinated and receptive to the role of the Neuroscience/Science of Learning to improving education in their countries and to policymaking, both in their country and at the world level. Using a “Medical Model” to advance the discipline of Education was widely rejected. (“Children are not sick and are not needing to get well.”) Instead, a Biological Model was deemed most apt. Hence, the vital, crucial role for neuroscience/brain sciences as the vehicle for advancing the discipline of Education.


(iii) There was further consensus that mechanisms for educational change in countries, specifically, Educational Policymaking, was in a crisis. (Here, I was indeed surprised to learn that several heads of countries in attendance said that their country had no formal educational system whatsoever.)


(iv) Major Scientific Theme: The major scientific theme that ran through all presentations was that the human brain is highly responsive and adaptable to its environment and that this knowledge can be applied to establishing optimal learning environments for the developing child.


(v) Scientific Challenge: The single most core challenge identified was how to connect the expanding bodies of knowledge in Neuroscience/Science of Learning with Education.


(vi) Universal Call – A priority at the World Level: There was a universal call for the “Need for a Bridge” between Neuroscience Research and Education, Practice and Policy.


(vii) Universal Consensus on the Solution – The following represents the most stunning conclusion of the conference that directly impacts Gallaudet University and VL2:

  • (a) “We agree that the Neuroscience/Science of Learning is the revolutionary answer to advancing Education. However, we need bridges between Neuroscience and Education. At the world level, we need ‘translators’, that is, those trained experts who understand the basics of Neuroscience and who understand the challenges in education, and who can go from neuroscience to education, and back (two way). We need an ‘Educational Neuroscience’ (see figure).” I was thrilled and proud that we have this at Gallaudet.

  • (b) Additionally, there was a consensus that “We also need to broaden the sphere of influence. We need mechanisms to reach parents, teachers, medical practitioners, clinicians, policymakers, the public. We need this to be a two-way process as well. Public knowledge and awareness must be built. Essentially, we need to work on changing minds.”

Here I was thrilled that this is what we do at VL2. Thus, on both accounts (Educational Neuroscience and mechanisms of two-way interaction with reaching the public) Gallaudet University and VL2 are already “there.” We are at the forefront of the two-pronged “solution” being demanded on the world stage. Further, our Ph.D. program in Education Neuroscience is truly leading the world. We will produce the experts who can contribute to “the solution” and who can potentially contribute to the advancement of education at the level of the world.

Please see Petitto’s published papers and abstracts here.

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