Bridging the gap with science

Network aims to support studies that help improve teaching and learning practices

Image Source / FolhapressAn initiative whose goal is to use data from research on teaching and learning abilities to bolster new educational practices and policies is beginning to take shape in Brazil with the launching of the National Science Network for Education (Rede CpE) on November 24, 2014. “Although cutting edge research is being conducted in several areas of knowledge, there is a disconnect between academic findings and educational policies,” says Roberto Lent, a neuroscientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and the project’s organizer.

The idea is to apply to education a concept taken from the healthcare sector: translational research, which bridges the gap between scientific discoveries and the development of new treatments and medicines. In the coming months, an inventory of research groups whose findings might be applicable to education, such as neuroscience studies on memory and learning, will be conducted.

The CpE network’s goal is to persuade government agencies and the private sector to invest in research that could be applied to the education sector. An international symposium on the topic will be held in July 2015 in Rio de Janeiro.

The network will be expected to operate broadly, including all types of scientific topics and approaches, from laboratory experiments involving animal models to classroom experiments designed to subject pedagogical hypotheses to rigorous scientific testing. An example of this type of research is a study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), under the direction of USP Professor Guilherme Polanczyk, on almost 600 pre-school students at 27 public schools in São Caetano do Sul (SP).

The research, supported by FAPESP, the Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation and USP’s Center for the Support of Research in Neurodevelopment and Mental Health, aims to adapt school intervention programs developed in other countries to Brazilian realities to improve Brazilian students’ ability to learn.

“Today, many schools teach new vocabulary without connecting it to other activities in which children are involved at school,” explains Marina Leite Puglisi, a professor in Unifesp’s Speech Therapy Department and one of the study’s coordinators who is currently analyzing the results. Based on studies conducted at foreign institutions like Oxford University in England, the research proposes that teachers adopt classroom techniques that can improve how students learn new vocabulary words. “We related new words to stories and sounds instead of teaching them in isolation, and we put a lot of emphasis on creating context so that the children can use the words they have learned spontaneously and thereby connect them to things they have already learned,” says Pugliese.

Mozart Neves Ramos, director of strategy and innovation at the Ayrton Senna Institute, which will support the network, cites the recommendation based on data from scientific studies that children take a nap after lunch before returning to the classroom as another example of how scientific knowledge can be leveraged in the classroom. “The network will be expected to strengthen the connection between knowledge of this type and the daily challenges students and teachers face in the classroom. Historically, scientific research on education had very little impact on an educator’s work. More knowledge about how people teach and learn can help a lot in developing new teaching practices,” according to Ramos.