Our beliefs and convictions about education and learning affect significantly the options we drive for its improvement. Let’s see if these five common assumptions are true or false.
① You can’t teach an old dog new tricks: the first three years of life determine the development potential and success in life
Without a doubt, the first years of life are the most critical for learning and establishing brain, and they are an important precedent for socio-emotional development. However, new research shows that the human brain is more flexible than once thought. Today we know that we have the ability to develop connections (or synapses) throughout life and, therefore, to learn new things. There is evidence that teenagers are able to learn socio-emotional skills that are essential to identify and regulate their emotions, understand others, show empathy, develop and maintain positive relationships, set goals and make responsible decisions (see post And… why socio-emotional skills?). These skills are essential for employment performance and to successfully integrate into society. Disconnected, a publication of the IDB shows the importance of teaching socio-emotional skills and how these are demanded in the labor market.
② In order to learn, students must repeat and memorize the concepts properly
Memorization is a critical tool of the human brain to store and collect information to be used when required. Furthermore, repetition is a powerful strategy for achieving intellectual, athletic, and musical skills, among others. However, the education systems have overused memorization and repetition as teaching strategies and, in many cases, these methods have replaced critical thinking and in-depth approaches.
The publication The path towards success in mathematics and science: Challenges and Successes in Paraguay (Only available in Spanish, El camino hacia el éxito en matemáticas y ciencias: Desafíos y triunfos en Paraguay) shows the findings of an IDB program that aimed at strengthening critical thinking since preschool and primary.
③ Bad teachers are responsible for poor educational outcomes
Did you know that, in the best scenario, only an average of 30% of the difference between students who learn more and those who learn less is attributable to the school and the teacher? Research in this area signals that individual, familiar and socioeconomic factors are responsible for at least 70% of these differences. The kids’ physical and mental health, their IQ, and their family and cultural environment, influence the student’s academic achievement.
Although teachers cannot do everything or be blamed for everything, their effectiveness is key to the success of the education system. For that reason, education policies focus largely on improving the quality and effectiveness of teachers.
For more information on how the socioeconomic background affects student learning, you can check the following publication: Inequity in School Achievement in Latin America: Multilevel Analysis of SERCE Results according to the Socioeconomic Status of Students.
④ Girls perform higher in reading and boys, in mathematics
Although national and international assessments in Latin America and the Caribbean show that girls achieve higher scores in language than boys, and that boys outperform girls in math, test scores from other parts of the world confirm that this is not universal trend. In fact, scores from 23 countries that participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) do not show gender gaps. Furthermore, in Iceland, Jordan, Malaysia, Qatar and Thailand, girls surpass boys in mathematics. For more information on this topic, you can access this report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The gender-differentiated results do not stem from a genetic or physiological predisposition, but from socialization patterns or cultural biases that encourage and value different skills for each sex. For example, the Technical Note entitled IDB Gender inequality, the hidden curriculum in Chilean textbooks presents evidence on how textbooks, especially in subjects such as math and science, give a different treatment of male and female characters.
⑤ Learning technology is going to improve education
Despite the enormous potential of technology to contribute to student learning, it is not enough on its own. Our research shows that for technology to fulfill its promise, many other factors must be in place such as: qualified teachers, appropriate curricula, an adequate software and a specific frequency of use. Technology is just a tool. The way how this tool is used will determine its effectiveness.
The publication entitled The IDB and technology in education: How to promote effective programs?, shows that the most successful programs are those in which trained teachers or facilitators have participated as guides to show students how to use the technology to boost their learning.
Tell us what other myths you think might affect our strategies to foster learning.