Brain Lessons

Image Source: Routledge

If we care to learn from the developments in neuroscience, cognitive science and developmental psychology and host of other sciences, we get profound insights that might enable us to resolve the conflict over MOI in Goa.  At the moment, it seems that there are several myths that undergird the controversy.   Thanks to a cross-fertilization of different sciences, we have evolved an inter-disciplinary Mind, Brain and Education science (MBE Science).   The emerging field joins biology, cognitive science, developmental psychology and education in order to optimize learning and teaching process. Neuroscience and genetics open the ‘black box’ of the biological process that underpins learning. Understanding the biology of the abilities and disabilities involved  in the learning process can assist parents and educators to synergize the individual student’s learning and development. Besides, the discovery of mirror neurons has illumined how an infant learns it’s mother tongue by imitation and not just by schooling.  Indeed, mirror neuron activity is shown to lead to good overall development in all areas promoting to higher emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize.  

 The findings of MBE science can deconstruct several beliefs, myths and assumptions that somehow have been accepted as the bedrock of the system and process of our Education enterprise in Goa and elsewhere.  One of the first myths that seem to be melting down is the unquestioned assumption that teaching produces learning.  We share our learning ability with all animals. All animals learn. Like other animals humans also learn several things without being taught. Hence, we need to pay attention to the learning process and environment.  The challenge is to understand how to convert our class rooms into learning spaces.  This does not diminish the role of teaching but it effectively calls us to radically transform it. Hence, the impressive evidence based findings of MBE Science promises to revolutionize our teaching learning practices.  This means our teaching and learning practices and evaluation methods may have to be revisited in the light of the latest findings of this rigorous science.  

 Cognitive Neuroscience informs us how our brain learns best.  Developmental psychology enables us to understand the subject, the child who undergoes the teaching-learning mechanism employed in the process of education. Hence, we need to synthesize and apply the findings of cognitive neuroscience and insights from psychology in our classroom settings.  One of the findings of this inter-disciplinary science is the role of multi-lingualism at the primary level. It states that multilingual elementary education leads to better overall executive attention and therefore increased intelligence. Besides, it reiterates old and familiar lessons and underlines the role of music and art forms in early education. It is found that the brain of multi-lingual people works differently and efficiently than that of their monolingual counterparts.  Further,  it is said that when bilingual people communicate the brain activates both the languages and lead such people to think before they act.  It is already established that children have greater propensity to learn different languages and the brain imaging techniques of the neuroscience has shown that left and right side of the brain develop faster in the context of multilingual practices of learning. Moreover, it is established that the early growth in complexity of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex plays a great role in executive functions like problem-solving, switching between tasks and focusing and filtering out unnecessary information.      

Learning by doing is common to all animals and humans too. Besides, the role of mirror neurons is also established firmly in the process of learning. Mirror neurons are those neurons that fire while performing a certain action as well as observing the same action performed by someone else. In the context of learning, it is taught that certain sounds, gestures and meanings fire the mirror neurons in the learner producing learning. This insight is very important for us to deal with the MIO imbroglio. While the two side of the divide somewhat agree on linguistic pluralism with different degree of openness, I propose a hypothesis that the promoters of the choice of the parents emerge as more in tune with the latest finding of neuroscience. My argument is based on the asymmetry in the phonology of Konkani leading to semantic (Meaning) confusion among certain section  of our children. Thus, for instance, the child that is used  to a phonetic sound like ‘aslo’ will certainly get confused and even generate resistance to learn the phonetic sound ‘axil’lo’ naturalised in the form of Konkani taught at the primary level. This means, we have to face the hard truth Konkani as taught in the elementary school is not authentic mother tongue of a section of our children. Hence, it not only contributes to induce shame and humiliation of the  mother tongue which a child speaks and learns at home. This may lead to rejection and even hatred of the Konkani that seems to look normal and natural in the school while it dislocates the Konkani spoken at home. Hence, one set of mirror neurons will fire at home while same neurons may not fire in the school. As a result, the reigning form of Konkani in the school may do exactly opposite of what its proponents deem it does.  That is with fear and trembling, I say that the nagrized Konkani if made the sole medium of instruction may end up ‘denationalising’ a section of our people.

The complex ways and modes of learning and resistance that nagrized Konkani brings to bear upon the system of education need to be studied with attention.  English being a link language for several Goans with the rest of Indians appears to be the best mode of national integration. The parents seem to have chosen the best and no one should take way this freedom from them.  The fact that nagrized Konkani might de-nationlize our children is mirrored  and reinforced by  it’s proponents who already de-nationalize the minorities in the name of the form of Konkani they champion.  The promotion of Konkani as the sole medium of instruction may lead mirror neuron dysfunction and may cause delay in the development of emotional and social skills, language skills, and gross motor skills. The promotion of nagri Konkani may lead to dysfunctional co-regulation, which is chiefly an ability to respond to one’s partner’s gestures and vocalisations. This is likely to occur because of the asymmetry in phonetics of nagrized Konkani with the authentic mother tongue that is spoken at home of some children. Hence, what we need is a profound study of what nagrized Konkani can do in the light of developments in neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology and education before we promote is as the main medium of instruction. All our children have to be integrated into our nation but with all our good intentions, I am afraid we might de-nationalise some of our children by forcefully nagrizing them.       

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao