Thursday, 11 February 2010

Does education tap into only half our brain power? ...

Unravelling concerns about standards

I have just read, for the second time, the transcript of a lecture delivered by Professor Rosemary Sage on 16 November 2009. During the first reading I realised that there was no way I could do justice to the ideas presented in any sort of prĂ©cis of eight pages in Education Today (Volume 59 Number 4 (Winter 2009)). Unfortunately for you the second reading confirmed my view – and I cannot find an electronic copy anywhere to link to.

You will have to content yourself with the “come and hear the lecture” blurb as follows.

We all have two brains – a verbal and a non-verbal one – with two ways of thinking. However, we exist on less than half our brain power and this important issue is unpacked, unravelled and better understood to raise standards of performance.
On the right side of our brain, we have one way of knowing. In this mode we “see”
things that are imaginary (mind’s eye) or recall those that are real. Imagine your favourite food – its colour, shape taste and smell. We “see” how things exist in space, understand metaphors, dream, fill in information gaps in talk or text, combine ideas to make new ones and assemble meaning (synthesise events). If something is too complicated to speak about we gesture. Try to describe a spiral pole without using your hands! Images (“seeing” within) are personal, idiosyncratic, non-verbal ways of thinking intuitively, holistically and metaphorically (Edwards, 1979). We call this the
“seeing/feeling” brain, using it to communicate with ourselves and understand whole things or events.

The left side works in an opposite way. It analyses, abstracts, counts, marks time, plans in steps and makes logical statements, with words expressing thoughts. So, if apples are bigger than plums and plums bigger than currants, we say that apples are bigger than currants. This illustrates the left brain mode: analytic, sequential, symbolic, linear, objective and verbal. It is the “saying/hearing” brain communicating thoughts to others in a conventional way (Edwards, 1979).

This review illustrates how both brains complement each other, suggesting that educational practice favours left brain development at the expense of the right. It leaves us full of facts but without ability to apply them judiciously. Quite small changes in the way we learn, however, can produce big results. The future is bright if we are brave enough to alter our ways. The reward is akin to having a “tiger in our tank” as suggested in an old petrol advert. Brain power is unleashed so that nothing seems impossible. Learning to use both brains more effectively may shoot us up the educational rankings and result in a double blessing.

Heard it all before? Maybe.

Realising that “educational standards are rising” i.e. young people are acquiring more and more factual knowledge which they are able to reproduce in an exam situation and “employers like us are left to pick up the pieces of a broken education system” are not contradictory statements was something of an eye-opener for me. Employers are not looking for factual knowledge but for personal competences such as application of learning, judgement, understanding the views of others. These are right brain activities which are at best left dormant in our education system and at worst discouraged (particularly by emphasising left brain activity at an early age before the left brain has matured sufficiently to be able to cope).

Oops! Nearly forgot to provide the reference.
It is the 1979 original of Drawing on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards that is referenced. However, a quick check shows that there is an updated (2001) edition on for 8.41 GBP

Thursday, 4 February 2010

EU Social Agenda: policies, initiatives and sources

an article by Grace Hudson (Head of Library Services, University of Bradford) published in Aliss Quarterly Volume 5 Number 2 (January 2010)

The article is based on a presentation Grace made, the slides from which are at, which provides a really useful summary of the history of EU social policy agendas.

Reading through the article I was pleased to agree with the comment "The Europa website, though not an intuitive site to use, has a wealth of information giving the official perspective on EU social policy together with legislation and statistical data but this needs to be balanced by comment and analysis, and critical peer reviewed academic studies." The Europa site is one of those that you can quickly get lost in – assuming you ever get past the first page.

Some of the other sources mentioned are available only to academic institutions via the Athens login.