Questions, possible solutions and more

[By: Valentina Barone]

What am I doing here? What is the purpose of my job? Is it really necessary – to someone else or at least to myself?

These questions have been raised by human beings for a sustained amount of time, and you are probably wondering yourself the same from time to time, even if you have just started your long way into the labour market. This happens also to myself, to my-new-self in the role of an early stage researcher for the MOTION Project. With a background in Psychology, Communication and Cognitive Neuroscience it sounds probably normal to hear that I belong to that kind of people who question everything. It is often an annoying habit, but it can be useful as well. The latter was, indeed, the case during the training school at Radboud University in Nijmegen, where my colleagues and I had the occasion to collect some practical answers to those tricky questions.

Still filled with our Christmas meals and relatives’ stories, we met up at the beginning of January for a 4 days-long full immersion into the intricate world of ‘’Infant&Child Development’’.

After a couple of days of well-prepared lectures and active discussions (see Tommaso’s post to find out all the stimulating activities of the Nijmegen training school),

we attended a workshop provided by two experts from Karel de Grote Hogeschool Antwerp – Centre of expertise for pedagogical support in childcare and school. ‘’Starting the dialogue between basic science and practitioners” was an intensive workshop provided by Monique van Boom and Lynn Mampuys, but mostly it was a great introduction into the world where research can meet practical daily applications. This was so remarkable for us, since it is something a researcher does not focus on that often: we all know that experimental processes require a huge amount of time-consuming activities, which more often have their main goal in a successful publication and a worldwide recognition. But what about transposing those results into practice? What about seeing years of behind-the-desk-knowledge transformed into actual pedagogical rules or exercises?

Of course, one must be cautious about recognizing his own evidence as inevitably true, science is all about falsification eventually, isn’t it? Well, so is practice. What seems to work best for a period of time is replaced afterwards by something else, more practical and economic (in terms of energy especially). The same happens for children’ and infants’ education and development. Teachers, caregivers and practitioners have been changing their didactic methods forever. As we were told, in Belgium, and in other – few – countries as well, it has been made an attempt to keep the teachers updated with new scientific progresses, in order to put their advanced knowledge into practice. An example comes from a study that shows how infants’ acoustic mapping can be modified by active auditory exposure (Benasich et al., 2014). This seems to be helpful in the prevention of dyslexia, and with this purpose, practitioners in daycare centres may try to frequently expose infants to certain types of acoustic stimuli. Also, many kinds of learning techniques – such as space learning (Kelley and Watson, 2015) – have been experimented in different scholastic contexts worldwide.

Although exciting and intriguing, this approach can be risky as well, if we consider the drawbacks that can be implied. In fact, it is not beneficial to use scientific results in every-day children care if the studies in question have not been replicated and are not considered strongly valid and reliable. Furthermore, it has been shown that teachers believe greatly in the neuromyths they bump into reading pop sci magazines (Dekker et al., 2012; Goswami, 2006). As a consequence, the overinterpretation of data may lead to dangerous and controversial applications, conferring just an apparent scientific aura to educational programs.

This is why the specialists at Karel de Grote Hogeschool Antwerp want to train extensively the care-givers of childcare centres and schools. Through posters and handbooks, they aim to provide educators with the adequate language to talk about new insights within the educational environment. Critical observation and reflection are also encouraged strongly, so that the teachers can work using a holistic point of view of the child and his environment. Especially practitioners working at childcare centres, who usually are not required with a high level of education, need to be better instructed seeing as how relevant their role is.

The ambition they are trying to achieve in Antwerp is really rare and significant in our actual society, given the huge necessity of early childcare for parents who have to work. In my opinion, this is something also a scientist should keep in mind while creating his own experimental design: how can I make my results more understandable and spendable in terms of practical application for the people out there? Probably it is hard to realize that right from the beginning of an experimental inquiry, but it is something that should not be ignored, if we want to build a world where science can be truly integrated into society.

What am I doing here? What is the purpose of my job?

I bet all these words written above do not answer extensively these questions. However I think that now, here at the MOTION Project, we are a bit more aware of our responsibilities and of the possibilities we have to spread out our future results within the real world.