In order to answer the grand questions of the 21st century, students may need to be taught in a way that develops their neuroplasticity as much as their intellectual and human capital.
20th century developments in neuroscience revealed that the brain is elastic; it can and does change its structure in response to external stimuli. The profound discovery has inspired a cornucopia of literature, including a recent book The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.
It seems that Buddhists have had an especially acute awareness of the interdependence between the mind and its environment throughout history, expressed by Gandhi as ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ Perhaps Aristotle intuited this coming consciousness in his epithet, ‘Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’
The extraordinary discovery of neuroplasticity has met its educational catalyst in the form of Ken Robinson whose new book The Element urges the development of curriculum in which literacy and numeracy standards are supported while creativity is nurtured.
Having been schooled in political science and with knowledge about the depressed basic language and maths skills of large parts of most national populations, I was sceptical about the assertion that the future of 21st century education is so lateral. However, Robinson is consistently attentive to the more plodding and linear aspects of material reality and this discipline makes the conclusions of his book convincing.
A key question emerging from the realisation of neuroplasticity is the degree to which training the mind will become a part of standard teaching and how it may be possible to teach in a way that encourages the evolution of the human mind towards more effective and/or holistic reasoning.
We know, for example, that meditation and exercise (as two independent variables) increase attention span, focus and memory. Why then are they not a part of our teaching and learning methodology?
Perhaps the conception of 21st century education enjoins us to create a discipline which can make of our fragmented minds a more illuminating whole.