TEACHERS are firing up the wrong brain cells in their pupils, US education expert and psychologist Dr Kathie Nunley told more than 400 Eastern Cape teachers at Rhodes University last week.
Teachers from top schools around the province, including many in East London, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth, jumped at the opportunity to listen to Nunley speak for almost six hours about layered and differentiated teaching methods.
The workshop, on Thursday, was one of only two Nunley ran in South Africa. The other was held in Gauteng.
Nunley said too many teachers were attempting to build poorly linked parts of the brain, instead of concentrating on areas where neurons had great connections.
Teachers were reinforcing weaknesses, instead of growing strengths.
Recent brain-imaging research was explaining many apparent disorders, but was also revealing the remarkable flexibility or "plasticity” of the brain.
In one case, Nunley said an infant which lost about 15% of its brain including key areas controlling skills learning in a car crash, had not been disabled because these functions had naturally been shifted to new areas of the brain.
Saying the human brain had more than 500-billion neurons and would only use 100-billion in adult life, she said poor teaching methods were encouraging learners to use their "dud” neurons rather than "firing” the healthier neuron bunches.
"Every child has a gift. Successful adults grow their strengths,” she said.
Teachers spent too much time "segregating” learners based on perceived weak areas of learning, instead of finding their "gifted” areas.
Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) remedial teacher Angie Gooden and DSG colleague Gail Jackson said: "We have to look for the good brain cells and teach in a variety of ways to discover different learning abilities.”
St Andrew’s College design head Tim Barnard said: "Electronic media is damaging infants. Those below the age of two need zero electronic stimulation.”
Cambridge Junior School teachers Marlene Whitaker and Tanya Human said they agreed strongly with Nunley.
Kingswood College vice-head Des Pyle said he had noted Nunley’s point about school scheduling leading to teenagers suffering from sleep deprivation.
"Kids are not getting enough down time. We might want to bring back a 30-minute siesta after lunch. It used to be a tradition at our school.”
DSG principal Shelley Frayne said – with St Andrew’s College headmaster Paul Edey in agreement: "The big battle is to find the right way to teach a child.
"If we continue to educate the way we have done for the last 200 years, we will simply be creating more and more children with ADD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and we will continue to put more and more kids on Ritalin.”