Directors: Antonio M. Battro, Kurt W. Fischer and Diego Golombek
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Brain-science-based education to foster innovation
“Innovation” originated from the concept of “neue Kombination (new combination)” as advocated by Joseph A. Schumpeter (1883–1950) in his Theorie der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung (Theory of Economic Development) in 1912. This concept refers to a process of forming a new system through the combination of elements that are inherently foreign to each other.
Animals’ behavioral judgment and enthusiasm for learning, in general, are driven by the reward system in a broad sense. As for humans, neuroscience recently determined that the processing of mental rewards in humans was enabled by the development of the peripheral functions of the striatum (putamen, caudate nucleus), which is part of the reward system, in the process of their evolution . The reward system of the brain related to pleasurable and unpleasurable sensations is a compass to raise the probability of survival. Animals have a neural circuit that repeats actions that create pleasure such as eating/drinking, sexual behavior. By repeating an action that leads to pleasure, the transmission properties of the related neural circuit are further reinforced (i.e., reinforcement learning).
It is generally difficult to create innovation by combining elements that are foreign to each other, and this difficulty could be attributed to the learning mechanism of brain. As to our neural circuits in ordinary behavior, the more they are used, the harder it becomes to link them to different neural circuits. In addition, phenomena such as adherence, obsession and persistence emerge. All of these make it difficult to have insights, or an entry to creation. As a method to deter adherence, the importance of dialogue has drawn much attention. One feels awakened to the truth when told, however, it is often difficult to think outside the box and determine the truth by one’s self .
Intellectual education, which emphasizes each academic subject, alone does not foster innovators. A new type of education and learning is necessary to establish an “Innovation Ecosystem That Creates Sustainable Innovations.”
The concepts of modern science, engineering, technology and art developed independently after the 17th century, and these concepts partially overlap or are multi-tiered. The etymology of the word stem of each concept helps us understand the inherent content of each concept .
The origin of the stem of science, “sci,” is from the ancient Greek “skei,” which means “split/divide.” The act of analysis clarifies the causal connection between the constituent elements of a dissected object, which corresponds to Descartes’ reductionism. Science refers to activities that unravel the world of nature, including humans (or some interpretation regarding the world of nature as a creation of the Creator), via human wisdom.
The “-gin-” of “engineering,” which corresponds to the old Greek “-gen-,” means to “give birth.” This means to create a system nonexistent in the world of nature through human intelligence. “Engine” sometimes means hardware such as a thermal engine, and other times means software such as a search engine. “Creation” in science and engineering is more in the domain of engineering than science. Then, ethics is much more important in engineering.
Technology and art originated from the old Greek Tekhne- or the old Latin Ars, both of which refer to bringing new man-made items into the world of nature. Such a viewpoint helps us understand that education that can lead to innovation is not necessarily intellectual education alone but rather in the domain of engineering and art education. In this sense, it may be important to sum up these concepts as an SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) or SETA (Science, Engineering, Technology and Art) conceptual structure .
Moreover, the origin of innovation depends largely on passion and motivation. The human brain evolved in the order of the brain stem, the limbic system and the new cortex. The limbic system is largely responsible for passion and motivation. Therefore, an education system that fully nurtures motivation during early childhood and develops a passion for intellectual education is necessary.
In Japan, the Sony Foundation for Education, established in 1972, launched the Sony Preschool Education Program: Nurturing Scientific Minds in 2002. Since then, nearly 1,000 proposals for educational innovation have been received. Through such proposals, we have continued efforts at science/technology education from early childhood . In Japan, since the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) Forum for Researchers with Different Research Backgrounds “Trans-disciplinary Symposium on Developing the Brain: The Science of Learning & Education” in 2000, research and practice to apply brain-science to learning and education have been under way. To establish an educational perspective related to enthusiasm and motivation, government-driven research is ongoing to configure a research structure for the bridging and fusion of related fields including neuroscience .
In the United States, President Obama in his State of the Union Address delivered in February 2013, clearly mentioned the importance of K-12 STEM (kindergarten through Grade 12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. On the other hand, like the human genome project, the promotion of a project that clarifies all of the brain’s neural circuits has been proposed. Learning is a process to form neural circuits by receiving external stimuli, and education is a process to control and supplement external stimuli and prompt learning. It is important to foster sustainable innovation by combining K-12 STEM and optimal neural circuits to achieve an economic development advocated by Schumpeter.