Twelfth International Summer School on Mind, Brain and Education

2017 September 1–7

Neuroscience of poverty

Director of the School: Antonio M. Battro
Director of the Course: Sebastián J. Lipina
Codirectors of the Course: Eric Pakulak, María Soledad Segretin
Management Assistance of the Course: Matías Lopez-Rosenfeld
Program Officer of the School: Lula Majdalani

Penn, Helen
Institute of Education, University College, London, UK

Helen Penn is Professor Emerita at the University of East London, and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education, University College, London. She has been involved in the provision of services to young children first of all as a Director of Services in a large local authority, then as a researcher. She has undertaken commissions for the EU, OECD, and a number of International Non-Governmental Organizations including Save the Children and most recently, UNICEF. She has worked in a number of countries in Southern Africa and Central Asia. She has produced many articles and is co-editing a book on early childhood policies and practices in low income countries. She is interested in the interface between neuroscience and early child development policy and practice, but is critical of the way in which neuroscientific findings have been extrapolated and used in determining policy in this area.


Anything to divert attention from poverty
Interpretations of neuroscientific ideas in early childhood have been used by international organizations to promote a particular view of international development. The idea of early intervention, that is stimulation programmes for infants to “develop their brains” has been adopted and powerfully pushed by worldwide international organizations concerned about children and their future – UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank, Save the Children and many others. The argument put forward here is that advocacy for early childhood interventions has resulted in an instrumental approach which simplifies the complex business of bringing up children, and limits the understanding of childhood, in a complex, unequal and tension filled world.

Literature to share
• Penn, H. (in press). Anything to divert attention from poverty. Chapter extract from Constructions in Neuroscience (M. Vandenbroek & L. Olsson Eds.). Routledge.