Findings from Neuroscience Should Be Stirring Ethical Questions about the Very Nature of Education and Childcare

Apr 28, 2017 | 0 comments

Apr 28, 2017 | Miscellaneous | 0 comments

Findings from Neuroscience Should Be Stirring Ethical Questions about the Very Nature of Education and Childcare



Neuroscience is defined as the study of the nervous system (Zambo, 2013). Ethics is an area of study dealing with ideas on what is bad and good behavior. It is also a branch of philosophy that deals with what is wrong or right morally (Zambo, 2013). Kim & Sankey (2009) defined education as a process or act of acquiring or imparting general knowledge, developing the reasoning and judgment powers. Educational neuroscience is the intersection between education, brain and mind (Carter & Frith, 1998). According to Zambo (2013) the neuroscience findings have stirred ethical questions about education nature and the nature of the childcare. The essay will discuss and critically analyze the issues that draw link between ethics, neuroscience and the nature of education. The essay agrees that the findings from neuroscience are stirring ethical questions about the education nature and childcare.

Because of technological advancement, the field of neuroscience has been developing and growing rapidly. Kim & Sankey (2010) noted that because of the development in technology, the neuroscientists have observed the brain development, its functioning and how brain performs its tasks. However, with the technological advancement and innovation in the neuroscience field which mostly used technical jargon and complex findings, there arose challenges with the most notable one being an early childhood education (Geake 2009). There was a need of translating the technical findings into understandable and simpler information for the teachers to use in teaching the young children.

Moshman (2011) indicated that information about educational neuroscience is nowadays available in the curriculum books for the teachers. The information in the books according to Sylvan & Christodoulou (2010) helps the teachers in understanding how the young children lean, think and self regulate. However, Hruby & Goswami (2011) asserted that the information about educational neuroscience can also alter radically how children are taught and nurtured.

The brains of the young children are always unique and different, and this is because of their structures and functions, and this is also translated to the actions of the young students. For instance, in the brain structure, amygdale is a structure within the brain, and it works in collaboration with other structures to activate the flight or fight response. Understanding of the brain structure to an educational teacher is helpful in understanding why some young children tend to fear, similarly, understanding of the brain structure by the teachers will help them in understanding why some students have learning difficulties. Kim & Sankey (2009) asserted that the knowledge about neuroscience to the teachers is significant in understanding the biology of their student’s behaviors and learning.

Carter & Frith (1998) noted that as much as neuroscience has been simplified for the teachers for easy understanding and application in the classrooms, and it also has its limitation for the educators since it’s a complex field. As much as the teachers read about the structure, development and functioning of the brain, many teachers tend to bypass the limitation for the teachers on neuroscience and misuse or overextend ideas and knowledge from neuroscience. For instance, some teachers tend to apply hemispheric strategies to remedy complex problems of learning like autism and dyslexia. Furthermore, some teachers are in support of Ritalin and Adderall usage for the young students who suffer from attention problems. Ritalin and Adderall are psycho-stimulant drugs for self regulation and their proposition or recommendation by a teacher is too extreme in the neuroscience field, since there are limitations for the teachers.

Kim & Sankey (2010) noted that some of the teachers or pre-service school teachers easily believe in ideas or neuromyths with only minimal scientific truth. For instance, may teachers misquote, misread and over extend ideas from neuroscience to support their neuromyths and biasness. Most of the teachers do not get facts from the educational neuroscience textbooks, or open their minds for the valid information but mostly pay attention to what is aligned in their beliefs (Geake, 2009). Furthermore, they create narratives, come up with their own folk theories based on their beliefs they have recited and retold countless of times. This trend and tendency among most of the teachers has both ethical and educational implications (Moshman, 2011). According to Sylvan & Christodoulou (2010), fallacious beliefs about education and neuroscience could cause teachers to teat unfairly the young children, spend their hard earn cash on programs products that that are worthless and has no good, and lastly set low expectations. Similarly, Hruby & Goswami (2011) noted that neuromyths of the teachers have a major influence in shaping the views and perceptions of educators.

In a study conducted by Zambo & Zambo (2011), the findings indicated that the most educators have an interest in the field of neuroscience and therefore used television, internet, course and workshops to get more information about the subject. Simi8larly, the educators believed that neuroscience should be incorporated in their syllabus as part of their training and furthermore, they believed that this way will make them better teachers especially when they dealing with special need students. Zambo (2013) also indicated that their findings from their survey showed that the teachers believed that the strategies and products they are using assist significantly in learning because there exists a link with the neuroscience for example “brain gym,” and “Your Baby Can Read” among others. Generally, to most teachers, fads precede facts and research (Zambo & Zambo, 2011).

Zambo (2013) also indicated that when it came to believing in the neuroscience value for teachers, their study indicated that not all teachers believed it. Some believed in neuroscience wholeheartedly, few did not believe at all while others hold reservations. The believers of neuroscience saw neuroscientists as experts in the neuroscience fields and accept it because of its reliance on advanced technologies. They believe that the neuroscientists can tell them how and what to teach and because of that, they have a thirst for information. The believers therefore take courses, attend workshops and even buy DVDs to assist them in learning about the brain. Moreover, they share the information gotten between each other. Kim & Sankey (2009) indicated that the believers think that neuroscience can help them know how to teach the special needs students. To them, Zambo & Zambo (2011) summarized that neuroscience can be applied in diagnosis of the learning problems and in understanding how to differentiate different styles of learning. In contrast, the non believers who are few in number are hesitant and cautionary. Zambo (2013) stated that the non believers will not accept any neuroscience information without facts and evidence. To them, they believed that interactions between the students and the teachers mattered more than the screen image.

Carter & Frith (1998) stated that the student teachers in colleges or those undergoing the preparation program for teachers, and the working teachers in schools have exposure to information about neuroscience. However, on believing on the on the neuroscience benefits, the educators get categorized I different groups in that some unquestioningly accept that neuroscience can provide ways of improving their instruction and teaching especially for the special needs students, and also in the management of the students in classrooms. However, others view neuroscience with skepticism. Geake (2009) asserted that there is little doubt concerning neuroscience that it can illuminate learning biological basis, help educators, caregivers, and parents in understanding how a brain learns things, and confirm differences in development, especially when it is combined with other related disciplines like cognitive science, human development and behavioral science. Similarly, Kim & Sankey (2010) indicated that there is much evidence to show that the educators know how to use the information where it is deemed fit.

According to Zombe (2013), neuroscience can be applied in the creation of false hopes and also in marketing of products that have no or little salutary effects. A long time critic referred to it as “a bridge too far” and warned educators to take cautionary measures in applying neuroscience ideas in their fields. Similarly, Geake (2009) observed that most educators when it comes to the idea of neuroscience, they become overzealous often.

In a study conducted by Sylvan and Christodoulou (2010), they found that in most instances neuroscience is being applied in the creation of learning theories and principles, creation of products and programs claimed to have brain links explicitly, and also in development of strategies of changing behaviors. In their conclusion, the researchers summarized that each of the applications of the neurosciences makes sense if they satisfy and match the children’s educational needs, are aligned with other researches that are scientific, are cost effective and produce behavioral effects that are observable. However, the ethical question being raised is whether the application of the neuroscience to the children’s education does not meet the children’s educational needs, and does not produce the desired behavioral effects. In simple terms, it means that neuroscience would be then have been oversold and misapplied at the expense of the children which is totally unethical.

To address the problem that faces neuroscience education, Hruby and Goswami (2011) proposed solutions by calling for converge of different disciplines such as cultural, cognitive, social and brain. Furthermore, the neuroscientists can help the teachers in understanding of how the brain of a human being decodes and comprehends a language in cases where there are alignments of conceptual and methodological challenges. In understanding the link between neuroscience, education and ethics, it is of great importance that the caregivers and the educators have a realization that:

1. Some neuroscience information is being misinterpreted, overextended and oversimplified. All these have their own implications

2. There are products, books and curricula that purport to be using findings from the neuroscience in promotion of improved learning while they do not have any backing scientifically

3. Catch phrases that are emotional are being used in posing easy and quick answers to behavioral and learning challenges that are complex

4. Testimonials are not similar to the gathered empirical facts by researchers with valid and reliable tools.

5. There exists neuromyths and they are difficulty to change because they satisfy the intuitive notions and reductionists of how the brain functions

6. Images from the new technologies can be misleading and persuasive

7. Neuroscience if interpreted in isolation and also literally, can reduce emotions, behavior, and learning to the biological processes alone

Moshman (2011) observed that the educators wants to be effective and are searching for new strategies and ideas, and are also turning to the neuroscience or support and insight, however, Moshman (2011) further cautions that if the educators are sold bad ideas and faulty information, they may determine unfairly the children’s trajectory, offer unethical or unnecessary treatments, and also reduce behavior and learning to process human contact need. The gap between education and neuroscience is being gradually forged and therefore teachers need to tread with caution. Sylvan & Christodoulou (2010) stated that teaching is one of the moral enterprises and therefore teachers must consider what can be gotten from science and also the involved ethics. This is because the scientific answers originate from techniques and tools that are precise, systematic and detached. However, the moral questions arise from the application of the findings and tools on the lives of children.

Moral and ethical issues that arise from Neuroscience

Neuroscience is gradually seeping into the lives of people especially the young children and therefore moral and ethical concerns are cropping up. Zambo & Zambo (2011) pointed out that neuroscience can be used for bad and good purposes, and this has led to the birth of neuroethics field that encompasses legal, ethical and the social implications.

According to Zambo & Zambo (2011), the spread of information and the technological advancements have brought two concerns. The first one questions the technical capabilities of neuroscience and what it can be used to do. For instance, using the images of the brain in determination of personalities, drug prescription in alteration of the brain chemistry, and utilization of treatments to enhance brain functioning. Second is the practical implication of neuroscience and what can be learnt from it, for instance the biological basis of personality, behavior and cognition. All these calls for ethics in neuroscience as suggested by Hruby & Goswami (2011)

Zambo (2013) suggested that if the caregivers, parents and the educators fail to act responsibly and fairly, consider safety, keep the information confidential , and consider the unintended neuroscience treatment consequences can bring to the children’s lives, then it will be used in unethical ways, for instance, medication of young children suffering from attention deficits. Kim & Sankey (2009) observed that in the past one decade, many younger children and adolescents are under medication because their teachers and parents want them to academically, emotionally and socially succeed. However, despite the fact that the young school children are medicated, absolute proof of the benefits is unavailable. Moreover, unintended side effects such as cloudy minds, sleeplessness and weight loss (Carter & Frith, 1998). This raises the ethical questions on the application of neuroscience on the young children.

The objective of this essay is not to condone or criticize medication use, but rather to make the caregivers, parents and educators aware of the arising ethical and moral questions. The questions arising are whether medication causes psychological harm to the young children, for instance, whether it lower motivation and self esteem. Another question is whether the young children under medication will be robbed of their identity? And what are the responsibilities of the educators, caregivers and the parents. Kim & Sankey (2010) argued that given that the personalities and the minds of the young children are in the formation stage, medical intervention can render them incapable of assuming their own lives authorship by robbing them their identities. Because of the advancement in biotechnologies which allow adults to intervene directly to the neurobiology of children, caregivers, teachers and parents need to have a reflection on their actions and make sure that the children are allowed to have a voice and be themselves. The arising ethical and moral issues are affecting children, parents, teachers and the entire society and therefore caution should be observed.

Education as a moral/ethical enterprise

According to Geake (2009), the powers and the status the teachers have over the lives of children could either be ethically be bad or good. For instance, the teachers could apply their powers in setting low expectations for the teachers and in tracking of the children and instruct in a manner that that impart their own point of view. For the teachers to be moral, they need to listen to their students’ voices, care about their social, physical, moral and cognitive development, and respect the opinions of every child (Moshman, 2011).

Neuroscience is gradually changing the way in which children are viewed. Caring for every child’s identity, free will and self worth are some of the complex issues teachers are facing currently. Zambo & Zambo (2011) suggested that in training of teachers, at all the development stages, it should include ways of developing ethical and moral reasoning of the teachers. To realize this goal, some of the practices that should be adopted include application of case studies that are focused on moral issues such as a hidden curriculum, authority and due process. Other practices include offering time of preparation to discuss and reflect on the moral issues that impacts in the lives of the children and the teachers.

Ethical decisions, educators and neuroscience

Teaching of the young children is a moral endeavor, and because o the advancement in science, the ethical challenges faced by the caregivers and the educator are also changing and growing. Neuroscience information is changing what people know about children. Sylvan & Christodoulou (2010) noted that the today’s parents and educators are applying facts from neuroscience in understanding if children, making instructional decisions, and in confirmation and disconfirmation of the ideas and beliefs they have.

Because of the rising ethical concerns and the need for ethical decisions, neuroethics have brought many questions into focus because of the power adults posses on the children’s lives. Hruby & Goswami (2011) highlighted some of the approaches to ethical decisions philosophers have uncovered to assist in dealing with the moral and ethical questions:

1. A Utilitarian Approach– the approach questions the future benefits and effects of new ideas in greater good terms. The individuals believe in harmful effects prevention, punishment of the offenders and rehabilitation of those that can be saved.

2. A Rights Approach– it questions how rights are respected by ideas. The individuals believe in the freedom of choice

3. A Justice or Fairness Approach- the individual focuses on equity and justice. They ask for the benefactors and looser of the findings. To them discrimination and favoritism are wrong

4. A Common-Good Approach– the individuals focus on connections and assume people are linked inextricably to each other, the whole community and globally.

5. A Virtue Approach-the individuals focus on being or becoming virtuous, believe that every individual should live up or develop certain ideals. The moral development of educators and their values fit the virtue approach.


In conclusions, the treatment and findings from neuroscience can have both negative and positive effects. Interventions help the children in focusing, understanding how to self regulate, become better readers. However, caution should be taken since it can rob the young children their identities, confirm hatred and bias, absolve responsibility of individuals and be costly. Neuroscience limits between practice and research should be center stage when facing the challenges of blending neuroscience in schools, homes and communities.


Zambo, D. (2013) Early Childhood and Neuroscience / Chapter 2: The Practical and Ethical Concerns of Using Neuroscience to Teach Young Children and Help Them Self-Regulate.

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Kim, M., & Sankey, D. (July 01, 2010). The Dynamics of Emergent Self-Organisation: Reconceptualising Child Development in Teacher Education. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35, 4, 79-98.

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