• LINHA

Facing Poverty, Neuropsychology and Nobel Prize in Economics

The research and extension project carried out “Intervention to improve school readiness of children in situations of social vulnerability in Brazil” in Brazil by the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Human Neurodevelopment (LINHA) is a collaboration Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University, coordinated by the Professor Elizabeth Spelke. This work is creating, implementing and evaluating a game-based curriculum in municipal early childhood education centers. With a focus on socially vulnerable populations, the project aims to reduce inequalities, stimulating school readiness, an essential part of the “learning to learn” process, in addition to encouraging the development of socio-emotional skills.


The project is an unfolding of the joint

work carried out by Elizabeth Spelke (right) and Esther Duflo, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, held in India and published in Science magazine with the title “Cognitive science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics”.


French Esther Duflo, Indian Abhijit Banerjee and American Michael Kremer won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics. The prize was awarded for the relevant work through an “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. According to the Nobel committee, his research ”has considerably improved our ability to fight poverty in the world. In two decades, the experience of the winners has transformed the development economy ”.


Esther Duflo (left), is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), being the second woman to receive the award. According to the UN and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), poverty affects more than 700 million people and forms of deprivation are not restricted to income, but to access to services and rights, such as education, health and sanitation. The Swedish academy also stressed that "despite recent improvements, one of the greatest challenges facing humanity remains the reduction of poverty in the world, in all its forms". In TEDtalk held in 2010, Dulfo says that “we cannot eradicate poverty yet, but we can start with what we know is effective. (...) We need research to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposals, we need this to guide public policies ”.


Dulfo has a degree from the Escola Normal Superior and the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in Paris and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States, where he works. She leads the Abdul Latif Jameel Research Laboratory on Poverty Alleviation, which she co-founded in 2003. Her work is based on field experiences in partnership with several universities, such as Harvard University, in addition to non-governmental organizations.



1) How did the idea of ​​implementing the project “Intervention in Brazil to improve school readiness for children in situations of social vulnerability” arise?


The project was born in 2018, from dialogues between professors from the Psychology department of the Catholic University of Salvador, Prof. Dr. Nara Andrade, Prof. Dr. Chrissie Carvalho and Profa. Dr. Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University. Elizabeth Spelke is a prominent psychologist in the field of Developmental Psychology, creator of the Core Knowledge theory. The proposal emerged as a result of projects in neurodevelopment carried out by the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Human Neurodevelopment (LINHA) and projects carried out by Spelke and Esther Dulfo, to reduce the impacts of poverty on the development of children in situations of social vulnerability. After the proposal was prepared, it was submitted to the Lemman Foundation, which enthusiastically welcomed the project and today finances it.


2) When did the implantation start?


The project started in 2018 and included an exchange of Brazilian researchers and students with Harvard University. In May 2019, the 1st Regional Seminar NEUROCIENCES AND EDUCATION: WEAVING NETWORKS FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD was held to promote a propositional space for debate about the interfaces between neurosciences and education and their impacts on public policies in early childhood. The event was attended by more than 250 people, including teachers from the municipal school system, students and researchers from the field. It was an active collaboration between universities and the Municipal Secretary of Education, in the perspective of an extra-walled university that understands its participation in the construction of a democratic society of rights. In schools, the implementation of the project is underway and began in 2019.


3) How many professionals are doing this work and from which universities?


This project has the participation of three Universities, UCSAL, Harvard and Federal University of Santa Catarina. In total 3 professors, 5 research technicians and 20 students are part of the team that implements it in the cities of Salvador, Boston and Florianópolis.


4) What is offered by the project and who is being benefited?


The project offers ongoing training in neurodevelopment for teachers in the municipal school system. Neuropsychological intervention carried out through games in the school context to favor the development of socioemotional and mathematical skills. In addition to interventions in home contexts, favoring bonding and neuropsychological stimulation through playing in early childhood.


5) How are the results being measured?


It is an experimental approach to measure methodologies that can favor healthy neurodevelopment and reduce the impacts of social vulnerability. These are double-blind studies carried out in the school, home and laboratory context with randomization of teaching units or individuals. The results are being measured through tests and psychological tasks, in addition to standardized scales validated in their respective countries.


6) What are the expectations after the project is completed?


The expectation is that the project may favor dialogues between university and society in order to subsidize the formulation of public policies for early childhood. The forecast is to continue with new research projects and the expansion to other countries in Latin America, such as Uruguay.

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