Can behavioural insights help to close the attainment gap?

June 19, 2013 by
Filed under: Education Matters, Social Brain 

I recently had the pleasure on taking part in a focus group with teachers in Berlin. The context for this was a new and exciting cross-national collaboration of the RSA Social Brain Centre with the Vodafone Foundation Germany, a think tank focusing on education, integration and social mobility. The project centers on how behavioural insights might be used to help close the attainment gap; a full report will be published later this year.

At the focus group we spent the half-day learning about and discussing practical examples of perception biases, cognitive quirks, and what role the self-perception of students and teachers, as well as mutual perceptions, play. The group was highly curious, and the quality of debate remained high until the very end.

While I do not want to give away too much, here are three takeaways from the day:

  • Thinking into action

Teachers agreed that the discussed concepts certainly were of importance, and some said they had learned about biases and other behavioural concepts at university. However, interestingly, many hadn’t been applying them directly to their own classroom teaching.

  • Intuition versus evidence

Evidence-based, yet counter-intuitive mechanisms like loss aversion were controversial. By and large, related ideas for behavioural applications were accepted intellectually, but rejected intuitively – and practically. This poses an interesting dilemma in the context of best-practise and evidence-led approaches to teaching.

  • Collaboration

Teachers perceived themselves as individual fighters; at the same time they longed for more collaboration, but felt they do not get enough support from the system. This highlights that the challenge of more collaboration within, but also across schools transcends national borders. The RSA Education team has recently published an excellent report on this topic, ‘No school an island’, and with its RSA Family of Academies has already gained some important insights how to make it work.

To learn more about the project, please keep an eye on future posts on the Social Brain or Education Matters blogs, or contact my colleague Nathalie Spencer at the RSA Social Brain Centre.

Josef Lentsch is Director of RSA International – follow him on Twitter: @joseflentsch

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