Homo Sapiens 1.0: human development and policy construction

PAM JARVIS
2017 FORUM  
The 2014 (Gove) revision of the National Curriculum was based on the premise that goals set for a particular age group in Singapore or Alberta could simply be brought forward a year or two for England, and that teaching should be accelerated to reach these goals earlier. A century of knowledge about child development was discarded as irrelevant -and this despite clear government data showing much lower pass rates among summer-born children. This article aims to restore thinking about human
more » ... opment. While human beings have been evolving for many millions of years, the latest species, Homo Sapiens, appeared on earth approximately 200,000 years ago. One of its key traits is the immature condition in which it is born, taking a large percentage of its lifespan to become adult. The reason for this is presumed to be the complexity of the neuronal development that it needs to undertake; the ability not only to think abstractly but also to communicate these highly abstract thoughts to other people in a richly symbolic language. The construction of the human infant brain is in many ways quite different to that of a human adult, the key difference being its incomplete, malleable state. Babies' brains have far more neurons than adults', but far fewer connections. The early development of the brain involves an extensive neuronal connection program in response to environmental experiences. Those neurons that do not connect to others during this process shrivel and eventually die; such neural 'pruning' is an entirely natural process, the result of evolved human cognitive flexibility. This is essentially a 'nature via nurture' program: there is an in-built schedule for growth and development, but the direction in which the development occurs is directed by external stimuli; for example, there is a natural human ability to develop language, but the specific language spoken will depend upon the individual's environment. A newborn baby can therefore be compared to a brand new personal computer-it comes equipped to run certain programs in certain ways, but these programs do not yet have any contents beyond the manufacturer 'freebies'. Nature provides the capacity, while nurture determines the content. Of course a baby's brain is infinitely more complex than a personal computer, and does not only go on to store contents, but to link concepts together in infinite
doi:10.15730/forum.2017.59.2.153 fatcat:hj4w3uoz65cbrmuplwd2wm472i