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Dr Kerry Hempenstall
educational psychologist and senior lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne

More so than any generation before them, the child born today should benefit from rapid advances in the understanding of human development and of how it may be optimised. There has been an explosion of scientific knowledge about the individual, particularly in genetics and brain function and also in environmental influences, such as socio-economic status, child rearing practices, effective teaching, and nutrition. However, to this point, there is little evidence of these knowledge sources forming a major influence on policy and practice in, for example, education.

There is a disconnect between the accretion of knowledge and its acceptance and systematic implementation for the benefit of a growing generation. Acceptance of a pivotal role for empiricism is actively discouraged by advisors to policymakers, whose ideological position decries any influence of science. There are unprecedented demands on young people to cope with an increasingly complex world. It is one in which the sheer volume of information, or the sophisticated persuasion techniques, to which they will be subjected may overwhelm the capacities that currently fad-dominated educational systems can provide for young people.

A recognition of the proper role of science in informing policy is a major challenge for the new generation.

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