Tatyana Chernigovskaya: We Need to Move to the Education of Understanding

Tatyana Chernigovskaya: We Need to Move to the Education of Understanding

On women scientists’ aims to keep our nation mentally healthy and involve children in science 

For thousands of years, human brain has been addressing scientific and everyday issues. However, it has never faced anything like 21st century problems before. Our children found themselves in the new world of great speeds and altered meanings. Under such conditions, women scientists participate directly in raising and educating children. Tatyana Chernigovskaya, professor, PhD in Biology and Philology, encouraged her colleagues to do so during the international expert session called ‘The Role of Women Scientists in the Global Challenges of Our Time’, held as part of the Second EWF. 

Tatyana Chernigovskaya - Honourary professor and scientist of Russia, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Education, PhD in Biology, PhD in Philology, professor of the Department of General Linguistics, Head of the Department of the Problems of Convergence in Natural Sciences and Humanities, Head of the Laboratory for Cognitive Studies of St. Petersburg State University 

Ms. Chernigovskaya’s laboratory is gender imbalanced, as there are no men in it. 

The professor shared: “Girls were just smarter and that is it. They amaze me: each of them has at least one child; they look beautiful, and dress nicely. They all speak several foreign languages and have their PhD theses defended. I ask myself: how do they manage all that?” 

Observers of the Mental Arithmetic Championship for girls at the Forum had similar feelings. “I looked at those wonderful girls with admiration, while they were making numbers with their hands out of thin air. Seeing all that, I did not understand what they were doing and how. That is amazing! Training of their neural circuits is very unusual. It requires a long-term study,” admitted Tatyana Chernigovskaya. 

During the discussion, many of the speakers said we need male mind and female intuition combined. However, according to our heroine, the world is now convergent and it may be hard to say where one area of expertise begins and another one ends. 

“So, I am working with language, brain, consciousness, and memory. What field is this? I am holding PhDs in theory of language and human physiology – my case is a rare one. We do not know what sphere it is. Is it psychology? Artificial intelligence? Linguistics? Albert Einstein was not a poet, but he wrote: ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.’ That is worth contemplating.” 

Human brain is the most complex natural creation. It is a gigantic neural circuit “of such complexity that only the naive can hope we will solve its riddle.” 

According to Ms. Chernigovskaya, neural circuit is flexible, i.e. it can create new neural pathways, learn, and memorise. Our brain should be busy with working and solving complex issues, not reading magazines. 

How do we manage to deal with huge amounts of information, constantly received by our eyes, ears, and skin? We depend critically on what our brain is and how educated it is. 

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“We were astonished at seeing those girls at the championship. There is something else going on in their brain: their neural circuit acted differently. I am not sure how, but I know I want to study it.” 

The neurolinguist supposed: if we worry about the future of humanity and love our children, we should prepare them for the new world. That means the education system should be changed at all levels. Today we are no match for those fairies of maths. 

As Sergey Kapitsa once said, we should move from cramming (Why should I remember anything, if there is Google?) to the education of understanding. Maybe children should be taught metacognitive skills: stress handling, dealing with constantly changing reality, coping with sometimes-true news, etc. 

It means we should prepare our children to the fact that gadgets cannot address all the life issues and that computer can explain one matter differently. 

Our heroine is sure: women scientists have to raise and educate children more actively. It especially applies to their own children. “Why there are less female PhDs, than there are male ones? Remind me, whose job is it to give birth to children? We cannot do it after 50 because that would be impossible. If we just have kids and forget about them, we will get negative results,” said professor. 

That is exactly why Tatyana Chernigovskaya never refuses to participate in a TV show, lecture or a public talk. She considers it more important than adding one more scientific article to 360 of hers that already exist. Maybe women scientists should appear on the screen more often, as that is a direct way of influencing the following generation. 

“I spread viruses, i.e. I infect children with science. Why do they want to learn from my colleagues or me? That is because they took the bait, as science is incredibly interesting, - mentioned Ms. Chernigovskaya. 

- Science is like a detective story. You gather evidence, put it together, and at night you start thinking. Children may think science is boring, as there are strange people who just add letters and digits. The truth is, our work is more interesting than Agatha Christie’s stories. The role and aim of women scientists is to explain that to children, teach them to listen scientifically, and involve them in research.” 

Valentina Stankevich, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community

Translated by Nikolay Boykov