Forum focusses on giving our youngest citizens the best start in life

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Experts from around the world will gather at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University to share best practices in child development and education at a special forum being held on May 25.

Led by the University’s Institute of Leadership and Advanced Education Development (ILEAD), the Child Development Education Forum will see leading academics present the latest research on trends and advancements in the field.

The Forum will also host the official launch of the Research and Practice Base of Family Education of China National Children’s Centre. The newly established research arm of the China National Children’s Centre is the result of a collaboration between XJTLU, the All China Women's Federation and the State Ministry of Education.

Senior Researcher in ILEAD, Dr Rong Yan says the research arm is being established in response to an increasing awareness internationally of the important role family education plays in children’s development.

“This is particularly the case in China, where family education is considered one of the most critical national strategies to promote and ensure the quality of education in the country,” he says.

“As researchers, we need to look at how we can support and enhance family education and address the challenges and barriers that currently exist in this space.

“There are many problems waiting to be solved – right now, for example, there is a shortage of qualified family therapists and family education advisors, and no comprehensive parenting training system or family education curriculum.

“The result is a lack of guidance services for parents, who are eager to play a part in their child’s education and development but may not know how to best support them.

“One of the areas we need to focus on in the China context is therefore developing an integrated family, school and community system that offers parents the right support and guidance in collaboration with formal institutions.

“This is the sort of research we will be conducting at the new Centre.”

A range of other topics will be discussed during the Forum, ranging from cognitive and language development to education assessment and teacher education.

Professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology) and Genetics at Yale University and Honorary Chairman of the Forum, Jeffrey Gruen will present his groundbreaking research into the connection between ancient languages and contemporary disabilities.

Professor Gruen will share insights from his career – which has seen him move from a medical doctor to a researcher in the area of genetics and dyslexia – including his instrumental role in the identification of DCDC2 – a gene associated with reading and language performance.

His latest work, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, built on this discovery, revealing that there is a direct correlation between variants in the DCDC2 gene and the number of consonants in a language.

Professor Gruen says the research highlights the role genetics play in the variety of languages that exist across the globe.

“There are more than 7000 languages spoken around the world. Conventionally, this huge range of languages has been attributed to migration and geography, over the course of 100,000 years,” he said.

“There is no doubt that migration and geography do shape languages but our study demonstrates that genetics also influence language development.

“We surveyed ancient languages in 43 populations across five continents and established that there is a strong correlation between the number of consonants in a language and variations present in the DCDC2 gene.

“We are now building on this research and looking at what influence different types of consonants – of which there are five – have on this gene, with early results indicating two specific types of consonants are linked to the DCDC2 gene variation.

“What we can say with certainty now is that genetics inform how language evolves.”

For more information and a full schedule of speakers at the Child Development Education Forum, please visit the ILEAD website.

By Rosanna Galvin

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