New extraordinary professor at Optentia says every child can learn

Hanlie Smuts -- Fri, 09/09/2016 - 07:15

New extraordinary professor at Optentia says every child can learn

The Research Focus Area Optentia, on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal), recently appointed Prof Marco Hessels as an extraordinary professor. In his prestige lecture, Prof Hessels explored the theme “Assessment of learning capacity and metacognitive intervention in people with special educational needs”.

Prof Hessels argued that the ability of a learner with special educational needs is often underestimated. He cited the theory of Prof Andre Rey who used the example of someone asked to compare the behaviour of two dogs, one of which received training to produce a conditioned reflex and the other, not. He states that we would view such a request as absurd, because we do not compare animals that are different on the basis of an acquired characteristic. According to Prof Rey, the right question would have been whether the second dog after training could also display the same reaction to the conditioned reflex. We understand the concept when it is applied to animals, yet our traditional psychometric assessment of people, totally disregard learning when measuring IQ, which is –ironically, concerned about the capability to learn. When measuring IQ, these traditional tests assume that participants have had equal opportunities and equal learning experiences, which is obviously not the case. Prof Hessels therefor argues that differences in the test scores of subjects can therefore not be seen as differences in their IQ.

He continues by stating that educators / knowledge workers need to explore ways to foster the learning capacity of a person with special needs. IQ should be measured by dynamic tests which also aim to provide a diagnostic analysis of where the challenge lies. When learning is made part of the test, the learner may be taught to apply the principles learnt in a variety of other ways by means of metacognitive questioning and intervention.

Prof Hessels believes that every learner can learn if the learning capabilities of persons with special needs are better understood. He is also of the opinion that this paradigm shift  is possible. Better evaluation of such capabilities is necessary and possible, should learning be made part of the test and followed by the relevant metacognitive intervention. He adds that it is important that these assessments be done at a young age so as to establish a method of learning. Proper training of educators is also of pivotal importance for this theory to have the desired effect. 

The new extraordinary professor at Optentia: Prof Marco Hessels, with his peers.  From left is Prof Mary Grosser, Prof Linda du Plessis (acting campus rector), Prof Hessels, Prof Ian Rothman (Director – Optentia), Prof Tinie Theron (acting vice-rector) and Prof Mirna Nel.

About Prof Hessels

Prof Marco Hessels received his PhD from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands in 1993. The focus of his thesis was the development and psychometric foundation of a dynamic test (also called learning potential test), that aims to better measure the cognitive capacities of immigrant children aged five to eight years. The emphasis of his research has been on the dynamic assessment of children with a different cultural background, those with learning difficulties of intellectual disabilities, ever since. 

Since 2014, Prof Hessels is an associate professor of Special Education at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Listen to Prof Hessels on the subject: 



Vaal Triangle Campus
Hendrik van Eck Blvd Vanderbijlpark
South Africa