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‘Visionary’ professor presented with world's largest education prize

“Thanks to this award, my team and I will be able to undertake new research which I hope will enable us to apply our research to open a new window on the causes of developmental language disorders, and one that will hopefully lead towards remediation"

An academic at St John’s College was awarded with the $3.9 million Yidan Prize at a major conference for leading education researchers.

Professor Usha Goswami, a Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, a Director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education, and a Fellow of St John’s College, is a global leader in literacy research. She was presented with the prize at The Yidan Prize Conference: Europe for ‘creating a better world through education’.

Professor Goswami’s research has focused on understanding brain function to enable educators to design different teaching techniques and tools to help children with dyslexia and special needs learn languages more effectively.

Dr Yidan and Usha Goswami
Dr Charles Chen Yidan presenting Professor Usha Goswami with the Yidan Prize

The Yidan Prize was founded in 2016 by Dr Charles Chen Yidan, one of the founders of the internet-based technology and cultural enterprise Tencent, and is the world’s most generous prize in education research and education development. Yidan Prize Laureates each receive a gold medal and an award of US $3.9 million, half of which is a cash prize while the other half forms a research project fund.

Dr Yidan presented Professor Goswami with the prize at the conference at Jesus College, Cambridge, today. He said: “We hold high respect for Professor Goswami’s visionary approach to answer for our children’s well-being and their future. It is exciting to see her ground-breaking work setting the scientific basis in understanding how we can help every child succeed.

“As education continues to drive forward fundamental changes in our societies, it is our hope that deeper knowledge into brain functions would open new possibilities for better access to learning.”

​Professor Usha Goswami, centre, with Dr Charles Chen Yidan and other officials including Professor Anna Vignoles, who nominated Professor Goswami for the prize, and Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge ​
Professor Usha Goswami, centre, with Dr Charles Chen Yidan and other officials including Professor Anna Vignoles, who nominated Professor Goswami for the prize, and Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice Chancellor of the Universi

After studying Experimental Psychology and graduating from Oxford with the top First in her year, Professor Goswami trained as a teacher in London and worked in Cricklewood and Kentish Town. During the training she realised that there was a significant research gap to inform teaching practice, and decided not to pursue a career as a teacher but to do a PhD instead. She joined St John’s College as a Fellow in 1990 and later founded the world's first Centre for Neuroscience in Education based at the University of Cambridge.

Her research focuses on children's cognitive development, particularly the development of language and literacy. Her world-leading work on dyslexia led to the discovery that children with the disorder hear language differently, showing it to be a language disorder and not a visual disorder as previously thought. This significant finding is enabling the development of transformative new educational interventions, which will benefit millions of children with dyslexia worldwide.

This year’s Yidan conference also honoured the work of the 2019 Laureate, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who died in January this year. Sir Fazle was the Founder and Chair of BRAC, one of the world’s largest non-profit development organisations, which has set up hundreds of early childhood development centres, where close to 40,000 children are presently enrolled.

Professor Goswami said: “I am deeply honoured to receive the Yidan Prize, and it is an absolute privilege to be elected in the same year as Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. I have been interested in children’s reading development since training as a primary school teacher, and since then I have aimed to produce research to support children’s early reading acquisition across languages and to ameliorate developmental dyslexia across languages.

“Thanks to this award, my team and I will be able to undertake new research which I hope will enable us to apply our research to open a new window on the causes of developmental language disorders, and one that will hopefully lead towards remediation. I hope that the prize will also mean that we really have a chance to move the field forward: bringing these perspectives to more labs studying more languages will really make a huge difference to young people with dyslexia and developmental language disorders.”

Dr Yidan added: “The 2019 Laureates represent two very different approaches to ensuring that our children go on to lead happy, productive lives, but they also intersect. Both point to the need to achieve a better, deeper understanding of children’s needs. Through their work, we now see promising ways to help millions of lives around the world.”

Further information about the Prize is available from the Yidan Foundation website.

Published: 11/03/2020