HCIAS Blogcast: Valeria Abusamra on educational challenges and the pandemic in Argentina
Welcome back to the HCIAS Blogcast! This is a series of posts on the HCIAS blog, we summarize some of the key points from our most recent podcast episode. This week, we bring you a conversation between Dr. Valeria Abusamra, professor of Psycholinguistics at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) and a dedicated researcher at Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina (CONICET), HCIAS director Prof. Dr. Francisco Moreno-Fernández and Dr. Héctor Álvarez Mella, the HCIAS publications editor. The episode covers Dr. Abusamra’s research into how cognitive processes and social contexts play a role in literacy and textual comprehension as well as touching on the ongoing research collaboration between the HCIAS, UBA and CONICET into public discourses of the pandemic and its impact on education in Argentina.
Dr. Abusamra opened the discussion by outlining some of the significant educational challenges related to literacy across Latin America. In Argentina, for instance, standards have experienced a decline, with 45% of 8-year-olds struggling to comprehend texts effectively. Addressing this issue necessitates understanding the complex mental processes that underpin reading and writing, with a particular focus on improving educational practices surrounding text comprehension.
It is important to distinguish between reading and understanding. Reading is the fundamental process of decoding written language. However, comprehension involves higher-order cognitive processes, such as making connections, drawing inferences, and establishing hierarchies of information. These sophisticated skills are critical for grasping complex texts, and much educational research is dedicated to understanding how children develop these skills and how schools and teachers can effectively promote them.
Understanding literacy also demands consideration of social factors that influence the comprehension of texts. Dr. Abusamra highlighted the impact of educational opportunities on children’s ability to comprehend texts effectively. These opportunities encompass access to quality education, as well as the availability of resources and support. For more challenging texts, these social factors can have an even greater influence on comprehension.
One of the major challenges in neuropsychology research is breaking ideological barriers and bridging the gap between research and practical applications. Dr. Abusamra emphasized the importance of translating research findings into tangible improvements in literacy education, making it accessible and effective for learners.
It is commonly said that “no-one reads anymore,” however, Dr. Abusamra pointed out that people do read and write extensively, but often in different formats than we read previously. Collaborative writing, for example, has become more prevalent in social media settings. However, the original context of the text can often be lost, leading to superficial comprehension. Additionally, reading on electronic devices requires different cognitive resources, impacting both reading depth and understanding.
The podcast also addressed the impact of the pandemic on education in Argentina, in the context of the international research collaboration into discourses of the pandemic. The country faced long and restrictive lockdowns, raising questions about how these measures affected educational practices. Discourses by parents and educators surrounding the issue were often oppositional, with some advocating for immediate school reopenings, while others urged caution.
Students of different ages faced unique challenges during the pandemic. For children entering school, the lack of in-person interactions and explicit education posed significant hurdles. Meanwhile, adolescents suffered not only from missing school but also from the absence of social opportunities.
This HCIAS Blogcast has been just a short recap of a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion. If you would like to learn more about our guest and her work, you can listen to the whole episode here.