Childhood Education International Explores COVID, Executive Function, and Building Back Better

Friday, February 5, 2021

Around the world, we face unprecedented conditions in education. COVID-19 and the ensuing safety protocols, particularly social distancing, have had an unparalleled impact on learning. In the U.S. and many countries, students are often now online during school hours, interfacing with a screen, rather than benefiting from in-person instruction. However, even with these current challenges, there is some good news as we look for effective solutions.

Regardless of learning style, all students require a certain level of brain fitness to learn. The critical element which is a key measure of cognitive and learning capacity, among other cognitive and behavioral abilities, is Executive Function (EF). EF is a set of abilities including attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and others that together support a system of higher-order cognitive processing. EF has been shown to be a better predictor of academic and life success than IQ and other markers. Educators increasingly recognize the power of EF skills as they seek information and interventions to support their students.

To help schools find EF solutions, in January, 2021, Childhood Education International (CEI) published “Brain Fitness for School Children: BrainFutures champions neuroscience-based interventions”, in their publication, Childhood Education Innovations. CEI is a global organization that uses programs, publications and professional development to help ensure that every child has access to quality and equitable care and education experiences that uphold their right to learn. The article discusses the state of education in the U.S., potential impacts and implications from COVID-19, and summarizes brain fitness, neuroplasticity, EF, and the role of BrainFutures in bringing relevant research and interventions to the attention of educators and other stakeholders.

The hope is that with our current knowledge about the powerful effect of EF, and how accessible these evidence-based interventions are, even with the challenges of COVID-19, we have a chance to build back better. We may not be able to educate using all the in-person best practices we have developed over the years, but we can prioritize simple and effective EF interventions that are proven to not only up-level students’ abilities to learn, but also to succeed in school and in life.

Even before COVID-19, with in-person learning and access to various adjunct academic and personal supports and services, students still often struggled—to perform academically, and to belong and function socially and personally. Because of recent findings in neuroscience, we know these challenges are not necessarily because of a bad attitude or bad teachers, per se, but rather they are often rooted in brain-based, neurological conditions ranging from patterns to pathologies. EF skill development can help mitigate the impact of these conditions.

What we know is that students who have been exposed to violence, trauma and other adverse experiences are more likely to have lower EF, which results in lower academic performance as well as lower personal and social outcomes. Given the current pandemic, this means most students could significantly benefit from evidence-based EF interventions, to foster both academic rebounding and mental health gains.

EF cognitive skills are very learnable, with impressive outcomes when developed. Research on EF interventions have increased in volume and rigor over the past decade, and several education intervention programs are available to support all students in raising EF, and thereby academic and personal outcomes. BrainFutures’ report, Brain Fitness and Executive Function, is a comprehensive review of the most rigorously researched and effective EF interventions, along with an in-depth discussion about the brain, EF, and how it works. Quick online access is also available for featured EF programs and promising EF programs, as well as at-home applications for this time.

Brain Fitness for School Children: BrainFutures champions neuroscience-based interventions” was featured in Childhood Education Innovations, the flagship publication of Childhood Education International (CEI). To learn more, visit CEI’s website at