Piagets Influence on Child Centred Approaches to Education

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Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher who made a systematic study on cognitive development. Piaget´s works on cognitive development have influenced modern education, leading to a more child-centered approach. As a child, he developed a great interest in biology and the natural sciences. His theory of cognitive development deals with the nature of knowledge and the way in which people gradually attain knowledge through the stages of human growth and development. He believed that children could develop best in an interactive classroom.

While working for Theodore Simon (co-author of Binet-Simon intelligence scale), he observed the reasoning of other children and noticed how they all made similar mistakes. He did not pay much attention to the children´s wrong answers, but to the fact that younger children made kinds of mistakes different from those that older children and adults make. This led him to theorize that children´s cognitive processes differ from those of adults. Eventually, he proposed a theory of cognitive developmental stages in which individuals attain intelligence in each stage of cognition.

He believed that as children interact, physically and socially, they tend to organized new acquired information into groups of interconnected ideas (schemes). When children encounter new information, they must either assimilate it into an existing scheme or create a new scheme to accommodate acquired knowledge. In other words, they modify their mental structures to meet the demands of the environment.

While conducting studies in the field of education, Piaget concentrated on the concepts of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation describes the way in which humans adapt to new information, when they are faced with unfamiliar information and have to incorporate it into pre-existing cognitive schemes (ideas) in order to make sense to them. Accommodation is the process of integrating the existing environment to new information, or altering pre-existing schemes in order to adapt new information into new schemes or frameworks.

Through a series of stages (cognitive development), Jean Piaget describes how human traits are formed, according to a child´s age: from birth to 2 years of age is the sensor motor development; during this stage, infants are not able to perceive the world out of their immediate surroundings, and their behaviors are limited to motor responses of sensory stimuli. From 2-7 years of age is the preoperational development; during this stage, children have learned to represent unseen objects; however, they are not able to use deductive reasoning.

The concrete operational development stage occurs from 7-11 years of age. During this stage, children have learned to classify objects according to shape, size, and color, but they are not able to think abstractly. From 11 years of age and thereafter, follows the formal operational development, which is characterized by the adolescent´s ability to use symbols and abstract concepts to arrive at logical conclusions. An individual is capable of reasoning hypothetically, and deductively. Piaget believed that the ability to learn is related to a child´s intellectual development.

According to Piaget, knowledge is the ability to modify, transform, and operate. Piaget´s theory of development not only concentrates on children, but embraces their development, and does not address specific behaviors; it proposes distinct stages of development exhibited by qualitative variations, rather than varied complex behaviors, concepts, or ideas. The main purpose of Piaget´s cognitive development theory is to explain the processes involved in the human development of a child who develops into an adult who can reason using hypothesis.

During the 70’s and 80’s, European and American education systems adopted a more child-center approach based on Piaget´s works. According to, Piaget´s ideas on developmental psychology have been immense. He contributed methods for studying children and changed the way in which people view a child´s realm. Piaget's contributions in child-centered approaches have been used practically when trying to understand and communicate with children, principally in the field of education.

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