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Chapter 3. Piaget, Kohlberg And Vygotsky: Constructs And Critical Perspectives (Child Development & Pedagogy for CTET & TET Exams)

Piaget, Kohlberg And Vygotsky: Constructs And Critical Perspectives

An individual goes through many stages of development or learning in his/her lifecycle. Some major stages and phases are that of cognitive development, moral development and social development. All these phases are an essential part of every individual’s life because he/she acquires so many things or behaviors while going through these developmental stages. In other words, every developmental stage has its own importance and takes place under a certain duration or time period. Various psychologists as well as educationalists describe these developments in their researches and theories. These theories are very helpful to understand or describe various developmental changes within a child. On the basis of these theories, we decide whether the development of a child is proper or improper. The most appropriate theory of cognitive development was propounded by Jean Piaget. The theory of moral development was propounded by Kohlberg and the theory of social development was propounded by Vygotsky. Let’s discuss these theories in detail.

Jean Piaget’s Theory Of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was a famous Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher. The term ‘cognitive’ is related to the consciousness of an individual’s mind, which makes him/her active. Cognition includes activities like thinking, brainstorming or reasoning. It is directly related to the activeness of one’s mind.
Piaget’s Basic Tendencies In Thinking
Piaget identified that children actively construct their own cognitive worlds. To make sense of the world, they organize their experiences and adapt their thinking to include new information. Organization is an ongoing process of arranging information and experience into mental systems or categories. Piaget termed these mental concepts as schemas. A schema is a mental concept that is useful in organizing and interpreting information.
Piaget found that children adapt their schemas through two processes- assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation means fitting new information into existing schemas or what we already know. For example, if the child knows about the horse, then when the first time he/she sees a camel, he/she may call it a “horse”. On the other hand, accommodation is altering existing schemas or creating new ones in response to new information. Children demonstrate accommodation when they add the scheme for recognizing camels to their other systems for identifying animals. During this process, children experience disequilibrium in their attempt to understand the world. Gradually, they reach in a balanced state of thought known as equilibrium. This shift in thought from one state into another is termed as equilibration.
Three Components
Let us now discuss these three components.
1. Schemas
2. Stages of adaptation process
3. Stages of development
Schema is described as a systematic pattern of thought or behaviour. We can understand Piaget’s concept of schemas by taking an example of logical reasoning. While solving a reasoning puzzle, an individual organises his/her knowledge and experience with the help of thinking processes to solve that puzzle. The ideas that come to the mind of an individual while solving the puzzle are considered as schema. It means that schema is a ‘unit’ of knowledge, which relates concepts or ideas.
According to Jean Piaget (1952), “A schema is a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning.” Piaget also described the importance of schemas in terms of cognitive development. A schema helps an individual not only to understand the situation but also to respond to that situation. For example, a child drops an object and then it is picked up by somebody. The child may repeat this again and again because he establishes the schema that the dropped object will be picked up again and again.
Stages Of Adaptation Process
Adaptation is a process of getting familiarised with the world. Children create new structures to deal with the surroundings. Stages of adaptation refer to an individual’s intellectual development as a process of adjustment with this world. The following figure explains the various stages of adaptation:
Let us discuss the stages of adaption:
1. Assimilation: It is an act of absorbing something into the present schemas. A child uses a new object in the existing schema. For instance, a rattle in the hands of a 5-month-old child would be used as a sucking object.
2. Accommodation: Changing the ways of thinking to fit the actions is accommodation. In other words, accommodation is all about changing actions for managing objects. A child changes his schema for the better response of the object. For instance, a child imitating others has to make a new schema by suppressing his/her own schema. It should be noted that assimilation and accommodation processes work together.
3. Equilibration: Equilibration takes place when an individual’s schemas can deal with contemporary information through assimilation. Equilibration is a type of force that provides motivation for development. Piaget believed that the rate of cognitive development within a child is not a slow process. When a new information is gained or obtained, the assimilation process of the new schema continues until we need to make an adjustment to it. A disequilibrium occurs when new information cannot be built into the existing schemas.
Stages Of Development
According to Piaget, children think in different ways as compared to adults. They understand the world around them by adjusting their ideas and experiencing discrepancies between what they know and what they discover. As per Piaget’s research, the cognitive development of a child precedes learning. Piaget believed that children move through four stages of cognitive development, which are discussed below:
1. Sensorimotor stage: This stage of cognitive development lasts from a child’s birth till two years. The behaviour of a child during this stage lacks the thought process. The sub-stages under the sensorimotor stage are shown in the following table:

Sub stageAge Explanation Example
1From birth to 1 monthA child shows random, uncoordinated movements and simple inherited reflexes.A grasping reflex causes an infant to grip anything placed in his/her hands.
21 to 4 monthsThe child repeats behaviour because of reflexes. The separate reflexes are integrated into a single activity.The grasping and sucking reflexes com-bine into one where an infant combines grasping an object and sucking it.
34 to 8 monthsThe cause and effect of an activity is discovered by a child. The habits are formed from the general schemas created by a child.A child shakes a rattle in different ways to see how the sound changes.
48 to 12 monthsA child depicts behaviour for a reason and not by chance. He/she begins to understand an object’s permanence.A child wants a toy to play that is lying inside the blanket and thus removes the blanket for getting the toy.
512 to 18 monthsThis stage is regarded as a deliberate variation of actions by a child that brings desirable results. It is the stage where experimentation begins. Piaget descry-bes the child at this stage as a young scientist.A child drops a toy again and again to see where it fell.
618 months to 2 yearsIn this stage, a child develops intelligence for conducting actions. Problem-solving activities begin at this stage.A child is playing with a ball but doesn’t have a bat, so he/she can pretend to use another object as a replacement of a bat.

2. Pre-operational stage: This stage lasts from 2 years till seven years. Under this stage, children remember events and objects and their thoughts become more imaginative and egocentric. Children also display animism at this stage as they believe that inanimate objects such as toys have human feelings and intentions.
They interpret language through questioning. The main features of this stage are as follows:
► Concepts formed are crude and irreversible
► Development of vocabulary increases from about 200 to 2000 words.
► Imaginative thinking begins
3. Concrete operational stage: This stage lasts from 7 years of age till 11 years. At this stage, more logical, organised and rational thinking develops. Children start working on problems to reach out for the answer, for instance, solving mathematical problems by using blocks, fingers, etc.The main features of this stage are as follows:
► Imagination is replaced with the addiction to a literal fact
► Experimentation is replaced with a desire for simplicity and rules
► Visual problems are solved better than verbal problems
4. Formal operations stage: This stage lasts from 11 years and onwards. Children become capable of abstract thinking and solve problems quickly in their minds.
Skills such as deductive reasoning and systematic planning occur at this stage.
Children do mathematical calculations and think creatively. The features of this stage are as follows:
► Scientific use of formal logic is applied
► Ability for introspection develops
► Concern about a society and one’s role in it begins
► Different solutions to problems are evaluated
Piaget’s View On Moral Development
Piaget is well-known for the theory of cognitive development. He also gave a theory on child’s moral development. According to him, a child’s cognitive development is related to his/her moral development. There are four stages of moral develop-ment, which are discussed as follows:
1. Anomy: This stage is present till a child attains 5 years of age. At this stage, a child does not follow any moral standards. His behaviour is neither moral nor immoral.
2. Heteronomy-authority: This stage is present from 5 years till 8 years of age of a child. At this stage, moral standards are given by adults. Rewards and punishments regulate moral development. Children accept rules as permanent and higher authorities (parents, teachers and seniors) as godlike powers.
3. Heteronomy-reciprocity: This stage lasts from 9 years till 13 years of age of a child. Under this stage, children understand moral standards and co-operate with adults for following those standards. They understand that rules are not universal.
4. Autonomy-adolescence: This stage lasts from 13 years till 18 years of age of a child. At this stage, children are responsible for their own behaviour. They begin to question their authorities, such as parents and teachers, about moral standards. Children believe that the rules may be broken under emergency situations.
► Major characteristics of Jean Piaget’s Theory
► The characteristics of Jean Piaget’s theory are as follows:
► ‘Cognitive Development’ of a human being is the central or main aspect in his theory.
► According to cognitive development theory of Piaget development is a process which is preceded by learning.
► Piaget concluded within his theory that the development takes place in a distinct, measureable and observable phases.
► According to Jean Piaget the developmental growth depends on universal characteristics and it is also a kind of independent experience.
► Piaget’s theory emphasised on the concept that develop-ment is a unidirectional process among children. Therefore each and every child reached the same stage at approximately the same age.
► In his theory, Piaget described a detailed study of the thinking process and also emphasised on the difference between adult’s and children’s thinking process. It is either qualitative or quantitative.

Lawrence Kohlberg Theory Of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg, a development psychologist, continued Piaget’s work by explaining the development of moral reasoning in children/individuals. He focused his attention on investigating how children and adults govern their behaviour in ethical situations. Kohlberg identified three levels of moral development with two stages each. They are as follows:
Level 1: Preconventional Level
Under this level, children/individuals follow a set of moral codes established by adults. There are two stages under this level, which are discussed as follows:
► Stage I: Punishment and obedience orientation: Children/individuals stick to rules to avoid being punished by adults. If a child is punished, it means he/she must have done something wrong. This stage is found at the elementary school level.
► Stage II: Reward orientation: Children/individuals stick to the rules to get the rewards for abiding by them. It means that rules should be followed for their own benefit.
Level 2: Conventional Level
Children/individuals internalise the moral standards of adults. They please others by acting as good members of the society. The stages under this level are as follows:
► Stage III: Good boy good girl orientation: At this stage, children/individuals maintain the respect of others and do what is expected from them.
► Stage IV: Maintaining the social order: Individuals/ children become aware of the laws and orders. They become responsible for maintaining the laws and showing respect for authority.
Level 3: Postconventional Level
Children/individuals develop their own values seen as broader than society. Moral reasoning is based on the individual rights and justice. The two stages under this level are as follows:
► Stage V Social contract orientation: At this stage, child-ren/individuals do what is right according to them and perceive that laws can be modified. For instance, a person steals the medicine to protect his child’s life. Here, the protection of life is more important than breaking the law against stealing.
► Stage VI Universal ethical principle orientation: Child-ren/individuals at this stage follow laws because they are based on universal ethical principles. If laws violate the universal ethical principles, they can be disobeyed. Under this stage, a person is ready to defend the principles even if it means going against the society or facing major punishments. For instance, if a person fails to arrange medicines for his/her dying child and unfortunately the child dies, the person cannot live up to his/her standards of conscience.
Major Characteristics Of Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory
► The characteristics of Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory are as follows:
► Kohlberg tried to enhance the views or theory of morality which was briefly described by Piaget.
► Kohlberg took the help from the studies of dilemma and was also interested in how an individual justify his/her action if he/she was placed in similar moral dilemmas. ► According to Kohlberg, children who are at the primary stage have only one thing in their mind that they would be punished if they commit any mistake. Therefore, they accomplish this task in such a manner that they escape from punishment.
► According to Kohlberg, children who are at middle stage consider themselves as responsible to others because of being a good citizen. In this way, they act like a civilized individual and respect others.

Vygotsky’s Theory Of Socio-Cultural Development

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky was a psychologist who made extensive research into cognitive development and gave the theory of sociocultural development. He believed that the thinking of children is based on social knowledge and is developed through interaction with their culture. Children learn the customs, values, beliefs and language of their culture. The main principles of Vygotsky’s theory are as follows:
► Knowledge is constructed by children.
► Development cannot be separated from its social context.
► Learning leads to cognitive development.
► Culture is the main determinant of cognitive development.
► Language plays an important role in mental development.
According to Vygotsky, “Learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function.”
He contradicted the Piaget’s theory which states that development precedes learning.
On the other hand, Vygotsky’s believed that learning precedes development.
Vygotsky (1978) proposes, “An essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal development; that is, learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these processes are internalized, they become part of the child’s independent developmental achievement.”
Important Features Of Vygotsky’s Theory
The important feature of Vygotsky’s theory is the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). It is the gap between the present and potential levels of child’s development. The two levels of attainment for ZPD are as follows:

Level 1: Present level of development: It states what a child can do independently.
Level 2: Potential level of development: It states what a child can do with the help of a teacher. This assistance by teachers is called scaffolding.
ZPD states that the role of a teacher is necessary for a child’s cognitive development.
The teacher is a supportive tool for a student in ZPD. It is under this zone that the learning of a child occurs and he/she socialises more. In the words of Vygotsky, “What is in the zone of proximal development today will be the actual developmental level tomorrow.” Major Characteristics of Lev Vygotsky’s Theory are as follows:
► Vygotsky emphasised on social interaction which plays a remarkable role in the process of cognitive development.
► Vygotsky introduced the concepts of ‘Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)’. It is a name given to an innovative metaphor that is capable of describing not the actual, but the potential of an individual’s cognitive development.
► Vygotsky found in his theory how higher cognitive functions are developed within an individual on the basis of his/her previous experiences or in effect of his/her cultural and social values.

Critical Perspective Of Theories

We can get a critical perspective views of above described theories by comparing them with each other. Let us learn these perspectives:
Comparison Of Piaget And Kohlberg’s Theory
Piaget and Kohlberg interests lie in the study on people development. They both believed that personal development is influenced by heredity and social environment.
The Kohlberg’s moral theory is directly related to the Piaget’s cognitive stages.
However, the differences between these two theories are explained in the following table:

Piaget’s Theory Kohlberg’s Theory
The Piaget theory offers a four stage model of childhood mortality. Children believe that the moral rules/judgments are dicta ted by their adults.Kohlberg theory offers a six stage model of moral development. Children struggle to connect issues with morality such as individual rights, universality, etc.
In the cognitive development theory, children develop intellectually in a hierarchical manner, ranging from infancy to adolescents. The ages are specified in each stage.The Kohlberg’s theory encompasses stages for moral development of individuals throughout their lifespan.
Children develop their intelligence in conjunction with biological development.Moral development of children occurs through socialisation with teachers and parents.

Comparison Of Piaget And Vygotsky’s Theory
Piaget and Vygotsky provided powerful theories that impact how children should be taught. They both believe that children build knowledge through experiences. The difference between their theories is shown in the following table:

Piaget’s Theory Vygotsky’s Theory
Children are treated as active learners and they learn from their own ability to adapt and organise.Children learn from social interactions. Language and culture are the major facilitators of social inter-actions.
Children act independently to learn from the physical world. Growth is related to the biological development.Children learn the world with the help of inter-actions and dialogues with others.
Development precedes learning.Learning precedes development.

Critical Perspective Of The Construct Of Intelligence
When an individual finds out a way or solution for his/her problematic situation it is considered as his/her characteristic of intelligence. Generally, an individual’s intelligence level is decided on the basis of his/her ability to solve a problem, power of thinking, reasoning capacity, learning ability, decision making, etc. However, the term intelligence is much more than all that. Intelligence has been defined by many educationalists, psychologists and philosophers. They have defined it in their own style and manner. For example, educationalists described intelligence in terms of knowledge and measure it in IQ. On the other hand, psychologists described intelligence in terms of adjusting behaviour within a problematic situation. Therefore, we can say that intelligence is the ability of understanding the world, thinking rationally and utilising resources effectively for dealing with challenges in life.

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