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Post-Piagetian Perspectives of Cognitive Development  

Eduardo Martí

Piaget’s constructivism theory influenced deeply the study of cognitive development in the last century. Despite the progressive loss of influence of this theory, some contemporary perspectives have recently extended some of his ideas, enriching the way cognitive development is understood. These contributions face two important questions that remained problematic in Piaget’s theory: how to integrate dynamic aspects and variability of development and how to understand the role of the body and the signs in cognition. Thanks to information processing theory, functional and executive components of cognition have been progressively integrated into Piaget’s theory. Two main perspectives have contributed to doing so. The first one, defended by Pascual-Leone and Case, among other authors, has been called “neo-Piagetian theory.” It offers a more dynamic way to understand cognitive development and present particular solutions to explain the Piagetian stages. The second one, the theory of dynamic systems, has contributed to explaining variability in cognitive development, a central aspect underestimated by Piaget, who was more interested in universal aspects of cognition. Thanks to the perspective of embodied cognition, the main role of action and body has been taken into account to understand the characteristics of cognition. From this perspective, a nuclear idea of Piaget’s constructivism, the importance of action in cognition, has been investigated in a more accurate way. Finally, considering the poor contribution of signs in Piaget’s theory, some authors inspired in Vygotskyan theory have emphasized the role of semiotic systems and social aspects in cognitive development. The research generated by all these theoretical perspectives has had important consequences in education.

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School Choice and Educational Pluralism  

Giuseppe Bertagna and Francesco Magni

The early 21st century is an age in which freedoms seem to expand continuously and without limits; in addition to the traditional market freedoms, there is freedom of choice related to gender, to sex, to family, to health, to life and to end of life—to name just a few domains that have embraced the ethos of individual freedom. Nonetheless, in this context of growing freedom for everybody, there is a particular freedom whose “domain” has been limited, especially in Italy: the freedom of choice related to school and education. The constraints placed upon freedom of educational choice defaults, perhaps unintentionally, to a standard orthodoxy enforced by the state and its supposedly omniscient bureaucracy. What is meant by “school choice”? It means the freedom to choose the school, the teachers, the educators, the experiences, and the educational pathways that one supposes best for one’s children, without incurring legal and economic penalties. It also means accepting that the government may regulate the system of state and non-state schools (i.e., it sets out the rules and main goals in terms of the learning and educational values with which teaching institutions should comply). Yet, to balance this, the government, except in cases of exceptional and regulated substitution according to the subsidiarity principle, may not ordinarily manage the organization and functioning of state schools and—more evidently—of non-state schools through a centralized governmental administration. These activities should be left to the individual responsibility of schools, families, companies, private investors, and the institutions of civil society. Last but not least, “school choice” means that the government bears the key responsibility of checking that schools comply with the established rules and values, and that students receive a satisfactory education, and of then making the results of those checks transparent and available for the public. This way, the government can give families very useful information that equips them to make their school choice responsibly.