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.
Marta Caballeros, Jeannette Bran, and Gabriela Castro
Inclusive education, as stated in declarations and human development goals, features in the educational policies being implemented in Central American and Caribbean (CA-DR) countries (Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic). The policies seek to give the entire population of each country permanent access to quality education services, and they have a particular focus on people with disabilities. However, there are considerable challenges to be overcome, caused by a combination of historical factors and the sociopolitical and economic context. Some of the countries still have significant levels of poverty and inequity, both of which hinder the development of inclusive education. At the same time, inclusive education is expected to help eradicate social exclusion and facilitate social mobility. This paradigm began as an effort to secure disabled people’s right to education, and countries have since been working to offer disabled people access to regular schools. Nevertheless, segregated education services or services with an integration aim still persist. Moreover, poverty causes many students to drop out of school, or never to enroll at all. Each country has vulnerable or marginalized groups in its population. The work being done, from an inclusive perspective, follows two main routes: reorienting education systems toward inclusivity; and offering these groups affirmative actions to ensure their regular attendance at mainstream schools that have quality programs for all. If CA-DR countries are to achieve inclusive education, they must fulfill two requirements. Firstly, they must develop intersectorial interventions that revert causes of exclusion—education policies in isolation are unable to do that. Secondly, they must take action to ensure that inclusive education is achieved in practice in the classroom. There are advances toward inclusion, but more work is needed to answer the question of how CA-DR countries can develop inclusive societies, based on social protection and quality education services for all, that give proper attention to diversity, practice equity, and promote social mobility. Bottom-up strategies are valuable in the effort to achieve inclusive education.
In the context of educational leadership, the application of contingency and situational theory underlines the importance of analyzing the current situation and the variables that affect the organization’s framework so that a manager can be effective. Whichever education system we are referring to, it is virtually meaningless to study leadership styles without recognizing the significance of the school context. School is a complex organization, an open system which appears to be a very uncertain environment. In order for leadership to be effective in this uncertain environment, the leaders should adopt a holistic approach. Many leaders avoid high uncertainty by applying standard operating procedures and making traditional bureaucratic responses in every case. Contingency and situational theory could give school leaders the opportunity for a solid basis in further refining management policies and practices. Contingency theory is based on the assumption that no single leadership style is appropriate in all situations. According to this theory, leadership style is quite inflexible. Thus, organizational effectiveness depends on matching internal organizational characteristics with environmental conditions. Therefore, effective leadership depends on whether the leader’s style matches the needs of the individual case. This theory applies better to educational systems where principal selection is done through an open recruitment process. One useful tool of this theory is contingency planning or forecasting. On the other hand, situational theory dictates that leaders adapt their style to match their staff’s characteristics and requirements. In education systems where the recruitment and selection of school principals lies with central government, situational theory can be a useful tool for the principals. When principals are placed in a new school, they should choose the best course of action based upon the current circumstances. Flexibility is key in managing a team effectively. The main difference between the two theories is that in the first case we put the right person in the right job while in the second leaders adjust their style depending on school context.
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.
It is generally understood that a stable external environment around educational organizations is a thing of the past. Currently, in the 21st century, educational organizations are living in highly volatile environments, and various political, economic, social, demographic, and ecological forces are putting pressure on these organizations to change their structural and functional characteristics. Educational change as a field of research is a relatively new area and metalevel thinking about educational change has largely been inspired by theories and models that are borrowed from the broader field of organization science. The broader field possesses a multitude of theories and models of change but the same theoretical and practical plurality is not evident for educational change. However, there has always been a convergence of ideas between educational change and organizational change. As a result, educational change scholars and practitioners have borrowed the models and theories from the broader field of organization science. Parallel to the understanding in organization science, educational change interventions reflect a planned change understanding. Planned change is triggered by an external force, introduces change, and terminates the process. Although different models count on different steps to depict the process, these three phases delineate the planned change process. Many change models count on political, economic, social, or ecological forces of change for organizations. However, educational organizations have more specific and unique forces of change. Global student achievement comparison programs (e.g., Program for International Student Assessment), inequities in education, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 21st-century skills, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) movements, the trends in internationalization in education, and political conflicts around the world are putting pressure on education systems and schools around their structures and functions. Despite a conceptual plurality and richness in practical models, both organizational and educational change experience a high failure rate, which results in human, financial, and managerial issues for educational organizations. Considering the high failure rate in educational change, it is argued that conceptual and practical issues exist in educational change approaches. A broad review of both educational and organizational change suggests policy borrowing, a political rationale dominating educational change, a static organizational perspective, a loss of sight of the whole organization, and the ignoring of the human side of change as the main issues in change interventions. Assuming change as a top-down, planned, stage-based, hierarchical, and linear phenomenon, conceiving it as an extraordinary practice in the life of organizations and perceiving it as involvement of a distinguished group in the organization are some of the common problems in the dominant approach to change. These criticisms suggest a need for a fundamental shift in its conceptualization, which in turn suggests a shift in the ontology of change. According to the alternative understanding of change (i.e., continuous change), change is a small-scale, bottom-up, ongoing, cumulative, and improvisational process. The new understanding provides valuable insights into the conceptualization and practice of change. Continuous change perspective provides effective insights into the missing aspects in change implementation rather than suggesting totally replacing the planned change perspective.
Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) was a geographer, elementary school teacher and principal, and educational reformer, who was active in the early-to-mid 1900s in Japan. As a school leader and scholar-practitioner guided by a passion for supporting teachers and improving education for the happiness of children, Makiguchi scrutinized pedagogy as a science and proposed a number of reforms of the Japanese education system, key elements of which, he believed, were failing teachers and students alike. His proposals included, among many: the establishment of standards of competency expected of school principals as well as a system of examination to uphold these standards; the abolition of a government-led school inspection system that pressured and restricted teachers from freely conducting teaching activities; and the establishment of an “education research institute” and an organization for the training of teachers. The growing number of modern educational scholars and practitioners paying attention to Makiguchi’s work and philosophy find his ideas not only valid and applicable to education in the 21st century but also remarkably innovative and insightful. His proposal for school leadership was still but a voice in the wilderness in the 1930s. It was also a bold and audacious attempt for him, especially at the time of the militarist regime. Makiguchi is often compared with his contemporary John Dewey (1859–1952). Evidently, Makiguchi and Dewey were both visionaries, passionate school leaders, and fearless reformers. Bearing this in mind, Makiguchi deserves much more attention than he has received thus far—at least as much as Dewey, if we are to balance the historical account of progressive education as a transnational phenomenon.