Piaget’s Impact on Education System

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Piaget was the first one to introduce the process of human learning as genetic epistemology. He is very often described as the “theorist who identified stages of cognitive development” (Kamii, 1991, p. 17). Among his many contributions to the education, theory of constructivism that explains the process of knowledge acquisition by children and his account of three types of knowledge are two of the most important contributions. According to Kamii (1991), the use of his premises to education “lies not in the stages he found but in constructivism, his theory about how human beings acquire knowledge”

Piagetian theory states that children do not accumulate knowledge inside them simply by gathering it from outside, but it is a process of knowledge construction inside the child after interacting with the external environment. As a matter of fact, children develop their own understanding with respect to language, science, and society much before they attend a school. The three types of knowledge, as described by Piaget are physical knowledge, i.e. knowledge of physical properties of an object; social knowledge i.e. knowledge developed by conventions, which can’t be constructed without social interaction and logico-mathematical knowledge that involves relationships created by each child. As Kamii (1991) has pointed out that Logico-mathematical knowledge is the most difficult of the three types of knowledge to understand, because it also serves as a framework for the other two types of knowledge.

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As per Brainerd (as quoted by Zimmerman et al 2003) though the nucleus of Jean Piaget’s systematic legacy is his model of cognitive development and his research on the reasoning skills that appear in different phases, his impact on teaching methodologies, especially in the US education system, has been immense. Nearly three decades ago, his works on intellectual growth enthused radical changes in kindergarten and elementary school course practices, and in the following years, his theory has continued to stimulate key changes in American education, with the complete language methodology to reading lessons being a recent example. (Zimmerman et al 2003)

The aim of the present paper is to focus on how Piaget’s contributions have left their impact on the education system and still continue to do so.

Hinde and Parry (2007) recently conducted a study on use of Piaget’s theories related to cognitive development to disprove proposed social studies standards in Arizona by educationalists.

The study focuses on the works of Piaget along with the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s developmentally correct practices as they concern the primary-grade children’s competence to learn history. The study included the modern studies on children’s capability to learn history, and research relating to the contending curricular frameworks of growing societies and core knowledge. According to the study, a public review of the proposed standards was carried out during which educationalists and concerned citizens of the state were allowed to present their comments and apprehensions to the Arizona Department of Education. The data consisted of written comments on the standards submitted by fifty public reviewers and copies of draft standards containing all proposed and accepted changes from the beginning of the public review period until the Arizona Department of Education put up the standards to the state board of education for endorsement. During the review of the remarks made by the teachers, it was established that they very often referred to Piagetian theory and practices suitable for child development to disprove the new principles. On the basis of that it summed up that children could be taught history from curriculum structure as long as teachers used practices that were suitable for child development. Thus it was found that teachers’ opinion based on their perceptions of Piaget, to disprove content-laden curriculum in grades K-3 subdued substantive discussions that were at the heart of social studies education.

According to Dunkelberger et al (2006), it is essential to consider that children who are at the verge of starting their education in the US are primarily in evolutionary stage from preoperational to concrete operational thinking. During this transit period, children can demonstrate behavior of both stages; a feature that Piaget described as Decalage. This phenomena happens when children come across an unknown situation, they may confront it with preoperational or with concrete operational consideration. Piaget’s school of thoughts mentions this unpredictability as substantiation of development toward a more refined system of thinking. In other words, this phenomenon indicates which children are “prepared” for proper schooling and can be helpful in development of assessment tools suitable to identify individual child’s needs.

In this study, the effect of conventional methods of defining reading preparedness has been compared in contrast with new tasks that necessitate the cognitive fundamentals for learning to read. The study explains definite tasks and methods. Construct soundness of the new tasks has also been discussed. The study also takes into account the inadequacies of conventional methods for determining preparedness, along with standardized tests of isolated skills and age limits.

The research sample included forty-seven children chosen from a Southeast Texas Head Start Program. Four and Five year old kids who could speak English were asked to perform three new tasks according to Piaget’s theory. The data was collected for the criteria on the basis of birth date, cutoff dates and through an extensively used consistent test of nursery school preparedness, DIAL-3 or also called the Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning, 3 rd Edition. Qualitative and quantitative tests were performed on the data collected. Statistical tools were employed to measure the correlation factors. Comparison of the effect of the new tasks and the customary tasks on the DIAL-3 was performed using factor analysis and cluster analysis.

Dunkelberger et al (2006) carried on their work to discover more precise appraisal practices that would reveal the fundamental cognitive skills essential for learning to read by, to be precise, identifying an individual child’s stage of Decalage. Further exact evaluation can lead to advance detection of children who may not be that successful in conventional nursery school reading programs. Correct and accurate identification of such children can be helpful in providing them with additional educational support that will further help in the growth of their essential intellectual abilities for learning to read, and hence enhancing their prospects of success at school.

According to another research conducted by Greer (2006), the study revealed that in order to effectively utilize phonemic awareness as a component of commencing reading, children should be able to identify the relationship between letters and words. This stage of learning that involves acquiring this type of relational knowledge takes place almost at the same time as Part-Whole relationship, a part of logico-mathematical awareness termed by Piaget. Thirty-nine kids, five to ten years old underwent The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills Phoneme Segmentation Fluency task and Nonsense Word Fluency task. The study also included administering two Piagetian Part-Whole logical reasoning tasks and two researcher-developed tasks. The researcher-developed tasks included a word sorting and letter sorting and investigated different standards employed by the understudies for categorization.

Various statistical tools employed for analysis of Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PSF) with respect to age established that phonemic awareness followed a developmental progression. The research also explained the relations with the developmental behavior as per Piaget. Further analysis provided with the substantiation that the growth in phonemic awareness takes place along with the growth of part-whole reasoning. The study established that development of phonemic awareness was a Logico-Mathematical progression.

It is notable that phonemic awareness has been said to be an introductory module that commences children’s thought process into the alphabetic principle. With the help of many studies, modules have been prepared for children at the kindergarten level that are intended to improve their phonemic awareness with an objective of enhancing their preparedness for learning to read. A significant aspect of the research that has not been taken into account while developing the reading modules is that which explains, how kids comprehend written language in the period before joining school. It is this study along with Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development, which is in fact the foundation of the study that can update the educationalists as they carry on to improve reading lessons

Ogura (2006) reviewed studies related to the association between early language and cognitive development interrelated with knowledge of the surrounding environment, primarily founded on Piaget’s theory of sensori-motor intellect. Mandler had disapproved of Piaget’s theory on the grounds that newborns do not begin to obtain an abstract system until in the middle during their second year; he demonstrated that by as early as nine months of age, newborns have formed an abstract system to initiate the language. Ogura (2006) in his studies hints at the possibility that the substance of the language and abstract system used by Piaget and Mandler in these investigations might have been different. The study further examined the social-cognitive foundation for language development. The paper refers to studies of Tomasello in which it had been posited that an important part of social learning, including language acquirement, included accepting and acknowledging other people as aware beings. Ogura (2006) reviewed studies of the relationship between social-cognitive skills and language learning process. After taking into account the several aspects causative to language acquisition, including cognitive constrictions, social-pragmatic and linguistic factors, and global attention seeking mechanisms, the study concludes that language acquisition is not just the expression of the language component itself. The social-cognitive component can be considered crucial for language acquisition.

Brainerd (1977) in his works has put up a logical argument against Piaget’s hypothesis that prepositional logic is an adolescent observable fact. The preposition states that if conceptual logics are legitimate models of intellect in pre-adolescent children, then it is logically impracticable to accept prepositional logic as a legitimate model of intellect during adolescence and beyond. The study was based on a preliminary data collected from hundred and forty-four children in the age group of five to eight years. Out of the studied sample, 77-86 percent of them replied correctly to abstract logic questions that were read out to them. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that prepositional logic is acquired either before school or early in middle childhood. In this study, though Piaget’s hypothesis is overruled by Brainerd. However, Piaget did give a starting point to give direction to the research.

In all the above researches discussed above, Piaget’s works have been a noticeable factor. The educationalists community heavily depends upon Piaget’s theory for developing education system that facilitates child development in learning. Just as in

the case where teachers’ employed Piaget’s theory to disprove the changes in the curriculum. Hinde and Parry (2007) have carried out a detailed study on the teachers’ comment to conclude the influence of Piaget on them.  Studies of Dunkelberger et al (2006) have provided another milestone by proposing of developing an appraisal system that could support children in their learning process. These studies rely heavily on Piaget. Further, Ogura (2006) has also relied on Piaget’s theory of sensori-motor intellect. These studies have focused on language acquisition of the children. In the final study discussed, though Piaget’s hypothesis stands to be disproved, however one can see his stamp on almost all the researches carried out that have immensely benefited the education system and the way children are being taught and will be taught in the future.


Brainerd, Charles J. (1977); “On the validity of propositional logic as a model for adolescent intelligence” ; Interchange, Vol 7(1), 1976-1977. pp. 40-45

Brainerd, C. J. (2003); “Jean Piaget, learning research, and American education” In: Educational psychology: A century of contributions. Zimmerman, Barry J.; Schunk, Dale H.; Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 2003. Pp. 251-287

Dunkelberger, Martha Jane (2006); “Cognitive readiness markers for emerging literacy Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol 66(11-A), Pp. 3926

Greer, Deirdre C (2006); “Logic-mathematical processes in beginning reading” Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol 66(12-A), pp. 4292

Hinde, Elizabeth R.; Perry, Nancy (2007); “Elementary teachers’ application of Jean Piaget’s theories of cognitive development during social studies curriculum debates in Arizona” The Elementary School Journal, Vol 108(1), Sep pp. 63-79

Kamii, C. (1991); “What is constructivism?” In C. Kamii, M. Manning, ; G. Manning (Eds.), Early literacy: A constructivist foundation for whole language (pp.17-29). Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Ogura, Tamiko (2006); “Cognitive bases in language acquisition”; Japanese Psychological Review, Vol 49(1),. Special issue: Child Language. Pp. 25-41


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