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Philosophy of education: pragmatism

MMAOTHO SEGOTSO
Philosophy is a person’s beliefs and interpretation of observed phenomena, described in religious or nonreligious way. Philosophy seeks truth through reasoning.

The philosophy of education thus, examines the goals, forms, methods and meaning of education. The term is used to describe, both the fundamental and philosophical analysis of these themes and the description and analysis of particular pedagogical approaches.

Different scholars and or philosophers have diverse beliefs on what education is, how it should pan out and its envisaged results or the lack of thereof.

John Dewey was an America Educator and Educationist (1859-1952), who was a proponent of social change and education reform. Dewey founded The New School for Social Research. His philosophy, known as experimentalism or instrumentalism is largely centred around, human experience.

John Dewey’s philosophy on education was inspired by Karl Marx’s theory of social struggle and conflict between classes. He was also inspired by Haberman’s thoughts that the role of education is to transform the world into a more humane, just and egalitarian society.

Dewey saw education as a means of serving democratic processes that could result in the making of progressive societies. In Berding’s words, Dewey believed in, “the shaping of a society in which common goods, amongst which are knowledge and social intelligence are distributed fairly amongst all who participate in that society.”

The Educationist postulated that human beings learn through ‘hands-on approach’. His beliefs thus place him under the pragmatism philosophy of education. Dewey is the father of progressive education which emphasises the need to learn by doing because according to him, reality must be experienced. He said, “Give pupils something to do not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”

Inculcated into his beliefs on education was also Dewey’s philosophy of humanism. Here, a child is no longer vulnerable and a subject of imposition but a free individual whose aptitude and interest play a role in the planning and implementation of the teaching/learning process. The child is also an active participant as against passivity that characterises the traditional classroom set up.

Education in his eyes, should be concerned with the child’s experiences in school and in natural environments outside school, and that particular experiences should be measured by the degree to which they contribute to one’s growth. “Growth in Dewey’s context means that the individual is gaining the ability to understand the relationships and interconnections between various experiences and between one learning experience and another.” Gutek

The classroom must be a place of learning where the teacher and the learner learnt together. He departed completely from and strongly condemned the traditional belief that: the teacher is the sole fountain of knowledge, while learners are empty vessels to be filled. He believed that at the centre of all academia was the child and that all teaching should take into cognisance the child’s inherent skills, gifts, talents, abilities and learning styles.

The classroom set-up according to Dewey, should be a place where democracy reigns supreme. The teacher should play the role of a mentor and facilitator and learners are free to choose how they want to learn. There isn’t one teaching method used as both the teacher and the learners daily try different ways of learning with the sole objective of making learners self-reliant and active partakers in their learning while harnessing their gifts and talents.

In a democratic set-up, the teacher shares power with the learners thus, silently teaching them that power should be shared, the learner thus can grow to become more accommodative.

Dewey placed scorn on one-size-fits-all curricula and pedagogies as he believed

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that curricula and pedagogies should suit the child and not vice versa.

JD would be completely against the classroom set-up in Botswana where desks are cramped together and arranged in rows, a result of the large class sizes bedevilling public schools. This set-up screams of a class where the teacher stands in front to, fill the “empty vessels”, which would later regurgitate what they were filled up with. The Setswana informal noun for such a teaching is “go tshologa” and it is based on the “tabula rasa” belief. In all honesty, very little to no learning takes place in this set-up.

Learner-centred pedagogies means mixed ability teaching which caters for individual learners’ abilities, interests and learning styles. One can argue that is impossible to cater for different abilities in a mixed ability class… A creative teacher can have various groups in one class.

A teaching approach born from Dewey’s philosophy is using differentiation. One can differentiate by task or outcome. Differentiation by task, groups of learners are given different tasks on the same theme depending on their abilities and interests whereas differentiation by outcome, the task is the same but the results different.

Differentiation is highly dependent on full appreciation of different learning styles: visual (spatial), aural (auditory), verbal (linguistic), physical (kinaesthetic), logical (mathematical), social (interpersonal), solitary (intrapersonal).

Spatial learners use pictures and images to understand and consequently learn. If in a language class the theme is crime, pictures portraying the crime will appeal to them. The pictures will act as the stimulus that will make them use words to describe that which they see. Another way is to ask them to draw a picture portraying crime. Maybe thereafter, they can then be asked to describe their picture. This category excels at arts, crafts, design and technology. 

Auditory learners on the other hand, learn using sound and music as they have a good sense of rhythm. This group is made up of singers and dancers. These are the learners that the mainstream education system doesn’t cater for. A teacher of English teaching poetry would cater for them by using a song to teach them. They can also be given a poem, asked to make a melody for it and sing or recite it accompanied by drums. They are happy in music lessons and to some extent poetry.

Linguistic learners prefer using words, mainly in speech and writing: the poets, essayists and debaters, the ones who give speeches at assembly. If they are quiet, they are writing otherwise they are always talking: TALKERCHIEFS. These are language students and grow up to become radio personalities, journalists, lawyers, teachers, preachers, politicians, actors and comedians.

Kinaesthetic learners, use their bodies to learn as they depend mainly on movement and their sense of touch. In class the prefer role playing. They are athletic and excel in dance and sports. The subject that will suit them well in Botswana is Physical Education. Even then one would have to establish where the fall, for the auditory-kinaesthetic will do well in dance classes as against ball, fights sports and athletics and other sports.

Mathematical learners use logic, reasoning and numbers to make sense of the world. They only function well when they are solving complex problems scientifically. They grow up to become computer programmers, doctors, engineers, accountants and mathematicians.

Every nation should strive towards making sure that its education is inclusive of all and harnesses gifts and talents, and uses them for the betterment of all.



Educationally Speaking

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