We all hope for the best possible education for our children. But with so many options out there, things can get confusing. Should you settle on a more traditional approach to education? Or a more forward-thinking, modern approach? This article will focus on progressivism in education today, which is a pedagogy that challenges the classic system of education.
What is Progressive Education?
To better understand what progressivism in education is and why it’s an approach used today, we’ll look into not only its definition but its origin as well. We’ll be discussing where progressivism in education came from and how it can be beneficial for children today.
Progressivism in education today, as we know it, traces its origins in Europe. Among the initial group of people who explored this frontier was Maria Montessori. She is famous for establishing the “Montessori method” that gave birth to Montessori schools all around the world.
Between the years 1700 and 1900, many key European thinkers were responsible for changing ‘traditional’ educational systems. By around 1774, a few experimental progressive schools were set in Europe. They continued to expand and grow in popularity well into the late 1800s.
Meanwhile, ideas of progressive education also reached the United States, where it developed separately. After 1900, these ideas – in particular those contributed by John Dewey – combined with European ideas to form the benefits of progressive education that we see today.
John Dewey was an American philosopher and educator known as the father of progressive education theory. He was a pioneer in functional psychology, a proponent of the philosophical movement known as pragmatism, and the father of functional psychology.
He believed that children should participate actively in their learning through hands-on work, and that an experiential curriculum that is relevant to the students’ interests is best for teaching the “whole child.” He urged educators to “teach the child, not the subject.” Many consider Dewey to be one of the twentieth century’s most important educators and social reformers.
Definition of Progressivism in Education
Progressive education is a response to traditional educational systems. People supporting the benefits of progressive education thought that long-established rules about education were restrictive and too formal.
Traditional education systems emphasise taking tests to evaluate a student’s worth. | Image Source: Stock Photo
Unlike education which involves absorbing facts and fully comprehending pre-discovered knowledge, progressivism in education today focuses on experience, instead.
Progressive education is founded on John Dewey’s and others’ belief that education must prepare students for active participation in a democratic, global society. As a result, the emphasis is on developing critical thinkers and inquirers who are active rather than passive learners.
The teacher’s role is to foster and support children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, encouraging internal motivation rather than reliance on external rewards.
The main idea was that kids become proficient in their actions when they did things tied to learning. Here are some of the main tenets of progressive education:
Education is about developing a child’s physical, emotional and intellectual aspects.
School isn’t a fixed institution. Instead, it’s an experimental area where children are involved in learning by doing things.
In the classroom, everyone’s opinion matters.
Creativity and the arts help to nurture children in a journey of discovery and independent thought.
Simply put, progressivism in education today seeks to educate students on the process of thinking, instead of just regurgitating facts.
In addition, progressivism also challenges the idea that exams are an accurate gauge of an educated child.
Active participation in projects is the core of progressive education, which aims to help children learn by experience.
Learning by experience helps to maximise what the student absorbs in limited amounts of time. By being involved in a task which calls for the application of knowledge, students are able to better comprehend what they’re doing.
Goals of Progressive Education
The primary goal of progressive education is to provide students with hands-on learning experiences, also known as learning by doing. This method, also known as experiential learning, involves students actively participating in hands-on projects. It goes beyond theory and requires them to apply their lessons in real-life situations, allowing them to fully comprehend the subject/lesson at hand.
Furthermore, students become acquainted with everything they will require to actually solve the problem. This prepares them for the road ahead: a real-world workplace that is typically a collaborative space that relies on creativity, critical thinking, and working as part of a team (and independently too).
As a result, progressive education or progressive learning encourages students to reflect on their experiences, pose their own questions, and attempt to answer them in collaboration with peers and teachers.
Characteristics of Progressivism in Education
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The main idea behind calling it progressive education was to differentiate it from the traditional curriculum that prevailed in the nineteenth century, which primarily relied on classical preparation for university and was strongly differentiated by social class.
Meanwhile, progressive education is the result of a modern educational experience. In fact, most progressive education programmes share the following key characteristics.
Concentrating on learning by doing
Working on hands-on projects contributes to experiential learning, also known as learning by experience.
This is a curriculum that covers a wide range of topics.
Critical thinking and problem solving
They are the foundations of progressive education; the idea is for students to take on problems and solve them, allowing them to hone their critical thinking skills.
Encourage students to collaborate and work in groups, giving them a sense of belonging and developing their social skills while participating in collaborative and cooperative learning projects.
Rather than rote learning, it relies on conceptual understanding.
This is a key characteristic aimed at having students understand the meaning of what is being taught to them rather than simply accepting information.
Promoting education with a larger goal in mind
Teaching students about social responsibility, democracy, and their ability to affect change. Instilling the value of community service in them through service learning projects.
Choosing alternative learning sources over textbooks
Encourage students to think outside the box by going beyond the scope of textbook curriculum and drawing lessons from life experiences.
Teaching students to think critically, thus preparing them for lifelong learning.
Assessment of student projects for performance evaluation
Looking beyond the students’ theoretical knowledge and concentrating on application as demonstrated by their projects and productions.
Education from a utilitarian standpoint
Assisting students in selecting subjects and demonstrating how knowledge of these subjects can be applied in society.
Progressive Education vs Traditional Education
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Now that we. know what progressive education is, let us now look into how it differentiates from traditional education. While one is not exactly better than the other, there are still significant differences between these two educational methods.
Unlike traditional education, progressive education has a variety of differences. Notably, these differences are almost the opposite of the methods of traditional education.
We’ve summarised these key traits of traditional and progressive education below so that you can compare and contrast both of them:
In traditional education:
- Students sit obediently and memorise knowledge from authentic sources.
- Parents don’t take part in educating their children.
- The community is a different entity from the school and involves itself only for funding grants.
- People decide how the school is run via a hierarchy of power and execute it via administration.
- The student’s performance is assessed on external criteria and is the basis of the curriculum.
- Students learn in a narrow-minded fashion by compiling knowledge and being able to use skills effectively.
- Talks, assignments and textbooks transmit knowledge.
- The main direction is straight, and mostly centres around correct responses.
- Subjects and topics, like language and mathematics, are distinct categories.
- Students learn skills carefully and attentively and are end-points.
- Normal standards from other sources are used in tests to evaluate students, after which they are ranked.
- Success means rising above the competition in terms of regurgitating information from memory in a particular time and place.
- Mastery over language and mathematical prowess is the main gauge of intellectual ability.
- School is a compulsory duty and students have to find ways to cope.
Whereas in progressive education:
- School isn’t a phase; it is one section of life.
- Students proactively participate in tasks, solve problems, and plan ahead.
- Parents are foremost teachers. They affix goals, plan ahead, and aid students in their education.
- Community is another part of the class.
- All staff participate in the decision-making process.
- The graduates’ aims, journey and core beliefs set the curriculum.
- Learning is multi-dimensional, like a spiral. The objective is to widen and deepen the scope of learning.
- Playing, experiencing different situations and socialising with others all enable students to gain knowledge.
- The main questions which children ask are the main directive for what they learn.
- Students understand how subjects relate to one another because of the overlap
- The learning materials are tools connected to skills.
- Evaluation systems are based on yardsticks, appear in varied forms, and are based on progress.
- Success means learning and gradually practising what students have learnt by cooperating with others.
- People view intellect as a variety of themes including artistic pursuits and gauge by resolving real-world problems.
- School is an exciting and enjoyable portion of life.
The Teacher’s Role: The Key Difference For Progressivism In Education Today
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One of the key differences in progressivism in education today compared to traditional education is the teacher’s role.
Normally, teachers would address topics by talking about them and drawing symbols on the whiteboard behind them. Students rely on them for knowledge.
A progressive teacher is more of a coordinator. He or sits at a table with a maximum of eight children, assisting them in thinking and challenging the assumptions of the world.
There are two main advantages of sitting in small groups, where the teacher knows everyone.
- It provides a safe space for discussion, such that even the shyest or even weakest student has the chance to speak their mind.
- Teachers can tap into the insecurities and worries of these children, and thereby work on their issues on a personal level.
Benefits Of Progressive Education
1. Individual students’ creativity and passions are recognised and celebrated by teachers.
Educators do not simply teach students information and then expect them to memorise it and ace tests. Instead, they engage their students in active hands-on learning through projects, experiments, and peer collaboration. Students can then pursue topics and subjects that they are interested in.
2. It creates a lifelong passion for learning.
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Students in progressive education learn by doing and are encouraged to pursue their own interests. Expert teachers use carefully scaffolded instruction to guide students in discovering the link between their own interests and various topic areas. Students are encouraged to build, create, and explain their thinking in a variety of ways through hands-on investigations, art, and design challenges.
Progressivism in education today will also foster a passion for learning new things. This is a valuable attitude as it makes school a part of their life. It’s not a ‘phase’ during their childhood years that stops once they enter adulthood.
Why? Change is the only constant and our desires will continue to change. To adapt, students will need to have a thirst for knowledge even after they’ve grown up.
3. Students find fulfilment in the development and mastery of academic challenges rather than in external rewards.
Progressivism in education concentrates on learning outcomes and the development of intrinsic motivation. Instruction is differentiated and each child is well known due to small class sizes that allow for close student-teacher relationships.
Teachers foster innate curiosity by connecting students and subjects and encouraging peer-to-peer collaborations. Instead of traditional grades, standards-based assessments and ongoing assessments are used. Progressivism in education today helps students master a couple of important skills needed once they pursue their careers.
4. Students understand who they are in the context of the larger world and see themselves as people with the power to affect change.
Students are prepared to participate in a democratic society. Learning emphasises the complexities that result from a world full of diverse viewpoints. One of the key priorities is for students to develop a sense of agency in order to make a difference in the world and to feel obligated to try.
5. Learn to build on the ideas of experts and peers while recognising and respecting opposing viewpoints.
Collaboration and perspective-taking are emphasised. We may not be able to predict half of the jobs our children will have in 20 years, but we do know they will be working in peer groups.
Group work and collaborative projects are essential components of a progressive curriculum. Students learn to cooperate with teams, think critically before doing things, and use creative means to resolve problems. As an equity practice in the classroom, teachers invite and provoke multiple perspectives and approaches to problem-solving.
6. Students gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, as well as a sense of belonging that they carry with them after graduation.
Focusing on the whole child is one of the key characteristics of progressive education. Children have social and emotional needs, as well as academic needs, strengths, and challenges. With the goal of preparing students for leadership roles in school and beyond. Schools foster interpersonal relationships, critical thinking, and compassion. Learning takes place in a supportive, safe, and empowering environment.
Students learn to become proactive learners with the ability to solve issues in a team setting or on their own. Kids also need to learn to contribute independently.
All of these skills will help them navigate through university education without parental intervention. And will also help them navigate through work and personal life after graduation. Kids are also well equipped to handle additional challenges without fear.
Disadvantages Of Progressive Education
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Critics of this approach to education argue that catering to students’ whims and fancies may ultimately harm the overall curriculum.
Critics argue that educational progress is hampered by classes that appear to cater to students’ emotions rather than focusing on content knowledge. There are no teacher-directed or skill-centred strategies used in implementing the curriculum.
At the same time, we know that students must master—that is, learn to be automatic in—reading, spelling, and mathematical facts and operations. We understand that the need to acquire skills and learn facts extends beyond the three Rs. The need persists, all the way through calculus and beyond in math and college-level reading and writing in English.
Curriculum planners can and should organise a curriculum that emphasises content in culturally important academic subjects such as math, science, history and geography, foreign languages, literature, and the arts. Education in these subjects should be cumulative and sequential, with each year’s study building on prior knowledge.
Curriculum planners, textbook authors, and teachers should not ignore or dismiss the tools, terminology, and methods that practitioners in academic disciplines have historically used. These tools and methods, as well as the knowledge that practitioners have gained through their use over time, are what define those disciplines.
Which School Can I Enrol My Child In For Progressivism In Education In Singapore Today?
Progressive education for preschoolers
Several schools in Singapore support the idea and benefits of progressive education such as Montessori schools for preschoolers. For parents interested in sending their preschoolers to a progressive school, Street Directory has a complete list of places for your little one to explore.
Progressivism in education today: The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program
The IB Program finds prominence for its progressive education. The curriculum includes a variety of different methods to learn compared to traditional education.
According to the IB website, the curriculum revolves around “critical engagement with challenging ideas, one that values the progressive thinking of the past while remaining open to future innovation”.
The curriculum shows how the IB is dedicated to making a cooperative, worldwide community of like-minded people via education.
To find out which schools in Singapore offer IB education, click here.
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