Biological Constructivism – Piaget
Education is not only the process of a transfer of information to a human mind. The Piaget’s constructivism theory emphasizes active participation of pupils in the process of education. One of the main points of constructivism says that knowledge is not given to pupils, but is formed by them. A child forms a set of laws for himself, according to which interaction occurs, by means of the interaction with the surrounding world. Constructivism consists of child-centered approaches to teaching such as peer tuition and collaborative learning; a child constructs his knowledge himself.
The constructivist trend is represented by the theory of Jean Piaget. Piaget called himself the representative of epistemology because he studied knowledge and cognition. Piaget studied knowledge on mental processes at children, in a context of children’s psychology. According to Piaget’s theory of a biological constructivism, the knowledge of the world around by children occurs through assimilation and adaptation. The formation of mental mechanisms of a child can clear their nature and functions at adults. In other words, evolutionary laws are peculiar both to a child’s reason and a scientific thought (process of removability of scientific ideas, theories and hypotheses).
Jean William Piaget is a Swedish psychologist and philosopher, known by his works in the sphere of a children psychology. He is the creator of a biological constructivism theory. Piaget was the pioneer of a biological constructivist approach to the problem of cognition. As well as in 1930s, this approach was developed, and now his approach remains oppositional in relation to the standard point of view. Among other things, this approach causes the feeling of a discomfort as demands a radical revision of some fundamental concepts taken for granted during thousands of years. Such basic categories include the concepts of “reality”, “truth”, and interpretation of what knowledge is and how to master it.
The theory of cognitive development developed by Piaget has deep biological roots and is constructed on preconditions which have to work on the relation to all forms of life. The most important feature of all live organisms consists in the ability to keep the internal state, the organization in a balanced state, contrary to external influences. Therefore, any activity of organisms, including cognitive, is understood by Piaget as adaptive in the sense that serves the self-regulation purposes. The main thing consists in the fact that the internal dynamics of cognitive structures has an adaptive character and is subordinated to the law of a balanced achievement at each new stage of development.
Thus, Piaget’s theory is based on the following basic principles:
(1) Principle of constructivism (“dynamic Kantianism”). Knowledge construct and reality construct are two main aspects of uniform process.
(2) Stage principle. A cognitive development of a person in ontogenesis passes through qualitatively various stages.
(3) Balance principle. The process of cognitive development is a process of increase of the internal organization, achievement of a new equilibrium level.
The knowledge, determined by Piaget in an instrumental key, is represented as a set of constructs. A radical reconsideration of the essence of knowledge and cognition, made by Piaget and valuable for the biological constructivist approach, consists in the fact that all cognitive structures – active schemes, concepts, rules, theories and laws are estimated by their successfulness - ability of an organism to achieve, hold and expand its internal balance in the from of constantly arising external indignations.
In one of his autobiographical memories Piaget writes that decided “to devote his life to a biological explanation of the problem of knowledge. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this statement. To declare knowledge to be a biological function, instead of considering it as a result of universal, extra historical reason, means to go on a radical gap of the epistemological tradition in the western philosophy. This step immediately leads to a focus shift in a view of the microcosmos - from the ontological world to that world which is endured by an organism on own experience. (Piaget, 1952).
The idea that the process of cognition is “adaptive” was expressed by James, Zimmel and other scientists; however, Piaget noticed that adaptation in cognitive/conceptual plane differs from the physiological adaptation of a biological organism. He realized that adaptation is not reduced to a survival or extinction at a cognitive level, but can be as a problem of a conceptual balance. Thus, it is important to note that always when Piaget spoke of “this highest form of adaptation”, it was a question of consciousness functions, but not at all of the biological mechanisms.
The aspiration to open the mechanism of knowledge caused Piaget’s interest to the researches of children’s mentality. Observing the interconnection of kids and children with their environment, he intended to establish the manifestations of cognitive processes to construct the generalized model of knowledge in ontogenesis. From the point of view of traditional philosophy, the only thing that can turn out as a result of such attempts is no more than “a genetic error”, because cognition is considered as timeless and non-changeable and cannot be explainable on the basis of the process of own development in any way.
In one of his early books, Piaget made an attempt to show that a child himself constructs such a reality, which he experiences on own experience. It is a cornerstone of the concept of Piaget and at the same time it is the most significant difference from all traditional theories of knowledge. The maxim “knowledge is the highest form of adaptation” is a principal refusal from the understanding of the process of cognition as a generator of representations of ontological reality, which Piaget replaces with the other treatment - cognition is the instrument of adaptation directed at the designing of viable conceptual structures. (Piaget, 1937).
In the course of a constructional activity of the first two years of a child’s life there is the foundation for what becomes subsequently an experienced world of a child: the skeleton for further construction is formed. In the process of expansion of life experience of a child, there is one layer of conceptual constructs over the other. Thus, at any stage of development it is impossible to trace the whole way of construct at sensual and motor level.
There is a widespread conception of development as a transition from absence to presence (i.e., from not-in-competence to first-incompetence) that is completely at odds with the constructivist and developmental nature of Piaget’s approach to human development (Lourenco, 1996).
Thus, the role of Piaget in preparation of a radical constructivism consisted in a new treatment of the adaptation opposite to the traditional for biology understanding. If it is traditionally considered that a natural selection modifies an organism structure according to the environmental changes and imposed restrictions, new understanding lies in the fact that the perception modifies (adapts) the perceived material in such a way to correspond to the organism’s conceptual structures.