Gary and Martha (2004) define Cognitive development as the development of the ability to think and reason. Piaget’s theory focuses on how people think, that is, thought processes instead of on what they think (content). There are two processes used by children and adults to deal with new ideas; assimilation and accommodation He proposed four universal and consecutive stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operation in cognitive development. This theory led to the development of new teaching methods that capitalizes on the exploratory and incentive activities of the child himself. It also contributed to the strengthening of the teaching of specific school courses, particularly in science and mathematics.
Conversely Vygotsky’s theory, social-cultural perspective, states that the cognitive development of children and adolescents is enhanced when they work in their zone of proximal development. To reach proximal children need the help of adults or more competent individuals to support or scaffold them as they are learning new things. In his theory, he came up with the following claims; Culture – that the higher mental functioning in the individual emerged out of social processes. Secondly Language – human social and psychological processes are fundamentally shaped by cultural tools. Lastly, the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is the concept that the potential of the child is limited to a specific time span, this theory offers a more recent educational approach than Piaget, where the child is the apprentice.
Comparison in Piaget and Vygotsky’s Theory
Both agreed that children’s cognitive development took place in stages. They agreed that egocentric speech played important role in cognitive development. Both believed the relationship between the individual and the society as being a necessary relational. (Gary and Martha, 2004)
Piaget believed that cognitive changes precede linguistic advances, unlike Vygotsky who proposed that language allowed the child far greater freedom of thought and lead to further cognitive development. Piaget believed in the development of thinking and that language moved from the individual to social while Vygotsky believed that language moved from social to the individual. For Vygotsky, speech moved from social speech to inner egocentric speech while Piaget claimed that egocentric speech was simply an accompaniment to a child’s actions and it went away with maturity. Piaget maintained that children were naturally inquisitive about their own abilities and about their environment and they advance their knowledge because of biologically regulated cognitive changes while Vygotsky believed that it was adult and children’s peers, responsible for sharing their greater collective language. (Barbara and Philip, 2006)
Strength of Piaget’s theory
Piaget’s approach gives numerous opportunities for children to explore their environment. It also encourages symbolic play, a very important learning tool. According to Piaget, toddlers begin to form the ability to create symbols—to let a word, thought object, or action stand for something else. Through symbolic action, a child is able to manipulate things, thus creating new thoughts and words. It gives teachers the opportunity to observe the children and to plan activities for individual children or small groups.
Piaget suggests that increases in cognitive performance cannot be attained unless both cognitive readiness brought about by maturation and appropriate environmental stimulation is present. This view has been most influential in determining the nature and structure of educational curricula and the way children are taught. (Barbara and Philip, 2006)
Piaget’s theory and methods have also been used to investigate issues surrounding animal cognition such as whether primates show object permanence. Piaget has generally provided an accurate account of age-related changes in cognitive development.
Weaknesses of Piaget’s theory
Infants exhibit behaviors even earlier on than Piaget thought. Piaget’s categories and ages are not global for all learning and all cultures i.e. especially for those children with learning disabilities or certain diseases. Cognitive development proceeds in a more continuous fashion than Piaget’s theory implies. Cognitive psychologists propose that cognitive development is primarily quantitative in nature, rather than qualitative. Finally, Piaget underestimated the age at which infants and children are able to understand specific concepts and principles. For instance, recent evidence suggests that infants as young as five months have rudimentary mathematical skills. (Barbara and Philip, 2006)
- The strength of Vygotsky’s theory; the importance of social context in cognitive development which was underestimated by Piaget is acknowledged in this theory. There are clearly cultural differences in development.
- Weaknesses of Vygotsky’s theory; There might be other reasons why people learn better in the presence of others i.e. social facilitation, Young children often take months or years to master types of skills even with appropriate social support The account in this theory is rather sketchy- no real account of the type of social interaction that promotes cognition development
Some types of social interactions may actually hold development back.
Barbara, M. and Philip R.(2006). Development Through Life, New York: Thomson Wadsworth, pp. 35-124.
Gary, N. and Martha, B. (2004). Child and Adolescent Development: A Behavioral Systems Approach, London: Sage publishers, pp.72- 205.