Education is one of the main crucial aspects towards human development. This means, it is important in shaping human life and development. There are several types of education namely formal, informal and non formal education. These types of education are normally given since childhood to adulthood and they vary from society to society. Childhood is a critical stage in human development so education provided during that period needs to be a special one. Several authors have done some works to show weaknesses in childhood education systems and pedagogies and they have identified some measures to improve. Those authors include Maria Montessori and Margaret Mead. They show the need for educational reform in order to bring people's socio-economic development. The main purpose of this paper is therefore to identify some problems and weaknesses in educating children and to provide suggested measures for improvement. It will focus on the work of Maria Montessori which was based in Italy experience and Margaret Mead basing in America and Samoa experience. The paper will focus on formal education in schools and informal education in the homes.
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Maria Montessori (1912) in her work, "the Montessori method", argues that through different ways, the existed education system is not proper to children. She shows weakness of the old scientific pedagogy and proposing new kind of scientific pedagogy. She says, the principle of slavery pervades pedagogy and therefore the same principle pervades school. She argues for reform and transformation of the whole school environment including the roles of educators, school buildings, sitting arrangement, lessons to be taught as well as the teachings methods. She is proposing the Montessori Method as a critical consideration of the new pedagogy in its relation to modern science. She shows the need to move away from a false and narrow way of educating children to a more free system in order to have a true and proper system for training the future generation.
Starting with the role of teachers or educators, she says they should be very well prepared on how to deal and interact with children. That preparation should be based on the spirit rather than on the mechanism in order to awaken their mind and hearts. To her, the teachers tend to pour certain knowledge and facts into the heads of the pupils and in order to succeed in that they need to discipline the pupils into immobility and force their attention through systems of prizes and punishments. She argues that prizes and punishments are instrument of slavery of the spirit and they are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort and that cannot be considered as natural development of the child. Even if nowadays there are no whippings or other forms of punishments in schools, even scolding of teachers or giving a pupil bad mark is not encouraged by the author. This system of prizes may turn an individual aside from true choices and make him/her choose a false one and forced to follow it.
Prizes and punishments may have various negative consequences for the children because even in future, at work the children will tend to work for prizes and rewards instead of professional motivation. However, the system is still very common and continues today in many parts of the world and people are so rigid to change it. It is argued that education should guide children's learning but it represses instead. According to Montessori, the teacher's task should be to nourish, assist, watch, encourage, guide, induce, rather than to interfere, restrict or prescribe.
In case of school buildings, class rooms and sitting arrangement, she says they are structured in such way that they prevent and repress children mobility and behaviours. They also make the children to study in unhygienic conditions which endanger even their physical development. She argues that it is not good for children to grow up in an artificial environment so she proposes pupils' liberty, auto education, establishment of harmony between the work and activities of home life and school tasks so as to improve the children education. She says the scientific pedagogy in the school should permit free and natural manifestations of the child. It is true that free children can learn best than those tied to false and fake environment which does not portray their real life. Restricting children mobility in schools has similar consequences like rewards and punishments. It degrades their bodies and spirits and can lead to forced discipline and lack of confidence.
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The Montessori Method consists of various lessons including intellectual education, muscular education and education of the senses to name a few. She believes that education of the senses is very important for guiding practical life. At the same time, Montessori drives our attention to the role of religious education as being important to guide children moral life. In this case, the education system needs to be comprehensive and it should not just focus on teaching children reading, writing and arithmetic. However, in our contemporary society this may not be very practical because of the declining role of religion in people's life. There are people who do not practice any religion anymore.
It is argued that, the Montessori system is not yet complete but it comprises a system well enough established to be practical in all child care institutions and in the first elementary classes. The system originated from the preceding pedagogical experiences with abnormal children when it was discovered that abnormal children when taught in a different and special way and if helped in their psychic development they can be able to learn and compete with normal children. This fact proved that the normal children are being suffocated and repressed hence they do not reach their full development. This derived the need to apply similar methods to normal children so as to develop and set free their personality. It is believed that these methods will guard a person's natural life and free him or her from the so called oppressive and degrading society. Montessori now saw the need to apply her methods and to develop didactic materials which could effectively be used in the so called Children Houses. It is also important to mention that the Montessori system represents the successive work of other three physicians namely Itard, Seguin and Kant.
The system had been widely accepted and it is applied in many countries including the developed and developing countries. However, it needs special skills, knowledge and materials so it can be argued that it is expensive to run. It is applied in some private schools but it is a challenge in public schools. Also it application can conflict with the home environment of the child when there are two different systems at home and school. It can function well if parents are also aware of it.
Mead (1928), in her work on "Coming of Age in Samoa", also analyses gaps and weaknesses in the education system in America by comparing it with Samoa experience. Mead focuses more on the child's home environment but also she analyzes the child's school environment. When analysing education of the Samoan child, she explains how children from infant stage are raised and different roles of family members in raising children. She also shows how children are handled and educated before and after puberty until they get married. Here, she has analysed an African society of Samoa which has not yet received external contacts from other countries especially the developed countries. The society she also describes as a primitive society. She analyses this society by showing how a child learns from his or her surrounding environment. However, she does not argue that it is perfect way of raising and educating children but she points out that there are crucial things which a developed society such as America can learn from it. Like Montessori, she acknowledges the importance of a child's home and natural environment for learning.
In Samoa, from birth until the age of four of five a child's education is simple, focussing on physical development such as learning how to sit and crawl. Young girl and boys of six or seven years are the ones responsible for caring, socializing and disciplining the small children. However, there is unequal treatment for boys and girls because girls are more burned with child caring responsibility and they have little opportunity to learn some other forms of work and play compared to the boys. However, it is noted that with the introduction of formal schooling by the government, the children are now being removed from home and they stay in school for many hours. This will in turn bring disorganization and change of the traditional system.
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Mead sees several problems in the American education system in comparing it with Samoa. In Samoa, children are not forced to learn or punished harshly for slowness of development as in America. She argues that punishments such as whippings in schools can make a child able to make mathematical calculations but she/he won't be able to interpret or make sense of it. Like Montessori she criticizes punishments in schools but she doesn't identify rewards as a problem.
She also argues that, the American education system tends to confuse pupils because it fails to make important connection between the school and the home environment. There are cases where by things allowed at home are not allowed at school. American children spend many hours in school learning tasks which do not have visible connections with what their parents are doing as opposed to Samoan children. They are also encouraged and left to play with toys and dolls which are meaningless. The education system fails to include children participation and integrating school life with the surrounding community like what Samoa does to its children. American boys and girls finish school at the age of 14 and 18 and are ready to work but they have few choices to make because the education and the skills they get influence which work they should do. Here, she calls for an education system which will prepare and train the children the choices which confront them. She suggests education in the home even more than at school. Like Montessori, Mead also stresses the need for practical education. For Montessori, a good way for solving this problem had been to establish children houses.
Mead adds that, education system in America had the problem of handling children of different endowment and different rates of development. There had been a tendency of keeping children in one educational step for a long time in order to give time to the mentally defective children to catch up. This has many disadvantages to the children and to Montessori also, this is a way of repressing and degrading child's full development.
Generally, Mead sees problems in educating and treating children at home and in schools. She urges for education reform which will enable children to make important choices for their life. Education should also give more attention to mental and physical hygiene and in this way like Montessori, she argues that a child needs to be health in mind and body and she or he should learn freely without being tied to some systems or to one regime. America has a heterogeneous culture and various philosophies so children should be taught how to think instead of not to think. They need to be taught how to make individual choices and to tolerate the heterogeneous culture.
In conclusion, the two authors have identified how education of children is structured and they have identified errors gaps and weaknesses which need to be worked on. Although the authors come from two different societies they have been able to identify some common problems and in one way or another some similar measures on educational reform. This might be due to the fact that they have some similar background as developed countries. It is surprisingly true that the problems identified persist in many other countries including the developing countries till today. In that case, it can be argued that the developing countries might have adopted similar educational schemes through colonialism.
- Mead Margaret (1961 ) Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks.
- Montessori Maria (1912), The Montessori Method.