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It is usually rather difficult to provide an exact meaning of the word 'philosophy'. The approach of philosophy is distinct from that of Sociology and Psychology since it mainly relies on the thinking aspect. In fact, sometimes philosophy is described as 'an activity' where it mainly involves logical arguments (Warburton, 1992).
As a result, Philosophy, Sociology and Psychology might deal with the same issues but tackle them from different perspectives; since they are different approaches. Nevertheless, philosophers are not only concerned with these issues nowadays but instead the most prominent philosophers derived from the ancient Greeks which are still influential. Furthermore, philosophical writings continued through the 20th century mostly in Europe and other continents (Warburton, 1992). However, throughout the years these philosophers were concerned with various issues as regards the world and us humans. The most prominent philosophers were mainly Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Nietzsche and so forth. Therefore these philosophers raised issues as to what is the meaning of life, religion, politics, ethics and aesthetics and various other topics (Warburton, 1992).
But one could raise queries such as why should we think upon these issues? Moreover, why should we think upon these issues within a philosophical approach? Warburton (1992) provides the following illustration in order to help in dealing with such questions:
For instance, most people live their lives without questioning their fundamental beliefs, such as that killing is wrong. But why is it wrong? What justification is there for saying that killing is wrong? Is it wrong in every circumstance? And what do I mean by 'wrong' anyway?
This is an excellent example as to why and how one should raise philosophical questions. Though Warburton (1992) provided this example as regards killing, the same process could be applied within other dilemmas that we are facing nowadays; for instance those regarding abortion, euthanasia and whether to introduce divorce in Malta or not. As a result, philosophers present various arguments in favour or against these issues. But what type of arguments? As stated previously, philosophers usually base their arguments by adapting logical and rationality within their writings. Therefore, philosophical arguments usually require several techniques in order to provide a consistent argument. In addition, the philosophical questions raised within such texts are necessary in order to enhance our understanding of the world and ourselves within it.
The History of Philosophy
The early Greek philosophers were concerned with issues as regards the world and human beings. Thus, some of the early Greek philosophers studied and provided writings on what is the world and the main elements that form the earth. Nevertheless, philosophers interpreted this concern from different ways and though nowadays we have more scientific answers regarding these queries, these philosophers remain prominent and very influential for their writings throughout the centuries.
A few centuries back, humans did not yet developed science in order to answer their questions and life was mainly rotated through the same natural events and experiences including birth, death, the sun, the moon, water, fire, earthquakes, floods and so forth (Hergenhahn, 2009). Nowadays, we normally live a hectic life trying to meet everything at once so we do not actually have time to think upon these issues. Furthermore, if one does think about or have queries regarding any of these searching in a book or on the internet will provide easy answers supported by scientific proof; as to what, how and why these take place. In contrast, this was not the case in thousands of years back, since people have not yet studied and such issues formed the major events in a person's life (Hergenhahn, 2009). Nevertheless, some individuals still thought about, observed and sought to come up with answers regarding these concepts (Hergenhahn, 2009).
The first philosopher is often referred to Thales which mainly focused on cosmology and his writings helped to reduce the superstition and mysticism which mainly dominated human thought at that time (Hergenhahn, 2009). Thales introduced the concept of scientific thought since he believed that the universe was governed by natural laws (O'Grady, 2005). In fact, it was rather difficult to challenge such thoughts at that time and introducing science as a means of arriving at certain conclusions. However, Thales was interested to study the basic material of all things and through his observations he claimed that everything was made from water (O'Grady, 2005).
Another early philosopher was Heraclitus who was rather astonished that everything was 'in a constant flux' (Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 32). In contrast with Thales' theories, Heraclitus therefore did not study what things are made of but rather how things changed and ultimately transformed to something else. Thales asserted that everything is 'becoming' and that this process occurs because of fire (Hergenhahn, 2009).
Besides from the above mentioned philosophers, another major writer was Pythagoras who influenced culture and ideas throughout the history (O'Grady, 2005). In addition, he developed the concept of Mathematics. In fact, even nowadays we refer to 'Pythagoras theorem' which involves a theory which calculates height and areas within geometrical shapes. Furthermore, his philosophical observations and writings are said to have inspired Aristotle as well as Plato (O'Grady, 2005).
These early Greek philosophers and several others including Anaximander, Parmenides Anaxagoras and Democritus (Hergenhahn, 2009) were significant since they influenced and ultimately paved the way for other major philosophical writings.
Plato and Philosophy of Education
Throughout their writings, philosophers also influenced our society as to how such institutions are meant to function. In fact, a major influential writer within the area of philosophy was Plato whose arguments' also influenced the institution of education. Furthermore, he is well-known for the 'Theory of forms' and the 'Parable of the Cave'. Throughout his illustration of the Parable of the Cave, Plato showed how education should function within society.
Plato is usually referred to as the founding father of philosophy, whose education included Socrates as his teacher (O'Grady, 2005). In addition, he was famous for the writings presented within the book The Republic. Plato is regarded as a 'questioner' and his writings mainly consisted of dialogues where Socrates challenged the citizens to think upon such issues including their values, beliefs, happiness (O'Grady, 2005, p. 127).
The 'Theory of Forms' suggests that there is a physical world and another which consists of perfectibility. The word 'forms' within his theory suggests that the objects are ideal or perfect. Therefore, according to Plato things within the physical world are only copies since there are perfect copies within another world - the world of forms. For instance, if there is a table within the physical world, according to Plato, this is somehow inferior to the actual table within the other world since it is perfect.
On the other hand, the 'Parable of the Cave' illustrates an example where individuals are living in a cave. When a member of the group of people living within the cave, seeks to explore the outside cave and discovers the light, he manages to tell the other people who eventually murder him. As these people have never seen the light, then they could not acknowledge, appreciate and ultimately consider its significance.
But what does this illustration imply? In fact, this illustration of Plato points out the issue of the enlightenment. Thus, when applied within the area of Education, this illustration suggests that knowledge could provide the 'light' at the end of the cave, whereas the 'darkness' is experienced by those who remain uneducated. The main difficulty faced within this regard, is that those individuals who have not been educated could not appreciate and motivate themselves to experience education. Therefore what could we do so that the educational system will also motivate those students who for a particular reason or another did not gain the required knowledge and ultimately did not pass their examinations?
In fact, the new reforms of the Maltese educational system are implementing new strategies in order to overcome such difficulties. In the past few years, year four, five and six were rather crucial for Primary students since these determined their educational success of the child's life. Therefore, students who did not do well in the year four exams were usually placed in the lower streams, which eventually unmotivated these students to pass their Junior Lyceum Exams. After attending the area secondary, several students were choosing not to sit for O'level examinations; thus they ended up without certificates which were usually necessary for the world of work. The proposed new system, suggested that students instead of being allocated according to streaming they are allocated according to a setting. Therefore, a student who did well in the majority of the subjects but failed in the 'X' exam, will be placed with the other students in the other subjects and will only change his/her class for the subject 'X'. Furthermore, students who failed some or all of the O'level exams have other alternatives where they could continue their studies; such as foundation courses within MCAST. Nevertheless, there are various criticisms of such system; such as how come students are allocated within different classes for the majority of the subjects and for other subjects they are not? Other questions are drawn upon the pedagogies of teaching, for instance, are the teachers trained in order to plan lessons for mixed ability classes? Such criticisms raise queries as regards the affectivity of such system.
Within the area of education, philosophers have presented several arguments upon the purpose of this institution as well as queries of the main concepts and pedagogies used within the area education. In fact, the writings of Plato have provided several arguments which had ultimately inspired and influenced the area of education.
Socrates: Truth, Self Examination and Education
Socrates is another founding father of philosophical thinking and is often referred to as the 'wisest man'. In addition, he was the master teacher of another major philosopher Plato, of which he clearly influenced. Throughout his life he mainly devoted his time philosophising and normally practiced philosophical thinking by engaging in various dialogues with people who followed him. Though he died hundreds of years ago, he remained influential and his speeches are still prominent in the area of philosophy. Christian (2009) provides the following description of Socrates:
This was the man who could outwrestle the strongest athletes, outfight the hardiest foot soldiers, outdrink the dippiest winebibbers, and outthink the brightest minds of Hellas.
Socrates emphasised on the importance of knowing oneself. In fact, he generally used the term "Know thyself" (Allen, 1991, p. 17) in which suggested that individuals should seek to gain more insight about their minds and spirits (as cited in Hergenhahn, 2009). Thus, continuous self examination requires, for instance, questioning who am I and what am I doing here. This suggested that people, instead of looking at the world, they should look at themselves, and this would ultimately provide a deeper understanding of oneself. Furthermore, Socrates also sought to examine concepts such as those regarding beauty, love and so forth (Hergenhahn, 2009). Examining such notions was necessary, according to Socrates, in order to arrive at truth. However, what is truth and how can one arrive at this so called 'truth'?
Hergenhahn (2009) claims that for Socrates, it was rather significant to first of all define the essence of such 'things'. In this regard, essence refers to the characteristics or the main components of what makes something beautiful, or what are the underlying principles of justice, truth or love. Therefore, philosophical thinking would eventually lead to truth, in which according to Socrates, was solitary and static.
Socrates dialogues also provided insight in the field of Education. In fact, the above arguments suggest that knowledge could help in arriving at truth. Moreover, knowledge could also consist of knowing oneself. Ornstein et al. (2008) claimed that:
Socrates (469-399 BCE) believed that knowledge was based on what was true universally - at all places and times. Socrates is important in educational history because he firmly defended the academic freedom to think, question and teach.
Therefore, apart from influencing education through his arguments within the dialogues, Socrates was also prominent in this regard, since he developed a distinct in the way in which he taught his followers. In fact, through his teaching he emphasised the importance of 'critical self evaluation' to his students, and believed that knowledge should not be transmitted but instead it is already present within the person's mind (Ornstein et al., 2008). Socrates philosophical dialogues are therefore rather significant even within the area of education; since he proposed as well as practiced alternative teaching pedagogies which were more student-centred and required the teachers' skills in order to motivate the pupils to learn instead of simply transmitting knowledge.
The Dialectic method: Constructing Arguments
The philosophical inquiry used by Socrates, usually involved an engagement through dialogues. Therefore, Socrates encouraged the view of philosophical thinking as a social activity. In fact, both Socrates and his followers argued upon such concepts through philosophising; which ultimately was meant to lead to truth. As a result, Socratic dialogues occurred within the community and generally involved arguments with normal people.
On the other hand, Plato substituted the Socratic dialogue with the dialectical method. In contrast with the former method of philosophical inquiry, the dialectical method does not take place within a social activity but rather individually; through engaging in dialogues with oneself. Dancy et al. (2010) explains the term dialectical as follows:
Dialectical analysis determines the content and proper application of concepts. It beings with an elementary, general concept from a domain of inquiry, examines its content, and range of application, and criticizes its failure to account for salient features of examples in its purported domain. This justifies introducing a more sophisticated concept to account for the domain, on which the analysis is repeated.
In fact, the dialectical process involves a thesis, anti-thesis and ultimately a synthesis. Therefore, this process initiates with a theory or hypothesis; then another theory is developed through-counter argument which opposes the preliminary theory. The synthesis involves another theory which generated from the initial theory and its counter-argument. The synthesis is then involved in another process including another theory, counter-arguments and ultimately another synthesis. Dancy et al. (2010) claims that dialectical arguments 'offer indirect proof' (p. 312). The dialectical process is therefore intended to arrive at truth, which is given particular prominence within the philosophical inquiry, since through repeated dialectical processes a theory is finally generated which is resistant from other theoretical opposition.
Where can the dialectic method be applied in order to obtain truth? Plato's dialectic method could be applied in various philosophical domains including ideas, theories, books and so forth. Nevertheless, within the area of education the dialectic method often takes place. In fact, from the very beginning of the education in Malta there were arguments in favour and against several concerns; including who should be educated, if it should be compulsory, how should education take place and after all, whether to educate everyone. Nowadays, several debates involve other concerns within the area of education; including the main objectives of education as well as other discussions regarding the rights of the students, parents and teachers themselves. Thus, from this viewpoint, the dialectical method took place within the history of education in Malta.
The dialectic method is often referred to as the 'cornerstone' of Plato's philosophy (Canney, 2002). This method has provided another form of philosophical inquiry from that of Socrates though both methods aim to arrive at truth which ultimately leads to enlightenment.
Logic, Fallacies, Conclusions: Analysing arguments
Constructing arguments usually involves various processes; which could include thinking, observations, discussions, in certain circumstances research, as well as a proposal of alternative ideas. In addition, philosophical arguments could also be based on dialogues or dialectical methods explained earlier within this journal. But why does the process of arguments differ? Moreover, why are some arguments more successful than others? When it comes to analysing arguments, one should focus upon their consistency; for instance through the order of the argument, thus the logic, and by speculating and identifying fallacies.
An important aspect when analysing an argument is the concept of logic. This consists of the methods of reasoning, as well as those regarding thoughts and ultimately assessing the provided evidence. Nevertheless, the concept of logic is usually associated with that of 'correct reasoning' within an argument (Malikow, 2009, p. 7). The reasoning methods used within the arguments could either consist of induction or deduction. The deductive reasoning usually takes place from the general to specific, and usually consists of theory, hypothesis, observation and ultimately confirmation (Trochim, 2008). On the other hand, the inductive method of reasoning initiates from the specific to the general; thus comprising of observations, patterns, hypothesis and finally formulating a hypothesis (Trochim, 2008).
Malikow (2009) states that one of the key principles of a successful argument 'is the law of non-contradiction' (p.9). Thus, the presented arguments or text should not involve elements which contradict each other since this could ultimately make the arguments inconsistent. Moreover, a logical argument entails a sequence or an order of how the argument is presented as well as a continuation and a build-up of an argument and another. But why is the notion of logic rather necessary? Logic within an argument will help to identify the strengths and weaknesses within an argument and ultimately determine if it is correct. Nevertheless, besides from logic, weak arguments could be identified through what we call fallacies.
Fallacies could be referred to as weak arguments or weak points within an argument, used by the theorist when writing text. Trochin (2008) asserts that the term fallacies refer to a mistake used in reasoning. Therefore, fallacies do not occur within the factual data, but rather within the argument itself (Labossiere, 1995). In addition, there are various types of fallacies; for instance the 'ad hominem tu quoque' which asserts that an individual might not want to change his/her actions since other people's actions are inconsistent with their statements (Labossiere, 1995). Thus, acknowledging and taking precautions of such fallacies within logical arguments, could ultimately determine the success of the argument.
Analysing arguments is rather necessary in order to establish their validity and importance. Logical arguments entail a particular method, concerning the reasoning, sequence and so forth. In addition, rational arguments should also avoid such fallacies which make the argument inconsistent. Furthermore, the conclusion of the argument should consist of persuasion of reasons pointed out earlier, together with a summary of what had been pointed out throughout the text. Thus, a conclusion is also fundamental to assert the significance and legitimacy within arguments.
Philosophy applied within education in Malta: Arguments as presented within different educational documents
There were several documents published within the area of education. The major educational documents consisted of the 1988 and the 1999 NMC. In addition, educational policy documents are also significant since these present the basis of the educational framework. Nevertheless, there were other documents which established a critical evaluation of each of these, and which ultimately proposed other alternatives in order to develop the concept of schools as communities and to enhance the students' learning activity.
The first Maltese National Minimum Curriculum was published in 1988. This document was intended to develop a structure in which Maltese schools should follow. This document was sectioned according to the Primary and Secondary level. The NMC stated the objectives which should have been targeted by the Primary schools; for instance as regards the subjects' taught, the students' character development, teaching pedagogies, homework as well as those concerning examinations. On the other hand, the Secondary curriculum provided a deeper understanding of the concept of secondary schools; since initially the curriculum stated the aims together with the main purposes and the methods of teaching which should take place in the secondary schools. This particular curriculum also illustrated the core and optional subjects together with a section on the examinations. This document therefore ensured that for instance, students should learn both Maltese and English, together with science.
There were several reaction vis-à-vis the 1988 NMC. In fact, in 1991 Prof. Wain (1991) published a critical evaluation on this document in his book named The Maltese National Curriculum: A critical evaluation. Within this book, he provided a deeper understanding of the underlying principles of both the Primary and the Secondary 1988 curriculum. One of the major criticisms provided within this book, entailed that the NMC was not detailed and it was only presented within a few pages (Wain, 1991). In addition, Wain (1991) presented his dilemmas on the consultation before this document was published by the MOE, in fact he asserted that:
The Minister of Education apparently expected people to express their reactions after the curricula were published. But, in fact, both were greeted with the silence of the grave, and, as far as any local debate on education goes, the metaphor is indeed an appropriate one.
In fact, this document questioned the limitations of the students as well as those concerning the teachers. Within the final section of this book, however, Wain (1991) also published several alternatives as regards the 1988 NMC.
A few years later, another significant document was published within the area of education entitled Tomorrow Schools in 1995. In fact, this document was intended to evaluate such educational policies within the primary and secondary schools, point out important issues, and eventually provide alternatives as regards these concerns. Furthermore, this document also established four principles: entitlement, effectiveness, equity and economy (Ministry of Education, 1995). In addition, another major argument proposed by this document suggested the idea of schools as communities. Ministry of Education (1995) suggested that the 'macro', 'meso' and 'micro' sites should work together so as to enhance the students' learning activity; such as those including 'policy-making', institutions and the classrooms themselves (p. 15).
The second NMC was published in 1999. This document provided a more detailed text then the previous one. In addition, it established further specific aspects of the objectives which should have been targeted by the schools. The major focus within the document, focused on the students' development. However, it did not highlight nor speculate on the concept of schools as communities as proposes by the former document. On the other hand, within the same year, another document was published entitled 'NMC Abbozz Finali' (MOE, 1999). Throughout this document, several aspects are highlighted together with justifications for changes within the NMC.
In 2005 another important document was published entitled For All Children To Succeed. This document also highlights the significance of the 4E's and the concept of schools as communities. In fact, the MOE (2005) asserts that
This reform will work towards the reintegration of students from learning zones and learning centres into the mainstream education system, and as soon as it remains beneficial for the student and the school community.
Besides these documents, there are other publications and circulars published within the education website. These publications consist of the Code of Discipline, Education act, Health and Safety Unit, together with new programs introduced within the area of education; for instance those regarding educational technology and the education assessment unit (Ministry of Education, 2008).
These educational documents were rather significant in the implementation of the new reforms. In addition, critical evaluation of these documents provided an analysis of the strengths and weakness presented within the arguments. These documents are also rather crucial in order to develop the concept of education as that of a continuous process and ultimately to ensure the best means for our students.
The Maltese National Minimum Curriculum: Why do we need it?
The institution of Education is one of the major cornerstones of our society. That is, it educates students academically, personally and socially with the aim of developing tomorrows' citizens. This process requires parents, teachers, administrators together with a whole system to exert and ultimately reach the targeted objectives. In order to do this, the educational system publishes a Maltese National Minimum Curriculum. Throughout this particular journal, I shall research and identify what is a NMC, what are the main principles of this document and ultimately present justifications of why we should have a National Minimum Curriculum at all.
The document of the NMC forms part of our Maltese legislature. In fact, the state has the right and obligation to establish such a document. The first Maltese NMC was published in 1988 and another one was published almost ten years later in 1999. The NMC should be therefore replaced after several years since the educational objectives should meet the expectations of the Maltese society. The education act draws attention to the NMC and states clearly its objectives, and who is responsible in order to publish this document. In addition, the Education Act (1991, p.2) provides a definition of the NMC in the following illustration:
"curriculum" means the National Curriculum Framework for all schools at compulsory educational level as provided for by article 47;
(as cited in the Ministry of Education, 2008, p.2)
Therefore, as stated by the act, the main principle of the NMC is to provide a framework for all Maltese and Gozitan schools. In fact, within this illustration, provided by the act there are three important keywords which include: 'framework' and 'national'. Thus, this document first of all, aims at establishing a structure which could take place locally within the schools. However, why is it called a 'Minimum'? This term implies that this document will publish not the outmost objectives which should be reached by the schools, but rather the least objectives that one could do in schools. Therefore this notion suggests that schools should set more objectives, design programs based on the proposed principles set by the NMC and that pupils should ultimately be given much more from schools.
Thus, one of the major principles of the NMC is to establish a guideline for the Maltese and Gozitan schools; where the administrators, heads, assistant heads and teachers should follow in order to reach the targeted objectives. Therefore, if today we did not have an NMC what would happen? In fact, without a national framework schools might be setting different objectives and eventually the outcomes will be different according to the schools. In addition, the NMC also sets general educational policies. These policies ultimately set the rights and duties within the schools.
Besides from the above mentioned principles as regards the framework itself, the NMC also sets aims as regards the pedagogies used within a narrow perspective of the education, which is within the schools themselves. In fact, without an NMC there will be less focus of a developing holistic approach. The principles of this document also suggest which pedagogies should be used by teachers; for instance those regarding inclusion. Furthermore, another major purpose of this document is to set ethical principles. These could include issues regarding social justice, fairness, social inclusion and so forth. The schools and teachers are therefore requested to set their objectives and base their practices upon the proposed principles.
The Maltese NMC is therefore necessary for our educational system. This document, apart from establishing an educational framework, also sets the basic principles, policies, pedagogies together with justifications for each of these. Thus, the NMC sets both universal objectives which should take place within the schools development plan, together with confined principles which should be applied and practiced within every classroom. This document is therefore crucial in order to guide the heads and teachers' objectives and practices in order to enhance the students' learning.
Tomorrow schools: Moving towards the concept of Schools as Learning Communities
The document Tomorrow schools was published in 1995 by the Consultative Committee on Education. The main purpose of this document was to present several arguments upon such concepts which are relevant to our current society. One of the major concepts promoted within this document is that of Schools as Communities. However, what does this concept actually imply and how does this document suggest our schools to develop as these so called 'learning communities'?
The concept of schools as communities mainly shifts the focus from the traditional ways of learning to more student centred type of learning. This viewpoint therefore suggests that new reforms should be implemented in order to view schools not as antagonistic environments, but rather as a place where learning takes place. In addition, the type of bonds presented within the school should be like 'communities'. Therefore, this concepts does not only necessitate a shift from the policies, teaching methodologies and so forth, but also highlight the importance of a caring environment towards the student.
Another principle proposed by this concept emphasises on the issue of accountability and effectiveness. That is, the educational system will develop a quality education for all of the students. Ministry of Education (1995) assert that the notion of 'schools as communities', 'educational leadership' and the 'curriculum' are three distinctive but at the same time interconnected concepts (p. 15). Therefore, the Consultative Committee on Education suggests that for instance, the curriculum should not diminish the task of the teachers and parents (Ministry of Education, 1995). In addition, this document provides the following illustrations as regards this argument:
Thus, to give just one example, one cannot consider the curriculum without at the same time discussing the role that is to be played by teachers, parents, and administrators as educational leaders, or arguing for a specific learning environment which provides the context for the communication of curricular content.
(Ministry of Education, 1995, p. 15)
Nevertheless, this document also suggests four general principles in order to develop and ultimately implement the concept of schools as learning communities. The first principle is 'Entitlement' which mainly emphasises on the right of education together with the right of the same outcomes (Ministry of Education, 1995). The second principle consists of the 'Effectiveness' which in broad terms suggests that the school should be successful through 'collective responsibility' (Ministry of Education, 1995, p. 10). The two other concepts proposed by this document comprise of 'Equity' and 'Economy'. In this regard, Equity entails 'equal resources for all' whereas the concept of Economy suggests that resources should be given to those learners which necessitate them most (Ministry of Education, 1995).
The concept of 'schools as community' has been given prominence in the last few years. With the new reforms taking place, implementing such concept is not an easy task. Nevertheless, administrators, teachers and parents could work collaboratively in order to promote and develop the notion of schools as learning communities.
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