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The Introduction To 'What Is Learning?'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5495 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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Philosophy is taking a theory on what one believes and why s/he believes, and these beliefs are based on ethics. It is also based on how and what one thinks about something. In short, philosophy is ideas that create reality and makes one’s view clear. In this paper, in order to address my philosophy of education with regard to the Zambian education system, the purpose of education, what learning is, and what teaching is, will be discussed. Thereafter, my educational philosophical statement shall be discussed to summarize my final paper on Teacher Education. In the first place, this paper will look at the purpose of education for Zambia, at its different stages of development to what it is and serves at the moment.

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Purpose of Education:

Education, in the Zambian scenario, has moved from indigenous, pre – colonial, colonial, post – colonial and after independence to the present times. It has also continued to move through the three political republics and economic phases the country has experienced. In all these periods, the school system and the education at large have tried to answer to the demands of the prevailing trends and were tailored to satisfy the needs of society at that time. This is because political changes define the purpose of education when a particular party is in power or leadership.

From time immemorial, before formal education came into existence, Africans and Zambians in particular, had their indigenous form of education, which usually stressed on communal and social aspects of life rather than on individual and competitive aspect. This was true as everyone in the community took responsibility in making sure that certain values in the community were preserved. This was also part of each community members’ social responsibility for the common good of all. This, therefore, made this kind of education meaningful, unifying, holistic, effective, practical and relevant since it was meant to address immediate social and communal concerns. In today’s education system, these characteristics can still create meaning though with a broader view of addressing both immediate and long term problems. The education offered must possess the above characteristics if it has to promote healthy democratic societies of this century. Indeed this kind of education is relevant as it addresses the whole human being in his/her entirety.

During pre – colonial and colonial times, schools did not take into consideration various needs of the people, especially indigenous locals. Colonial masters and settlers gave minimal education to Zambians, which later proved to be a source of economic inequalities and social stratification, as well as an instrument of imperialism. This kind of education was not just inadequate but was also largely irrelevant to the needs of the locals (Kelly, 1999).

On the other hand, missionaries introduced some kind of formal education to Zambians. This education condemned the African indigenous ways of teaching and learning to the strongest terms and labeling it as paganism or worship of idols. In their quest to introduce some form of western education, missionaries faced difficulties converting the elderly Africans. This made them target young people so that they could teach them how to read in order to help spread the gospel messages to the locals. However, this formal education given to Zambians was also just limited to learning literacy and numeracy, while other missionaries tried to develop locals’ skills in the vocational type of education, that is, Agriculture, Carpentry, Black – smith, and many other skills. This was said to be a better way of improving the living standards of the African locals. To the contrary, the skills imparted in young Africans were meant to serve the colonial masters and missionary interests.

With all the efforts missionaries put in to bring some form of formal education, colonial masters did not support the idea. Instead, the Northern Rhodesia government pursued an education policy designed to foster a rural school system biased toward education of the masses, preparing them to work in a rural setting and consolidating a conservative social order, based on tribal authority, in the interest of a settler class (Camody, 1992). This type of school system was meant to keep the Zambian locals under – developed even when natural resources, such as Copper, earnings and taxes were being collected form Northern Rhodesia. The colonial government made sure that if education was to be provided, it did not go beyond primary or elementary level. It was believed that locals with this kind or level of education would carry out clerical and vocational kind of jobs for the white settlers and colonial masters with less difficulty.

After independence, Zambia realized the importance of formal education to its locals. This had to be done by constructing more Primary and Secondary schools. From that time to the present, most locals look at schools as liberators and a stepping stone to a brighter and better future life. During pre – colonial and colonial times, locals that received ‘good education’ also got some ‘good jobs’. With good education and good jobs, living standards of some people was seen to be changing for the better as they could afford basic necessities when they got their pay. With this clear view of what education could do, Zambians realized the need for their children to go to school and get jobs that they could not get before independence. The school today is seen as a window toward economic independence for a family as one member gets a good paying job. It is believed that going to school is the best chance Zambian children have to take control of their lives. This is because an educated population will help tackle the overwhelming problems of poverty. For a Zambian child today, the opportunity to stay in school and obtain a secondary education can mean the whole world to a young student. This is surely the chance to keep learning, developing and dreaming, as the gift of education is one that really never stops giving. As Young (1971) stated that, “for children from disadvantaged homes, active participation in school may be the only opportunity that they have to acquire powerful knowledge and be able to move, intellectually at least, beyond their local and the particular circumstances.” Most schools in Zambia have provided this service to many as they have rekindled the urge to learn and abilities imbedded in most people who might not have realized their potential without the current school system or education. The current Zambian government has developed a policy of universal free primary education. This has allowed enrollment of about 95% primary school age children with about 20% continuing to secondary school level and 2% of the 20 to 24 age group in tertiary level (www.unicef.org/zambia/children). This shows that drop out rate is very high and only about one third of children enrolled at first grade reach the anticipated levels at grade six. Without schools, Zambia would not have seen the current development and economic growth. The school system has helped tap talent and skill in most young Zambians who have in turn contributed to the economic and social being of our country. For sure the knowledge acquired in school may not have been acquired at home. So, we see that the purpose of education is to make sure that learners gain access to different specialist fields of knowledge, thus uplifting their social economic status in life.

However, the school in Zambia needs to do more as many reasons why it existed in pre – colonial and colonial times are still evident that only a few rich are able to access high and tertiary education. The poor have had difficulties realizing their dreams as they cannot afford the expensive education, which can easily change their social economic status in a short time once acquired. Only a selected few and their families achieve or attain this purpose. The curriculum seems to promote the interests of the rich and powerful citizens of our time. Politicians and ministers send their children to good schools, which are well funded and with qualified teachers while the poor people will send their children to mostly public schools, which are also poorly equipped and lack teachers. Higher education is equally very expensive making it only accessible by the few rich people. It is like a school is not, truly, just a place where everyone is special. Therefore, it is important that education is given to all regardless of their social and economic status. Government must provide equal access and same conditions to all public schools. Boyer, in his book ‘The Basic School’ says that, “a school is a place where everyone comes together to promote learning.” If everyone is allowed to come to any school of choice in terms of specialty, then sharing of ideas will cater across all sections of life. These ideas put together would bring about national development for the good of our country. Above all, the purpose of education for the future of Zambia should be to create democratic citizens. Democracy is mentioned and stated in various forums and is documented but is also less practiced or not put into practice at all. The effective democratic principles need to be imparted in each and every learner so that the political climate and values are protected in our nation. Since the school is a disciplined place, students begin to understand that everyone lives within limits, along with freedom, and that the rights of others must be sensitively respected.

Therefore, it is true to say schools have a unique role to reproduce human societies and in providing the conditions which enable them to innovate and change. Society must change as times change and try to be innovative with new ideas to ease human conditions of survival, in order to be at par with latest demands and changes in the education system. Without schools, life would have been as difficult as the world would have been fragmented and underdeveloped. Without schools, each group of people would have had difficulties to begin doing things, thus making life for each generation difficult. This is because education is there to assure coherence or continuity from one generation to the next. Schools are important for each generation as we live in a world of new developments. However, this education can only be meaningful if the learning that goes on the schools has meaning. So, what students learn, help in defining what the purpose of education is for a country like Zambia to develop, but the question may be asked as to what really is learning?

What is Learning?

Learning is a wider term that may not have one specific meaning. However, it can easily be defined as the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study or by being taught. This knowledge acquired is usually new or the modification of existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types. Webster’s Dictionary also defines learning as “the act or experience of one that learn; knowledge of skill acquired by instruction or study; modification of a behavioural tendency by experience.” Basically, from an educator’s perspective, learning involves helping people along the learning process, and learning includes all of the things that we do to make it happen. As an end result, we know that learning occurs when people take newfound information and incorporate it into their life. Munsaka (2011) defines learning as “a relatively permanent change that happens to behaviour and/or knowledge due to experience.” So, learning must bring some form of change in one in order to be meaningful and qualify as learning.

Children learn in many ways, as can be confirmed through the many theories of learning that notable scientists and researcher have devised, such as Humanist, Behaviorism, Social Learning, Cognitive, Critical Reflection and/or Constructivism. Humanists believe that learners will naturally progress toward increased competence, autonomy, freedom, and fulfillment, while Behaviorism emphasizes on changes in observable behaviors. Social learning theorists explain that most of what children learn is through observation and interactions with other learners in a social context. Cognitive learning is a process occurring inside the learner in an attempt to make sense out of the world and give meaning to experiences, while Critical Reflection refers to learning that is deeper, more fundamental, relating to values, philosophical, and worldview and the nature of knowledge itself. Constructivists look at the importance of active involvement of learners in constructing knowledge for themselves. Constructivism, therefore, emphasizes top-down kind of learning, that is, begin with complex problems and teach basic skills while solving these problems. In today’s learning, how children learn is just as important as what they learn. They are taught the basic skills in all the fundamental areas and also to be active seekers of information and constructors of knowledge. This is accomplished through learning activities that emphasize problem solving, communication, collaboration, seeking connections, technology, and engaged learning as children are actively involvement in the learning process. “This is opposed to the current system where it is expected that learning goals should be achieved by a certain age,” (Medina, 2008: 67). So, one of the first things a teacher must do when considering how children learn is to acknowledge that each child does not learn in the same way. This means children develop at different rates even when they are of the same grade or at the same age. Therefore, understanding the learners before they learn is inevitable. Because of this, some will learn better by modeling others, while some learn better when either positively or negatively reinforced or motivated. On the other hand, many children will learn well when they do things for themselves. This has not been the case in many instances as children are usually viewed as blank – slates, meaning people who do not know anything until the teacher has imparted something in them. Since learning refers to changes in the learner’s knowledge that arise from experience, ‘learners should not be viewed as passive receivers of information, but rather as active participants in the process of generating knowledge’ (Munsaka, 2011). Learning can, therefore, be viewed from the perspective of the changes that take place in behaviour and/or the changes that take place in knowledge through learners’ own initiative to create their own content or information to learn. Our role as teachers is to make sure that as children learn; they gain knowledge in the learning process and actually implement the new skills over a long period of time.

For learning to take place, learners must be actively involved in the learning process. Some interaction of some kind between a learner and his/her environment should happen. This means the learner determines the course of learning as s/he tries to solve problems and constructs ideas to answer to the questions at hand. In this case, the teacher acts as a guide who assists the learners to make sense of the information recorded in order to create meaning through correct interpretation. Resnick (1989: 2), states that, “learning occurs not by recording information but by interpreting it.” It is very true that learning occurs when the students are confronted with something new or different from what they already know. Learners learn when they respond by incorporating new ideas, adapting to the new environment or even rejecting what is new. As learners attack or respond to new ideas, it is the duty of the teacher to help out as learners are not the sole players in the constructivist learning process. Other players, such as tutors, lecturers, and friends are very important if meaningful learning is to take place.

Since learners are allowed to build their own understanding from various sources and make this learning a very personal construct, I believe constructivism is the way to go if learning has to be relevant to learners. For instance, in my teaching of Art and Design, learners are at liberty to determine what they want to know and how they want to learn, especially with their practical learning, which requires them to produce artifacts. At the moment, the students use sketch books to draw and come up with artworks of their choice and ideas. However, to design effective environments, one needs a very good understanding of what learners know when they come to the classroom. Constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge or experience. In other words, “learning involves constructing one’s own knowledge from one’s own experiences.” (Devries & Zan, 2003) Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical lesson. Regardless of the variety of content, constructivism promotes a student’s free exploration within a given framework or structure. Learners have to construct and do what they want to learn since Constructivism demands that learning be an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. This knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment and learners continuously test these hypotheses through social negotiation. Each learner has a different interpretation and construction of knowledge process. The learner therefore is not a blank slate (tabula rasa) as other theories might suggest but brings past experiences and cultural factors to a situation. The teacher acts as a facilitator who encourages students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems. Aspects of constructivism can be found in self-directed learning, transformational learning, and experiential learning.

I strongly believe that learning makes sense when learners determine what they want to learn. Learning also brings meaning when learners discover for themselves and can learn from even unexpected sources. If all teachers can give room for learners to decide what and how they want to learn, then learning will make meaning, be exciting and also relevant to the learners. This, however, does not rule out the importance of teaching. A teacher remains important in the learning process, thus the need to look at what teaching really is and what it does to complete the whole process of learning. Though learning can take place without a teacher, guidance is cardinal in order to be systematic in the learning process of students. What then is teaching and what role does it play in the education of students?

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What is Teaching?

Teaching is a term that one may not be so clear if in its definition learners are not mentioned anywhere. Most importantly, the two cannot be separated as they go hand in hand. Teaching, in my view, is learning, challenging, trying in great ways, and is caring for the learners as it involves helping them. Anderson and Burns (1989) defines teaching as “an interpersonal, interactive activity, typically involving verbal communication, which is undertaken for the purpose of helping one or more students learn or change the ways in which they can or will behave.” So, we see that teaching is a process which is designed and performed to produce change in behaviour of students. It is however important to realize that the purpose is not to teach students how to memorize information, or how to know all the correct answers, but it lies in getting students to truly understand the concepts being put across for their benefit. If well handled, teaching is a profession that can produce something amazing when the right ideas and beliefs are implemented in the classroom. Therefore, teaching refers to the teacher’s construction of environments for the students that are intended to foster changes in the learner’s knowledge and behaviour. (Gagne, 1974)

As a strong supporter and believer of constructivist theory, I always acknowledge that no one learner learns the same way as the other. Each learner learns in his/her own way and understands things differently. Hence, careful selection of styles or methods of teaching would be of help for better comprehension in learners. This means if a teacher chooses just one style of teaching, the students will not be maximizing their learning potential. However, in my style of teaching, I have in many times believed that students can construct their own learning and that all students have something to contribute to the classroom environment. By connecting student’s learning to something they know, they get involved in their works with the seriousness it deserves and are motivated more than ever before. My job solely remains as a facilitator, where I clearly guide and assist the students through their tasks and their own discoveries. As a guide, I provide access to information rather than acting as a primary source of information. This allows students to search for knowledge through the artifacts they make, thus answering to the questions on their minds. So, for students to construct knowledge, they need the opportunity to discover for themselves and practice skills in real situations. Providing students access to hands – on activities and allowing adequate time and space to use materials that reinforce the topic being studied creates an opportunity for individual discovery and construction of knowledge to take place. I take learning in a direction relevant to students’ interest by asking them to come up with their own practical projects. In this way, students generate ideas and set goals that make for much richer activities than I could have created or imagined myself. Therefore, I view teaching as a process of encouraging students to make links between their real world experiences and the subject being studied. In Art and Design, it is important to provide students with hands – on activities because it makes students have ownership in the project or activity. They are motivated to work hard and master the skills necessary to reach their potential and/or goals. Being clear, however, about my expectations and communicating them clearly helps my students to learn more and perform better.

Teaching is not just telling and supplying students with facts and information in much the same way that an empty glass is filled or a plain paper is filled with writings or even as though they were blank slates, as convinced by most of the behaviorists. These educational practices have been successful at producing proficiency in the lower order skills measured on many tests, but have generally met with little success in developing the kind of knowledge and abilities that students need in real – life situations (National Assessment of Education Progress, 1981). Newer understanding of how people learn present a formation of teaching that focuses on developing ‘thinking’ students who understand and can use what they learn. This idea is what is termed as constructivist because it sees learning as an active internal process in which learners actively create knowledge by connecting new information to what they already know, rather than as a process in which learners are passive recipients of information transferred to them from external sources. Teaching in this way emphasizes on developing students’ capacities for analysis and problem – solving, rather than on having them cover the curriculum in the most efficient manner possible. It is rooted in the assumption that all human beings have a deep drive to make sense of the world (Carini, 1987).

Constructivist classrooms function on the basis that learning in school should not be different from the many rich natural forms of learning that students have experienced before they have ever entered the school. Real – life situations form the basis for learning and teaching is based on the confidence that in the course of trying to solve practical problems, students have continual opportunities to organize and reorganize their understandings and to develop various access routes to their knowledge. In my teaching, students are allowed to do practical activities, which are mainly hands – on type of artworks. My teaching style, based on the constructivist theory of learning, allows students to use their own imaginations and personal experiences to come up with artifacts. As students interact socially, their learning is supported by multiple exposures since they bring into one place various experiences. In this way, they determine their course of learning. They are also allowed to copy and learn from other prominent artists and craftspeople in the community. This gives them an opportunity to learn from other people other than the teacher or lecturer and peers. This kind of learning remains natural as it does not alter the usual form of learning, which the community has always embraced. Although in most cases the choice of a teaching strategy depends on the topic being covered and the availability of teaching resources, the use of materials and tools is definitely inevitable in order to motivate the learners to develop their manipulative skills and to be creative students. Lessons guided by constructivist understandings provide opportunities for the students to actively explore, inquire, discover, and experiment with the materials provided. The learning and teaching materials, which are so essential in the teaching of Art and Design, provide students with insights and practical realities of concepts and theories they are learning. On the other hand, some students learn well through observation and curiosity. They are able to reproduce artworks of others after learning by observation. In my teaching, I emphasize on the use of a critical eye, asking students to go beyond just looking at things but to see things with an extra eye. Some students learn faster while others learn slower, but the fact is they are able to use their curiosity to learn and do well on what they see. As a teacher who is always there to facilitate teaching and learning, I give more time to the students so that they can perfect their curiosity. Above all, I should know how to employ the most effective teaching and learning strategies to enable students make progress. The whole process of teaching using the constructivist ideas, as a teacher, is to help the students learn as much as their potential permits (Travers et.al, 1993). Using the four practical starting points in Art and design, the teacher makes sure that performance – based teaching provides opportunities for real world experiences in which the student can apply prior knowledge, create new understandings and extend their skill in practical ways. Perkinson in Muzumara (2011) also emphasizes that “as teachers we need to involve our pupils in the lessons we teach through practical work where they can use their knowledge, manipulative skills and apply their different senses to learn new ideas and develop knowledge and understand.” Much of the art lessons are practical, where students usually learn by doing, which helps to enhance and promote the development of processes, manipulative skills, attitudes, as well as the acquisition of knowledge.

The available literature, however, reveals that there is not any theory of teaching at all. There are only models or paradigms of teaching. Teaching theory takes a wider viewpoint. Thus, teachers and students are the major variables of teaching theory. It is based upon learning theory, learning conditions and learning mechanisms. Constructivists, therefore, provide students with flexible schedules and lots of time to explore a variety of issues and topics. This gives them the opportunity to temporarily shift their attention, if they want, and their work to focus on other studies and to return, at later dates, to previously unfinished projects or interests. Even if this theory is integrated around a theme and generally consists of more active assignments than written tasks, the ideas in it are developed and organized by someone other than the student, who in this case, is the lecturer or teacher of Art. In contrast, curricula developed through constructivist teaching are not only driven by students’ pursuits of their own questions but also are built to include opportunities for students themselves to connect, organize, and integrate their understandings from the information they encounter in the course of their various experiences. As a teacher or lecturer, I act as a guide, a mentor, and an advisor, building bridges between my students’ individual interests and understandings and the common skills and knowledge society expects them to acquire. Falk (1994) affirms to this fact that “constructivist teachers help students understand that there is a place for everyone in the classroom and the school.”

My philosophy of Education

In order to define the purpose of education, what learning is, and indeed what teaching is, it is important also to state my philosophy of my involvement in education, thus my philosophy of education. In my teaching of Art and Design to the students, I have come to believe that my students have something to offer in my art classes. In order to foster critical thinking in my students, my teaching philosophy is to make sure students learn by discovery, do things with their own minds and own creativity. I believe this kind of teaching and learning brings true meaning of what education must be like or is like. By doing things for themselves and directing their learning, students truly understand the concepts for each topic under – study.

Art and design is a practical subject. In its practicability, it allows me as a lecturer to give guidance and facilitate students’ learning as they discover relevant information. The practical nature of the subject I teach allows every learner, slower or faster, to give in their best abilities even as I give guidance. Through encouraging students in what they do practically, students are connected to the real world as they produce things they see in the environment through hands – on activities.

I also believe that as a guide and as an educator, I must accord a fertile ground for my students to meet their fullest potential in their construction of knowledge through the artworks they make. I do this well by providing access to relevant knowledge that will help them develop emotionally, socially, physically, and intellectually.

The use of a variety of strategies due to a number of topics which require diversity in teaching will be/is considered but students do more of discoveries and construct their own knowledge, thus constructivist theory. A variety of material used in Art and design accords my students a chance to improve their manipulative skills and creativity. As I provide these materials, the students take this opportunity to experiment and discover answers to the questions that puzzle their minds. With the materials provided, students discover information relevant and of interest to their lives, thus self – motivation in their own course of study. This also creates ownership of the artifacts for the students.

As an educator, my role is to instill the desire to find out more by students as they discover and re – discover new information and knowledge through their various artworks. My role as lecturer is to give students the tools with which to cultivate their own gardens of knowledge. To accomplish this goal, I will teach to the needs of each student so that all can feel capable, competent and successful. I will present the curriculum that involves the interests of the students and makes learning relevant to life. This is easily done when students are directly in hands – on learning in order to make them active learners. This ensures learning is tied into the world community to help students become caring and active members of the society, who will also function effectively in a dynamic world. The acquisition of knowledge for long – life skills is d


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