Progressive versus Traditional Methods of Education.

The best way to teach children is to let them discover what they love and then help them learn about it.” – Harry S Truman (from Education Ideology, Winter 2000 issue on progressive education). I believe the problem of progressive methods of education has become

one of the most provocative and controversial issues not only in Europe, but in the majority of countries all over the world. Despite that nowadays the education is termed to be “child-centered” and is eager to meet innovations both in methods of teaching and in the philosophy of contemporary school, there are individuals who ,according to their conservative views on the problem ,are stick to the point that traditional system of education is far superior to the new, progressive one.

What is progressive education?

During most of the twentieth century, the term “progressive education” has been used to describe ideas and practices that aim to make schools more effective institutions of a democratic society. In a progressive educational environment, each child is honored and celebrated and the teacher-learner relationship is considered to be extremely important. Progressive education is characterized by a whole-child orientation: cognitive, social, and emotional development of each student are considered the key to students’ educational growth. It seems to me it gives an opportunity to construct their own learning, build their own understanding, and integrate skills, information, and concepts. In progressive education, ethics and morality are explicit parts of a curriculum. The learning atmosphere is characterized by low anxiety and high challenge: students are met where they are and moved towards who they are to be.

How does traditional education differ from progressive education?

In my mind the main difference between these two educational systems is that traditional education is teacher-centered where the teacher-learner relationship is irrelevant.

Each child is treated in the same way and students are assumed to be equally ready to learn the prescribed content. Besides, individual differences are ignored. What is more, students are grouped by their abilities and achievements and learning is prescribed by standardized measures of evaluation. In a traditional educational environment, students compete against each other ;they have few choices of what classes to take and even fewer choices to demonstrate their mastery in a given class. In addition , a general approach to the process of education is different. The supporters of progressive methods want to stick as much as possible to a “natural” model of teaching. They want to avoid anything they perceive to be artificial, anything imposed on the child. Students should learn as naturally as possible. This means fewer rules, more “hands-on” experience, less explicit instruction, more learning by inference and discovery in a real-world environment. Students should work at their own pace, and shouldn’t be subjected to tests.

If to speak about me, I should say I support progressive education. To my mind it has far more opportunities to bring up an all-round personality. As far as I know in 1999 in several schools in Minsk about 500 children were given great autonomy within flexible curricula. In the most extreme schools of this experimental group there were no teachers at all; adults simply acted as facilitators or guides for children’s explorations. After four years in experimental schools these students were compared with a control group of 500 students from conventional schools. By all measures – grades, knowledge,honors, leadership, and attitude – the experimental students were superior.

What I like most about progressive education is that each child is treated as an artist in his or her own way. The job of a good teacher is to find and encourage children’s interests and passions, and then lead them to the necessary craft. The child who is enchanted by the moon will learn the necessary mathematics and physics to become an astronaut. The aspiring journalist with passionate interests and curiosity will learn the craft in order to inform the world. The violinist with Bach in her gut will work endless hours to bring the phrase to life. A child who loves stories and ideas will lust for reading. A child with deep affection for animals and the outdoors will devour ecology, geology, and biology. Many teachers in progressive schools understand this and do it every day. Why not follow them?

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