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Opinion - Progressive education and experiential learning

2021-09-17  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - Progressive education and experiential learning
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Progressive education as a product of the philosophy of progressivism insists on a curriculum of life experience. The system abandons the idea that educational content should consist of the words and ideas provided by a textbook, a teacher or a professor’s lectures and strongly advocates a type of learning through experience which stays on to affect pertinently further knowledge. It further states that people learn what they live and the degree in which they adapt it. According to this school, education should emphasize the child’s interests, needs and personal growth. It stresses the idea that children should create their own reality instead of learning information given to them in a final form by adults. It also advocates freedom to learn through inquiry. John Dewey, the early proponent of the concept favoured relative values to be shared in the community. He also encouraged cooperation, community service and democracy to be introduced in schools (Ornstein and Levine, 1993). From early years, learners should be taught the tenets of freedom. This will be in line with what Freire (1973) advocates, that there should be a practice of freedom and learners should be exposed to its realities and the Namibian constitution guarantees such tenet. Therefore, the Namibian curriculum should be changed and made relevant to meet the realities of the problems which confront our society. According to Dewey, education should be seen to be pragmatic; what is taught at home should be supplemented by our schools.  The learners should be able to see the relationship between the home and the school. Our schools should not be treated as foreign institutions in our midst and environment. 

In a Namibian context, learners at both primary and secondary levels, should be taught in basic life skills.  If a desk is broken, learners should be able to repair it.  Where the school is in short supply of vegetables, learners should do some basic gardening and grow vegetables to feed themselves and at the same time, earn some income

In their recognition of learners as complete, dynamic, living organism, progressive educators emphasize the necessity of a continual use of every type of education. They feel that a child is always a unity, and they are scared of dangers of recognizing or emphasizing one aspect of growth or one phase of behaviour. They believe that education results from the interaction between the individual and the culture in which he or she lives, and emphasize that education should include every element in a changing dynamic culture. They further recommend that schools must make use of every type of growth-inducing experience.

Furthermore, progressive educators recognize the dominant role, which emotions play in human life. Because of this recognition and realization, they emphasize the need for an education of the emotions and feelings. They still hold that education of the emotions is as essential as education of the intellect. According to them, emotional education is not something apart from intellectual and physical education. 

The progressives maintain that no type of education should be neglected. In achieving that they emphasize the necessity for work experiences and the development of occupational skills and proper work attitudes. They also advocate education for the training of recreational and leisure facilities. They place emphasis on the sports and recreational pursuits that have continuing value. 

According to the progressives, education should be pleasant and include mutual enjoyment. It also emphasizes functional activity, as it does not only teach items of knowledge or fix habits of response. The education system strives to provide opportunities for its learners in terms of concrete experiences. It provides opportunities for expression. It condemns the curriculum which is made in advance and handed to the teachers, who in turn assign lessons to learners, because the process encourages memorization of information which in the final analysis becomes irrelevant and obsolete. The progressive curriculum on the other hand contains experiences of actual living. What the child lives, be in school or at home, the child builds into his or her character and personality. The progressive school is established to foster the kind of living which encourages the building of good character and personality in the child. A curriculum of such nature cannot simply be handed down to teachers and learners. The progressive curriculum includes all aspects of daily living, practical, social, moral, vocational, aesthetic and intellectual. It stresses the idea that learning does not take place through repletion, but through the interaction of the individual and the culture in which he or she moves according to his or her beliefs. Learning should be by social interaction. Children like to learn together, and to be allowed to do so will encourage and increase their zest for learning.  As an educator, encourage the children to talk to each other quite freely in and outside the school premises, and in the process discussing whatever they are doing as a team.  The progressives organize the curriculum in terms of units of work, based on the structure of society and its aims. In the Namibian education system, the concept of learning from experience may be complicated by many factors. It should also be noted that for more than three and half centuries, Western or European values have been regarded as the unchallenged source of everything that is culturally desirable for all, including the indigenous people of Namibia.


2021-09-17  Prof Makala Lilemba

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