This report will present theories of cognition and psychological schemas, theories of socialisation and an analysis of the concept of intelligence. Furthermore, a critique of factors and agents that play a significant part in child development will also be presented alongside with studies assessing the concept of intelligence.
Theoreticians representative of cognition theories of social development are Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. Piaget proposed four stages of child development, each characterised by specific capacities which children acquire as they grow (Kalat, 2017). The theory differentiates between several stages of development based on the age of the child, which aids in determining specific strategies that can be used for learning development. Because of this aspect, Piaget argued that learning is conditioned by development, which thus implies that a child will be able to learn certain aspects in line with his/her developmental stage, but not others, until he/she reaches the corresponding development level (Kalat, 2017). Due to the fact that the theory assumed this concept, it is implied that children would go through these stages of development naturally. Nevertheless, several critiques of this theory argue that this is not the case, as some children may remain in later stages of development comparable to their age (Kalat, 2017; Biddle et al., 2014). Another critique to this theory is brought by studies conducted by Greenough et al. (1987) which demonstrate that experience, learning and aiding children to learn can be achieved contrary to Piagetian theory of natural self-learning.
Another argument of Piaget’s cognitive theory is that children are active learners and that through experience they can they actively learn to accommodate new information into pre-existing patterns (Kalat, 2017). These patterns are referred to as schemas represent an image of reality that changes through time as the child individually acquires more knowledge and information (Shaffer, 2009).
In order to acquire the new information, Piaget believed that children went through three processes of adaptation. When the new information matched the existing schema, the child would assimilate this knowledge. In the second stage, if the knowledge would not fit the schema the child would go through a stage referred to as disequilibrium. Once the schema became adapted to fit in the new knowledge, the equilibrium stage would be achieved (Biddle et al., 2014; Shaffer, 2009).
By contrast with Piaget, Vygotsky’s social learning theory (Vygotsky and Cole, 1978; Daniels, 2014) viewed learning in a social context and set greater emphasis on what the child could learn in his/her social context. Thus, from this perspective, learning is not individual but rather a collective process. Vygotsky also developed the notion of zone of proximal development (ZPD) which is characterised by the distance between what a child can learn on his/her own and what a child can learn with help (Benson and Haith, 2009; Daniels, 2005).
Bruner divided child development into three stages: enactive, iconic and symbolic. The enactive stage is represented by basic learning patters, such as muscle memory which is referred to as action-based information. This stage is characteristic of smaller children. In the next stage, children learn via iconic representations such as images. Finally, with later stages of development, children can interpret symbolic meaning such as words and reading (Ellis, 2001).
This theoretician also developed the notions of scaffolding which is used to describe how a teacher can assist the child learn a difficult new task, and the concept of spiral curriculum that represent a gradual process through which children are able to learn simple to more complicated tasks (Smidt, 2011).
Bandura (1991) argued that children learn through observation and imitation. In this context, social interaction is also relevant for the acquisition of knowledge. However, this theory has some limitations in relation to leaning behaviour as argued by Bergin and Bergin (2015), learning is a complex process which cannot be reduced to only observation and imitation.
Another theorist in child development is Bronfenbrenner (1979). This author developed the Ecological Systems theory which looks at different levels of social contact to explain child development. This theory relies on the microsystem (child) mesosystem (i.e. school), exosystem (neighbours) and macrosystem (i.e. culture, ideology of the community) to explain child development (Shaffer, 2008).
Factors and agents that affect development can be classified in two categories based on their origin: internal and external. Internal factors are represented by biological aspects of a child’s development including genetics and external factors which are representative of the environment (social and ecological) in which the child resides.
A series of biological factors will be directly responsible for the development of the child, including gender, genetic hereditary information and physical health. Diet is also another important element in child development even from the intra-uterine period. Research shows (Darnton-Hill and Mkparu, 2015) that micronutrient deficiency in the mother’s diet can impact on child cognitive ability while inadequate diet at later stages of development can result in obesity, malnutrition and other metabolic related conditions. In this regard, the health status of a child will also play a role in development as children with particular health conditions may have difficulties reaching gradually stages of development.
If looking at social environment, family income and dynamics as well as housing conditions and parental education and style can have a strong impact on child development. Studies (Nguyen et al., 2017, Abajobir et al., 2017) have shown that children from stable social environments are less likely to experience developmental issues. In terms of ecological environment, research has shown that children can be significantly affected by air pollution in terms of general health while noise pollution results in negative behaviour in children such as anger (WHO, 2000). Light pollution impends the natural sleep cycle of children thus indirectly affecting development (Uebergang et al., 2017).
Although the IQ (intelligence coefficient) test has been shown to be less reliable when measuring intelligence, it is still used today. As early as 1985, the IQ test was challenged by Sternberg (1985) who argued that intelligence is constituted from three separate factors. This model was referred to as the triarhic model and focused on analytic, practical and synthetic (creativity) intelligence. Gardner (2011) argues that intelligence can be manifested in several ways. Hence this author describes the existence of seven intelligences: linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal and spatial. Some critiques of this model for learning applications have been made by McDevitt et al. (2013). This author argues that children who possess intelligences outside the school curriculum will have difficulties in accessing the resources need for them to develop these intelligences. At the same time, for children that fit under the curriculum, teachers may be tempted to aid these children develop the intelligences they already have and pay less attention to other intelligences which children can potentially develop.
Cocodia (2014) argues based on analysis of different cultures’ perception of intelligence that culture and intelligence are interconnected, whereby the notion of intelligence is described differently across cultures. At the other end of the spectrum Mayer et al. (2004) discuss the concept of emotional intelligence. The authors stipulate that this type of intelligence is twice as important as IQ as it aids in emotional regulation to improve thought, reasoning and reflection for improved approached towards action taking.
A study conducted at Stanford University by Yuan et al. (2006) argues that working memory and fluid intelligence, both active components of the intelligence spectrum, are able to predict scientific achievement. Hence being able to recall information during cognitive tasks and also devising solutions to complex issues is connected with scientific learning and achievement. Sternberg (2005) on the other hand argues for a notion referred to as successful intelligence, whereby the notion of intelligence for this author is defined as the ability to set goals, devise strategies to reach them and employ consistency and perseverance in reaching these goals.
Looking at these studies it can be concluded that intelligence measurements can rarely be approached through a quantitative perspective such as IQ testing. The reason for which this is not possible is the complexity of intelligence and the different ways in which it is described and approached by researchers. Theories of multiple intelligences developed by Gardner seem to convey best this meaning, while also emphasising the characteristics of each spectrum of intelligence.
This report looked at different theories of child development alongside with the notions of schema, scaffolding and spiral curriculum. Secondly, this report assessed several factors which can interfere in in the process of development. Thirdly, theories of intelligence have been presented and studies assessing intelligence have been critiqued.
The information presented through this paper indicates that child development is a complex process for which none of the theories developed can be considered as the main framework for development. Instead, this process can be characterised through a holistic understanding of development, where individual learning and experience connect with forms of social learning. At the same time, a child’s biological, social and ecologic environment will also play a part with inconsistencies in these areas showing severe implications for growth and movement through development stages.
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