Cognitive development can be explained as the study of a child's mental development. It is examined according to the extent of conception, information processing, and perception, among others. This theory was formulated by Jean Piaget to analyze the process of mental development. It expounds on the cognitive development process with age. It has various distinct components, which include schemas, assimilation, adaptation, equilibration, and the phases of cognitive development. The process, according to the theory, entails four specific phases in children (Bhagat, Haque & Jaalam, 2018).
Schemas are the knowledge blocks developed by a learner concerning their world. The process of assimilation and accommodation is used in the construction of schemas in children. It describes the mental and physical tasks, critical in comprehension, and aid in the interpretation and comprehension of the environment (Lefa, 2014). According to Piaget's perspective, the category and process of gaining knowledge are essential in modification and adding to the existing schemas.
It is a component of adaptation in which information encountered that can be incorporated into the existing schemas is integrated into the cognitive structures of the child. It helps in the development of the cognitive structures of the learner. It occurs when there is a great similarity between the new information and the existing one.
Adaptation is the tendency of the child to get accustomed to the conditions they encounter in the environment. According to Piaget, the child is immersed in a continuous process of adaptation, and therefore they are constantly organizing and reorganizing their schemas (Lefa, 2014). A child is constantly encountering new information that challenges their thinking, prompting the development of increasingly complex cognitive structures to understand the environment.
Piaget postulates that accommodation happens when the new information is too dissimilar or conflicts the child's existing cognitive schemas. In this process, the cognitive structures are restructured to allow for the new information.
According to Piaget, equilibrium occurs as the individual progresses towards more complex processes of organizing and interacting with the environment. It is considered as the force that propels the cognitive development. In this process, there is a continuous interaction between assimilation and accommodation (Lefa, 2014). When an individual is presented with the information they cannot process, they experience cognitive conflicts. Cognitive conflicts are usually positive since they challenge an individual to modify their cognitive schemas to equilibrate or accommodate the new information.
Stages of Cognitive Development Theory
Sensorimotor Phase (Birth to Two Years)
The sensorimotor phase in cognitive development theory examines the mental and cognitive aspects of an infant from birth to language appearance (Richland, Frausel, & Begolli, 2016). It is delineated by the exponential acquisition of object permanence, which means that a child can locate objects even after displacement from their immediate vision. The learning at this stage is that the infant develops an understanding of themselves and the world (Babakr, Mohamedamin, & Kakamad, 2019). They learn how to distinguish between objects and self. The process happens through interactional play with the objects in the environment and can be enriched by promoting an infant's experiences of sensory stimulations.
Preoperational Phase (Ages Two to Four)
The stage is characterized by an increment in language ability, limited logic, and symbolic conception. In this phase, children can be presented with problem-solving activities that integrate materials such as sand and blocks (Simatwa, 2010). The child cannot yet conceptualize abstractly and still requires situations that have a concrete physical stimulus. They learn because objects are categorized in basic ways, such as through essential attributes. The perception of a child in this phase is confined to a single dimension of an object as opposed to other dimensions. For instance, to test the concept of conservation, Piaget filled two similar containers with a fluid. Then, the fluid in one container was drained into a wider container, thereby level lowering. The child's perception is that the liquid is less (Ojose, 2008). It was concluded that the child utilized one dimension (height) to make their decision of another aspect that is volume.
Concrete Operations (Between ages 7 to 11)
In this stage of development, there is an accumulation of a child's physical experience and an improvement in accommodation. The child is capable of logical or rational judgments founded on concrete objects present in the environment. There is a strong problem solving and reasoning capabilities ((Babakr et al., 2019). The child can develop logical structures that expound their physical encounters. Also, they might develop abstract problem-solving abilities. For instance, it is possible to use numbers to find solutions to arithmetic equations (Ojose, 2008). In addition to using objects in the environment, the child can think logically from past encounters and concrete evidence.
Formal Operations (Between ages 11 to 15)
At this stage, the cognitive development of a child is in its final form. The child can think in an abstract form comparable to adults. Also, they can reason deductively and hypothetically. Treating children as adults at this stage enables them to make decisions through individual abstractions and counterfactual thinking (Lefa, 2014).
The Critique of the Cognitive Development Theory
The cognitive development theory by Piaget that seeks to explain the thinking ability acquisition by a child has both strengths and limitations. Piaget describes four main phases of development for a child that distinguishes their thinking processes from those of adults until attainment of a specific age. The proponents of cognitive development theory provide positive reviews. For instance, it has been critical in the impact on thinking concerning school science curricula. In the development of more informal and child-centered approaches, the ideas present in the cognitive development theory provided a foundation for many science programs for the primary school level (Driver, 2006). Piaget, through the cognitive development theory, introduced new methods and concepts that have had far-reaching implications on studies of mental development in children. The ideas present in this theory helped in better understand the mental development of a child. The cognitive development stages expound on sequential phases a child in their cognitive development.
However, despite the outlined strengths, the cognitive development theory has some shortcomings. For instance, critics explain that this theory does not adequately describe the cognitive development. It underestimates the cognitive abilities of young children. They explain that abstract guidelines may cause child fail in accomplishing tasks they would succeed under simpler conditions (Ojose, 2008). Another cited shortcoming is the overestimation of the abilities of older learners. This has negative implications in the development of approaches for learners and teachers. For instance, the application of cognitive development theory by a teacher in middle school may lead to the assumption that a student can think logically in the abstract, which might not always be possible.
I think that the cognitive development theory by Piaget is one of the most fundamental theories ever to be formulated to explain cognitive development in children. It considers the development of a process that an outcome of the interaction between environmental and biological factors. This theory introduced a new perspective on developmental psychology. The new perspective promoted increased research resulting in a better understanding. This theory has aided communication in addition to having a better understanding of children. However, I think this theory is limited in that not all children transition automatically from one development phase to the next. Also, cognitive development does not account for the effects of cultural and social factors in the cognitive development process.
Babakr, Z. H., Mohamedamin, P., & Kakamad, K. (2019). Piaget's Cognitive Developmental Theory: Critical Review. The Asian Institute of Research, 2(3), 517-524. doi: 10.31014/aior.1993.02.03.8
Bhagat, V., Haque, M., & Jaalam, K. (2018). Enrich Schematization in Children: Play as The Tool for Cognitive Development. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, 8(7), 128-131. doi: 10.7324/japs.2018.8720
Driver, R. (2006). When is a stage not a stage? A critique of Piaget's theory of cognitive development and its application to science education. Educational Research, 21(1), 54-61. doi: 10.1080/0013188780210108
Lefa, B. (2014). Piaget's theory of cognitive development: educational implications. Educational Psychology, 1(1), 1-8. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265916960_THE_PIAGET_THEORY_OF_COGNITIVE_DEVELOPMENT_AN_EDUCATIONAL_IMPLICATIONS
Ojose, B. (2008). Applying Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development to Mathematics Instruction. The Mathematics Educator, 18(1), 26-30. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ841568.pdf
Richland, L. E., Frausel, R., & Begolli, K. N. (2016). Cognitive Development. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Psychology, 143-146. doi: 10.4135/9781483346274.n50
Simatwa, E. M. W. (2010). Piaget's theory of intellectual development and its implication for instructional management at the pre-secondary school level. Educational Research and Reviews, 5(7), 366-371. Retrieved from https://academicjournals.org/article/article1379610138_Simatwa.pdf
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