Education is an important part of a person’s life, as it is the foundation of one life. But the way it is provided to or grabbed by the student also matters to get the actual value out of it.
Traditional education and progressive education are the two ways of educating children all around the world. All of us in our school days have wondered why we are forced to learn something, irrespective of we are interested in it or not, just because the teacher has asked us to.
In such a constrained environment, most students fail to become good learners and the kind of person the school and society want them to be. Sometimes it feels like they want to change a person’s identity by forcing them to fit into a predefined model, which they think is best. This method of educating children is called traditional education.
But in progressive education, the students are allowed to develop their knowledge and ability to learn the way they want and how that grabs their attention. Here, instead of acting like a dictator, the teacher helps facilitate the students to enhance their thinking ability. This allows students to explore the world from their perspective instead of someone else’s predefined view.
In this article, we will discuss traditional and progressive education in detail and try to find the contrasting elements in each of these philosophies of education.
1. Traditional Education
Traditional Education in schools is practiced by following the long-established customs set by society. According to some education reforms, the adoption of progressive education is being promoted, a more democratic approach that focuses on an individual student’s needs.
The reformers want the teacher-centered method, which focuses on rote learning and memorization of facts, replaced with a more student-centered and task-based approach for learning.
But many parents and citizens still prefer the objective educational standards based on testing and measuring once intelligence on his or her memorizing capability. This is a kind of traditional approach.
So, progressive education, modern education, or alternative education is considered the opposite of traditional education.
1.1. Basic Features of Traditional Education
- The main emphasis of traditional education is to transmit the skills, facts, standards of morals, and social conducts that adults consider important for the success of the next generation.
- It’s the teacher who is responsible for this transmission and enforcement of these behavioral standards.
- In this method, the information is imposed on the students from the outside world, which adversely impacts their ability to gain knowledge naturally. They develop a habit of depending upon the teacher for learning new things to analyze and learn on their own.
- In traditional education, primary education is based on simple oral recitation. Here, students are expected to sit quietly and wait until they are called to recite the lesson taught.
- The teacher’s duty was to assign the memorizing task and listen to each student’s recitation. Because of less emphasis on the student’s ability to understand things, traditional education is sometimes regarded as inefficient use of student’s and teacher’s time.
- This approach also involves teaching each student in the class the same material at the same point in time.
- The students who are not quick learners fail to adopt this approach, who could have been successful if allowed to learn at their own pace.
- Sometimes, the adoption of corporal punishment to maintain discipline is observed in the classroom.
- The traditional method may involve inculcating the dominant religion and language, separating students based on gender, race, and social class.
2. Progressive Education
In the late nineteenth century, the pedagogical Progressive education movement started, and since then, it has managed to get persisted in various forms.
It was called progressive to differentiate this ideology of education from the traditional Euro-American curriculum practiced in the 19th century.
On the one hand, the objective behind the traditional curriculum was to prepare students for university. Even social class played a major role in determining what should be taught to a student of a particular class.
On the other hand, the roots of progressive education are strongly held by the children’s current experiences.
2.1. Basic Features of Progressive Education
- The main emphasis of progressive education is that progressive learning should be done through hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, and experimental learning.
- The curriculum is integrated to focus on thematic units.
- Entrepreneurship is an Integrated part of education.
- The education promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- The students are made to work in groups so that they can learn to develop social skills.
- The main goal of learning is to develop understanding and action rather than just writing and reciting the information.
- The learning projects should emphasize collaboration and cooperation among students.
Students are taught to understand their social responsibilities and promote democracy.
- The learning approach is very personalized based on helping in accomplishing an individual’s personal goals.
- Community service and service-learning projects are also integrated into the daily curriculum.
- The subject content is selected based on the skills that will be required in the coming future society.
- The learning is not be constrained to textbooks only, and even varied resources should be used for learning purposes.
- The assessment of a child is done based on the projects produced by him.
3. John Dewey’s Philosophy on Progressive Education
John Dewey mainly emphasized learning by doing, also known as experiential learning, because, according to him, students learn better when they are actively participating in the learning process.
While doing an activity, students are immersed in the present moment instead of worrying about memorizing what the teacher said to write in the final exam. Students observe and learn from the experiments regardless of their success or failure.
The progressive schools should promote discussion and debates among students to share their learning or express their opinion to develop the habit of giving logical reasoning in a more democratic society. It also gives students the confidence to bring reforms to society.
The learning should be done interactively so that students can learn from their environment.
Even education should be interdisciplinary to learn to develop links between their existing knowledge and new information, as it improves their understanding.
4. Differences in Philosophies of Traditional Education and Progressive Education
There are various bases on which traditional education system and progressive education contrast from each other.
1. On one hand, traditional education is the transmission of past knowledge, while, on the other hand, progressive education is the construction of new experimental knowledge.
2. One is the perpetuation of moral and civic virtue, while the other promotes creativity and democracy.
3. The objective of traditional learning is to produce a good citizen, whereas progressivism produces individuals who can think freely.
It depends upon the kind the society on which the nature of education is based.
4.1.1. Traditional Society:
In traditional society, the citizens are educated to follow the predefined norms and civic virtue. It promotes stability and coherence, where people have fixed roles in the family and social life.
For example, in Plato’s Republic, an ideal society should be divided into three classes.
The people of the society are supposed to follow the same moral values and traditions, which also applies to religious virtues.
Along with that, it also promotes the use of past experiences to solve the present problems.
4.1.2. Progressive Society:
A progressive society promotes democracy and emphasizes the right of an individual to choose the path of his destiny.
Along with that, any imposition on a child by society that disturbs his natural growth should be considered corrupting him, and children should be educated nature wants them to be.
Progressive Society moves away from patriarchal authoritarianism as the rule of law to a society that promotes individuals’ liberty to live life the way they want. There should be freedom to express your opinion and beliefs.
To solve present and future problems, the current social, cultural, political, and educational structure should be continuously critiqued and reformed with the help of individual thinkers.
So a progressive society promotes changes and reforms with novel ideas to improve society, whereas traditional society uses past knowledge to bring stability and coherence in the society.
Based on the ideologies of these two societies with contrasting political and social views, the policies to formulate the curriculum of formal education varies.
4.2. Nature of Knowledge
4.2.1. Traditional Education
In traditional education, knowledge is considered an existing body of information that should be transferred to the students. This is done by rote learning and exercising logic and reasons to justify past knowledge.
According to the traditional view, children’s minds at birth are viewed as a blank slate, and learning can only occur by repeated external reinforcement, which shapes their subsequent behavior.
It emphasizes that knowledge is transmitted from the external world to the learner through a teacher following the universal law of association.
4.2.2. Progressive Education:
In progressive education, children develop the ability to process data solely through interaction between the world and their senses.
The progressive view agrees that a student can learn from his environment. Still, there would be a very negative moral implication on his mind if the teacher acts like a dictator in deciding what should be a learner.
According to romanticism, a newborn child is considered an untainted spirit that can develop and grow if given the freedom to explore the environment naturally.
It indicates that a student should learn through the interplay between the environment and his senses and develop the habit of learning.
4.3. Moral Knowledge
In support of the traditionalist view, Robert Hutchins said that cultural values should exist before good communication can occur. It means that the pre-existing rules should be taught to the learner to learn effective communication skills.
On the contrary, John Dewey believes that a person can learn through active communication and develop his own cultural and moral values that fit the current social and political condition.
According to the progressive view, a learner develops his knowledge through active participation and experience.
Morals should not be considered as static rules from the past but should be reformed subjectively from time to time.
5. Misconceptions About Progressive Education
1. Many people think that there is no structure in this method of education. They find the classroom a little messy as students don’t sit in rows, and there are continuous voices of students coming from all over the classroom.
But actually, this messiness is intentional to find out the best way a student can learn. Students sit in groups, involved in activities and discussions to increase their curiosity to learn and understand new things.
2. Along with that, it’s also the view that progressive education is less challenging and rigorous to the students, but it is rigorous enough as it puts the students at the center, and most of the work is done by the student.
Evaluations are not in the form of tests at the end of the unit, but students are evaluated during the learning process based on their ability to reflect their understanding of the topic, ability to question and investigate.
3. Progressive Education is permissive, but in reality, it allows students to explore and experiment, and failing may be possible sometimes. This drives students to investigate why they failed and looking back at the process, and reflect on their learning even from that failure.
So traditional education and progressive education follow different ideologies, and they have different views on how a child should grow up to be.
But sometimes, giving the entire control to the students may lead to undirectional learning. This is why most educational institutions are trying to integrate the ideologies of both traditional and progressive education into their curriculum to produce critically and logical thinking individuals.