Development is the continuous progressive change in the organism. It is a total process. But psychologists have analyzed it from the different aspects. Individual aspect is called aspect of development. This includes physical, mental, social, emotional, and moral development. Total personality needs well balanced development of all these. Our main topic of discussion is the mental development. Mental development means development of mental traits like development of perception, memory, imagination, thinking, reasoning intellect etc. All these help a man to acquire elevated experiences. So many of modern psychologists call all these characteristics mental development or cognitive development. Jean Piaget’s concept of the cognitive development of children have drawn attention of all the psychologists and it has gained recognition to its utility in the sphere of education. So we have to mention about Piget’s concepts regarding the cognitive stages of development of a child.
Adaptation is the main basis of Piaget’s concepts of cognitive development. In other words it is the biological adaptation which is the very foundation of development. With the growth of age, a child tries to adapt itself with the environment. This results in the behavioral and cognitive change. Piaget has remarked that this adaptation helps him in two fundamental actions – one is assimilation and the other is accommodation. While assimilation takes place within his known environment, in accommodation a child accepts new behavior. Accommodation is the occupation of new experiences under the influences of environment. Observing the gradual development in the behavior of a child, Piaget has determined the characteristics of his adaptation. On the basis of this – he mentioned five fundamental stages of of cognitive development of a child.
The stages are -
- Stage of sensory-motor thinking
- Pre-conceptual stage
- Stage of institutive thought
- Stage of concrete operation
- Stage of formal operation
From birth upto the stage of two years is the stage of sensory-motor actions. Sense organs makes a child sensitive. Basing on these two actions, it tries to direct its thoughts and acquires experiences. As for example, sucking is a natural sensory action. at the stage of 8 to 12 months, he tries to adjust and acquire experiences. Sensation caused by sound is a common experience to a child. This makes him utilize his power of thinking. For example, a child expects its mother when it hears the sound of door being opened. All these experiences are completely his own. He at this stage, is not influenced by the thoughts of the adults. Reactions are created at the stage of sensory-motor thinking and he may hold or form reflections of those only.
The child reaches at the second stage called Pre-Conceptual Stage when he can form some pre-concepts based on his past experiences. Pre-concept is not so expanded as true concept nor is it a complete whole of the isolated experiences. When a child feeds a doll, he utilizes his own experiences of taking food and expands his own experiences too. Still the experience is not flawless nor is the concept. Such type of pre-concept may lead him to wrong decisions. Yet the primary action of forming concepts starts. this stage of development, according to Piaget, continues from the age of 2 to 4.
The next stage of the cognitive development of a child is called stage of intuitive thought. This stage expands from 4 to 8 years. the characteristics of pre-conceptual stage takes a complete change with a purpose of placing the base of concepts on solid foundations and making them practical and more expanded. The difficulties of thinking which exists at pre-conceptual stage get eliminated and active realistic thoughts develop. A child may utilize linguistic guidance then. His mental representations and actions become flexible and susceptible to change. At this stage he may form some primary concepts about important topics. As for example a place may be full or empty. Anything can take place. There is a time-gap between the two incidents. They may gather some experiences re-arranging those of the old. The may re-arrange their mental representations and form some concepts. That is why Piaget has called this stage, stage of intuitive thought.
The next stage of cognitive development expands from 8 to 11 years. This stage is called period of concrete operation. Generally some operational thoughts form centering some basic concepts. In other words, when the children make synthesis in the fundamental thoughts, their active or rational thinking begins. It is found that at this stage of development they arrange their practical experiences and give those new shapes. But this trait of their thoughts is observed under reality. Still some concepts are formed. Fundamental concepts at this stage are -
- Number of concepts
Piaget has mentioned another characteristic at this age. According to him, when children make a synthesis among the concepts, they determine those concepts by some principles. He has mentioned five such principles -
- Principle of closure
- Principle of reversibility
- Principle of associativity
- Principle of identity
- Principle of interaction
Though the children form some realistic concepts at this stage, those can never be universally applicate. In other words though the ideas are formed, power of abstract thinking does not develop then.
The last stage of cognitive development is the period of formal operation which continues from 11 to 15 years. At this stage, the thoughts of a child are not controlled by his practical experiences or personal observation. He acquires power of abstract thinking. at this stage, he according to the situation, leads his thinking freely to different directions on the basis of hypothesis. Cognitive development at this stage become mature. he activates his thinking and takes decisions.
To form such concept about cognitive development of a child, Piaget has mainly depended on observational experiences of different situations and experimental data. He and his assistants have had so many experiments on this. In support of their concept they have supplied many information based on truth. It can not be denied that the information suffers from some weakness, still this concept has been applied in modern teaching and learning. The process through which a child, in its infancy gathers experiences is mainly self-centric and this is not influenced by the chain of thoughts of the teachers. Experiences gathered by the children upto age of 8, are completely their own. Formal education upto the stage of intuitive thought is not welcome. A child, when he reaches at the stage of concrete operation, forms concepts facing realities. So, education at this stage, should always be realistic. Chances of logical subjective learning should be affected to them only when they reach at the age of 11, i.e. period of formal operation.