Piaget, Jean (1896–1980): International Education Explained

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist, born in 1896 and died in 1980, who made significant contributions to the field of child development and learning theories. His work has greatly influenced educational practices around the world, making him a central figure in international education.

Piaget’s theories revolve around the idea that children learn by actively constructing their own understanding of the world. This concept, known as constructivism, has had a profound impact on how education is approached globally. This article will delve into Piaget’s life, his theories, and how they have shaped international education.

Early Life and Education

Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. His father was a historian, which may have sparked Piaget’s early interest in knowledge and learning. At a young age, he developed a fascination with the natural world, particularly molluscs, and published his first scientific paper at the age of 10.

He went on to study natural sciences at the University of Neuchâtel, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1918. Piaget then moved to France, where he worked at the Alfred Binet Laboratory in Paris, researching and standardising intelligence tests. It was here that he began to develop his theories on child development.

Introduction to Psychology

While working at the Binet Laboratory, Piaget observed differences in the way children and adults answered questions. He noticed that children of the same age often made similar mistakes, which led him to believe that thinking processes change qualitatively with age.

This observation sparked Piaget’s interest in cognitive development and led him to study psychology at the University of Zurich. He later moved to Geneva, where he continued his research at the Rousseau Institute and the University of Geneva.

Piaget’s Theories

Piaget’s theories focus on cognitive development, the process by which a child’s understanding of the world changes as they grow. He proposed that children go through four distinct stages of cognitive development, each characterised by different ways of thinking and understanding.

These stages are the sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), the preoperational stage (2 to 7 years), the concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years), and the formal operational stage (11 years and beyond). Each stage represents a different way in which children understand and interact with the world around them.

Sensorimotor Stage

The sensorimotor stage is the first of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. During this stage, infants learn about the world through their senses and motor activities. They begin to understand that objects continue to exist even when they can’t see them, a concept known as object permanence.

Infants also start to show intentional behaviour, such as reaching for a toy or making sounds to get attention. These behaviours demonstrate that they are beginning to understand cause and effect relationships.

Preoperational Stage

The preoperational stage is the second stage in Piaget’s theory. During this stage, children begin to use symbols, such as words and images, to represent objects. However, their thinking is still largely based on their own perspective, a characteristic known as egocentrism.

Children in this stage also start to develop their imagination and engage in pretend play. However, they struggle with logical thinking and understanding the concept of conservation, which is the understanding that quantity does not change with changes in appearance.

Piaget’s Influence on International Education

Piaget’s theories have had a profound impact on education practices around the world. His work has influenced the way teachers interact with students, the design of educational materials, and the structure of school curriculums.

One of the key principles derived from Piaget’s work is the idea of active learning. Piaget believed that children learn best when they are actively involved in their own learning process. This has led to a shift away from rote memorization and towards more interactive and engaging teaching methods.

Active Learning

Active learning is a teaching method that involves students in the learning process. It encourages students to engage with the material, participate in the class, and collaborate with their peers. This approach aligns with Piaget’s belief that children learn by constructing their own understanding of the world.

Examples of active learning strategies include group projects, problem-solving activities, and discussions. These methods encourage students to think critically, solve problems, and develop their own understanding of the material.

Child-Centered Education

Another key principle derived from Piaget’s work is the idea of child-centered education. This approach places the child at the center of the learning process, allowing them to explore, discover, and learn at their own pace.

Child-centered education respects the individuality of each child and acknowledges that children learn in different ways and at different rates. It emphasizes the importance of understanding each child’s developmental stage and tailoring the learning environment to meet their individual needs.


Jean Piaget’s theories have greatly influenced the field of international education. His ideas about child development, learning, and education have shaped the way we understand and approach education today.

Through his work, Piaget has left a lasting legacy that continues to impact education practices around the world. His theories continue to be studied and applied, demonstrating the enduring relevance of his contributions to the field of education.

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