Cognitive development is a study that focuses on the way a human mind function. This includes thought processes, memory and the retention of knowledge. Cognitive development analyses how people (ranging from childhood to adolescence) make decisions and solve problems. There are many theories created by researches that explored the concept that is cognitive development. These theories have expanded the understanding pertaining to cognitive development and has created a framework for more research to be done as research questions are formulated from existing research literature.
The development of a human mind is at its fastest pace from birth up until the age of 5. During this period, the brain can be compared to a sponge as large amounts of knowledge are absorbed. It is important to note that a child’s daily surrounding will have an impact on their cognitive development. The study of cognitive development is crucial for the understanding of the way a human mind works. This study is easier to conduct when the focus is on the development of a child’s mind as this is when most developments occur throughout the human life span. The development of a human mind during childhood is critical as it determines what type of person someone will end up being pending on how experiences, surroundings (this being the environment a person grows up in) and culture will impact their mind and the way it works. In South Africa there are many factors which has an influence/impact of the cognitive development of children. These factors include environmental, mental, cultural and social factors. Each of these factors consist of sub-factors but has the same power to derail the development of a child’s mind. Regarding the environmental factor the sub-factors would be poverty, family structure, health issues, violence and the existence of education/ the quality thereof. As for the mental factor, the life occurrences a child has experienced can impact a child’s view in which they see themselves and the people around them. If a child has gone through negative life occurrences such as abuse (physically and mentally) it will have an impact of their self-esteem/confidence, also the trust they display towards people in general. Concerning the cultural factor, it relates to the religious beliefs, ethic groups and social practices that surrounds a child’s lifestyle. South Africa is a diverse country, to explain, it is a country made up of different races, languages, sexual orientation and lastly, culture. The various cultures practiced in South Africa is encouraged and promoted. It is noted that children who have different cultural backgrounds vary from one another regarding their cognitive development. In other words, the culture in which one is raised will determine your cognitive development during childhood. With reference to the social factor, the people who the child is exposed to has an influence on the child’s cognitive development as well. The above-mentioned factors all determines how children living in South Africa will develop cognitively.
The zone of proximal development (ZPD) as defined by Vygotsky is “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peer” CITATION Sha10 l 7177 (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010). In other words, ZPD is a concept used to differentiate between the achievements and capabilities of a person working on their own to those of a person receiving help/assistance from peers CITATION Mcl12 l 7177 (Mcleod, 2012). An example of using ZPD in a classroom would be providing a writing assignment to a learner and then examine how they perform on their own. Thereafter, the learner must then receive assistance from an educator/tutor/peer to help the student with their writing assignment. The students individual writing assignment should then be compared to the assisted writing assignment to determine whether the student performed better on their own or better with assistance.
Scaffolding can be defined as a process “that enables a child or novice to solve a task or achieve a goal that would be beyond his unassisted efforts” Wood et al. (1976, p. 90). Simply explained, scaffolding is when an individual receives assistance from a skilled individual (such as a teacher) due to the assisted individual being unable to do it on their own. The assisting individual will them help the assisted individual to understand and then solve the problem at hand. Thereafter the assisting individual will ‘step back’ to determine whether the individual will be able to complete the task at hand without assistance. The purpose of scaffolding is to enable a student/individual with the necessary skillset and understanding to complete tasks and solve problems they were not able to do. Basically, it facilitates learning and provides support to students while they are learning something new. An example of scaffolding could be when a teacher presents a class with a practical task such as baking a cake. The teacher explains what process/steps needs to be followed and provides instructions on how to bake the cake. Subsequently the educator then demonstrates to the class how to bake a cake and allow them to work in group, as well as aiding by correcting their mistakes and answering questions. Once the group has completed their cake and the educator has assisted the class in doing so, the teacher then presents the same practical task but now as individual work. The teacher will then determine whether the students are able to bake the cake on their own.
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development explains how a child constructs a mental model of the world (McLeod, 2018). Deeply defined, his theory focuses on how a child develops and understand concepts, how they categorise different objects/ideas and how their thought process and problem-solving skills progress or mature. The three mainly focused on elements of Piaget’s theory are schemas, the transition of one stage to another (known as the adaption processes) and the four stages of cognitive development. Schema is defined as the creation of mental concepts through learning new things which helps an individual understand past experiences, expand the mental concepts they have developed, determine suitable reactions pending on the situation they’re in and gain better perspective and perception of the world and the accepted/rejected ‘norms’ thereof. Although schemas are developed through growth and experiences, Piaget believes that because infants are born with reflexes (which were genetically encoded into their minds) they have a small number of inherent schemas (McLeod, 2018). These inherent schemas are then developed and expanded. Adjusting focus to the second element, adaption processes, is basically the intellectual growth/ cognitive development of a child.