Schools of Thought | Sunday Observer

Schools of Thought

10 January, 2021

It is strange that men are in such a haste to get fame as teachers rather than knowledge as leaners. – Henry David Thoreau

Perhaps the picture that comes to mind when one hears or sees the word ‘School’, is a place where children gather to learn different subjects according to a certain predefined criteria. The most common model of such a school is to have a physical location and infrastructure to accommodate learners, teachers and administrators who would implement a variety of educational programs agreed upon by the experts in the field and the political authorities of a country.

The structure of the study streams for the leaner usually depends on the requirements of the global economy since formal education, for the most part, has become the assembly line of producing human resources for the market economy.


The English language uses the word ‘School’ to identify different things in different phrases such as: a school of fish – a group of fish swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner; a school of thought – a particular way of thinking or a certain ideology. It is interesting to note that the usage of the word ‘school’ in each of these places implies conformity or a ‘follow the leader’ type behaviour which most certainly is what is expected of learners attending schools during the first 18 years of their lives.

This might be seen as a misinterpretation of the word ‘school’ since conformity destroys free thinking, which is an essential component of a proper learning process.

Ideology of learning

The only form of conformity that should exist within a learning process is conforming to the ideology of learning from anyone or anything. Not only do students learn from teachers but teachers also learn from students. Children learn from their parents and parents can also learn from their children.

At present, teachers, administrative officers, government officials, students and their parents, all over the world are struggling to find ways to start the school year for 2021 while overcoming the limitations and uncertainties created by the pandemic.

While it is important to find efficient, productive and safe ways to get the existing teaching and learning procedures started again, it is perhaps the best time to think about paradigm shifts in the way we would want to educate our future generations.

The word ‘educate’ comes from the Latin word educere, meaning ‘bring out’ while the word ‘school’ has its roots in the Greek word skhole meaning ‘leisure or spare time’. Therefore, ‘school education’ can mean bringing out one’s innate capabilities at ease using the time and energy leisurely, which is the furthest from what it is at present.

Each human being plays the dual role of transmitting and receiving knowledge. When the receiver (the learner) is tuned into the same frequency as the transmitter (the teacher) then the transmission is successful and the message is received as it is intended by the transmitter.


Even if the frequencies of the transmitter and the receiver are not the same but close enough, there can still be some kind of transmission, much like the modern-day radio but the message may not be very clear.

When the two frequencies are further apart there will not be any transmission. When the frequencies are matched automatically the transmission of knowledge also takes place without any extra effort, which is sometimes known as passive learning.

However, if one tries to teach or learn something intentionally then one needs to try to match one’s corresponding frequency with the other as much as possible.

Exploring different Schools of Thought in human psychology such as John Dewey’s Functionalism, Pavlov and Skinner’s Behaviourism, Jung’s theories of Psychodynamics and Maslow’s Humanistic Psychology will be an essential part of improving one’s teaching/learning abilities. It is also important to understand the existing Schools of Thought in teaching and learning such as:

Brain Based Learning where teachers utilise what is known about how information is taken in, processed, stored in the brain and retrieved;

Humanistic approach where the process of teaching/learning is enhanced by creating a more humane and user friendly environment and reinforcement of knowledge through practice and motivation through rewards as described in Behavioural School of Thought.

Mental processes

Adult teachers/learners should also make an effort to understand the mental processes such as directing one’s focus, attention, opening various receptors, improving and managing the memory, identifying the connection between different pieces of information and retrieving appropriate information when needed.

Therefore, understanding how each participant develops and chooses these frequencies of transmitting and receiving knowledge is one of the most important factors in any type of teaching/learning process.

At the same time, if one participant in this process is a child (less than 18 years) and the other is an adult, the responsibility of making adjustments to his/her frequency of transmitting or receiving information falls invariably on the adult.

An adult teacher should be able to detect whether the leaner has processed and understood the information as it was intended and if not, the reasons for that.

Only then can the teacher introduce different ways and means to facilitate the adjustments for the leaner to succeed.

Understanding different Schools of Thought is important not only in psychology and teaching/learning but also in various other aspects of life such as, economics, politics, law and philosophy. In the past, education was largely guided by religious schools of thought where there was no room for free thinkers.

The opportunities of participating in systematic teaching/learning process were also limited to the elite in the society. Now the responsibility is with the state and therefore, the schools of thought in politics and economics dominate the systems, content and processes of education more than those of teaching, learning and human psychology.

Accessibility of the process has also been expanded beyond the elite to bring in the mass education. Therefore, the trend of teaching/learning procedures almost entirely is materialistic and scientific.

Education systems, like everything else, are in a state of flux seeking a balance between individual and mass education and also between religious and scientific education.

Even though there is a general feeling that much has been done to raise the level of living standards, whether the education systems have been able to guide the human being to a state of sustainable physical and mental satisfaction is still debatable.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]