3 Leading Philosophers Contributing Immensely to Education


In studying the ideas of leading philosophers, who we often refer to as great educational thinkers, what we do is try to relate their ideas to the experiences of their days to understand their thinking better, and to provide answers to some of the problems of our days. The writings of the great educational thinkers on the theory and practice of education of their times are needed by students, as part of their course content on Philosophy of Education. Three leading philosophers who contributed to the educational ideas are discussed here.

1. The educational ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)


Rousseau was a French person because his educational reformations not only threw overboard the whole educational set-up of his days but also presupposed a total rearrangement of the social and political lives of the country. Rousseau expressed a preference for a peaceful, simple life and thought this type of life could be found by living close to nature. The educational ideas of Rousseau are discussed below.

Rousseau’s educational ideas

Rousseau believed that people are good so long as they are close to nature but when they join human society, they become ruined by civilization, which is evil and corrupt. He wanted children to be educated as naturally as possible, by being led rather than pushed into learning.

The environment of the child

Rousseau recognized, and quite correctly, that education is more than what takes place in the formal school or classroom. The whole environment of the child is a resource for learning other than the teacher. Life itself teaches (experience is the best teacher).

The curriculum and teaching methods

The curriculum and the teaching method should be governed, to a large extent, by the nature of the child rather than solely by some preconceived plan or blueprint, and certainly not by the dictate of the examination syllabus, as now seems to be the case in Nigeria and elsewhere.

The readiness of the child

The readiness of the child for new items of learning has to be watched, and no new learning task should be presented to him until he demonstrates that he is ready. The deciding factor is his eagerness for new learning.

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The experience of the child

The child’s learning should start from his own experience but he must make progress towards what is now within his experience; hence the need for a curriculum for “Emile” after some time which must of course be drawn up with him.

The preparation for adult life

The child is not a miniature adult and so should not be treated as such; nor should his education consist mainly of preparation for adult life – which could only destroy all the joy and the excitement of learning in the child.

The child is a unique adult

Education is an ideal example of catering to the unique mode of learning of each child.

The affection of the child

The teacher should cultivate affection for his pupils, should deeply respect their nature, and in general should be a sympathetic guide and adviser, in addition to being an expert in an area of knowledge; under no circumstances should impose himself on his ideas.

2. The Educational Ideas of Plato (427-347 B.C.)

Plato was a Greek philosopher whose real name was Aristocles. The name was changed to Plato by his teacher in gymnastics because of the shape of his head. Plato was a disciple of Socrates (470-399 BC). He was called the father of philosophy at the age of twenty. Plato was the father of idealism. The only way a man can free himself from the unreliability of the changing physical world is by using the dialectic (or critical discussion) in which one moves from mere opinion to true knowledge. The educational ideas of Plato are discussed below.

 The process of education

The process of education, according to Plato, is that of aiding the individual to consider knowledge through his reasoning. Learning is therefore according to him, a rediscovery or recollection of previously acquired knowledge. In other words, all learning is a recollection of past learning. The good teacher should therefore use such methods that would bring out the knowledge in the learner.

The first formal education

Plato established the first formal school in Europe called The Academy which serves as a model for modern-day school organization in elementary, secondary, and higher education.

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The division of labor

Plato’s division of labor into those who can work best under supervision, (workers) those who can work best by giving directives (Guards), and those who are best as leaders (rulers); leads to the principle of professionalization. The principle of professionalization here means the designing of appropriate programs of training according to the services we require, of each sector of the country; Plato saw the need for technical and vocational types of education since he said in his book that anyone who would be good at anything must practice that thing from his youth upwards.

The idea of government control of education

He initiated the idea of government control of education this way, the organization and supervision of schools and instruction will be done appropriately. In his opinion, the recruitment and payment of teachers are to be handled by the government as well.

The idea of equal educational opportunities

Plato was the first to raise the idea of equal education opportunities for males and females. Equal opportunity is provided for boys and girls.

The idea of universal and compulsory education

He was the first to introduce the idea of universal and compulsory education for all citizens of Athens.

The individual differences in teaching

Plato advocated for the consideration of individual differences in teaching. Teaching should be done bearing in mind the learners’ abilities. His theory of individual differences in temperament and intellectual ability serves as the basis for this. Men are different in ability, temperament, and character. They should therefore be educated as best as their ability can carry them.

The methods of teaching

Plato recommended two methods of teaching (a) The play-away method of instruction by imitation and listening for the children, and (b)  The Socratic questioning, that is, persistent questioning which would make the learner think.

The importance of the learner’s environment

He was the first to appreciate the importance of a learner’s environment to learning. A good and morally sound environment will breed a morally upright child.

Moral training and character development of the child

Plato also advocated for moral training and character development of the child. Moral education is necessary to instill good discipline in our children from birth.

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Knowledge versus ignorance

To Plato, knowledge is good, and ignorance is evil. People who know what is good would not do evil.

3. The Educational ideas of Aristotle

Aristotle has been an Athenian and a disciple of Plato. Plato trained Aristotle. Aristotle was a prolific writer and a typical example of a philosopher who ventured into many areas of knowledge which included the natural sciences (especially physics, and Biology), law, logic, politics, ethics, metaphysics, and so on. From him, the mind of the child was child was like raw clay ready to be molded into a fully rational adult, but with the important provision that the mind of the child has already the potential to form the full form of the adult that he was to become. The educational ideas of Aristotle are discussed below.

The Role of Education

The role of education is to help the child realize the ideal pattern or the best of its kind, which is that of a full–grown, happy adult. The exercise of man’s intellectual ability is a good or happy life for man.

Development of the child

Education is to develop the child so that he may become the best adult of his type. It is to also promotes the reasoning ability of the person since that is the best and highest element in man.

Education is to inculcate in the child

Education is to inculcate in the child, all wisdom for practical living, good moral conduct, and concern for the social welfare of his fellow citizens.

The teaching activities of the teacher

The teaching activities of the teacher would help the child to realize the potentialities that are in him. Instruction is essential to guide the child’s development. The child must also be involved in the action. He must practice what he has learned repeatedly until it becomes a part of him.


The aim of education is self-realization or the realization of the potentialities of individuals.

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