Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and a Child’s Education

Imagine a family being stranded in a desert due to a war situation. What do you think will primarily be on their minds? Finding food and water and making an appropriate shelter, the basic survival needs, will be their main preoccupation as well as protecting themselves from hostile forces. Keeping this in mind, let us look at Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Abraham Maslow, was a great proponent of adding a human touch to the study of psychology. He also based most of his theories on motivation and education based on the study of healthy individuals who achieved world-wide admiration for their humanity and genius like Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs identified the various needs that a human being in a society needs to help him/her achieve his/her fullest potential. His theory needs to be carefully studied by all educators, social workers as well as human resource personnel and is of great significance. His theory is expressed in terms of a hierarchy; however, it can be studied in a parallel manner as all the needs can be equally important to lead a healthy quality of life for a human being.

The following is a short summary of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs keeping in mind the education of a child:

1. Physiological needs: The most basic need of every human being is to have adequate amounts of food and water to help their mind and body to function at optimum levels. A hungry or dehydrated child will not be able to concentrate or participate in school activities as well as he/she could with adequate levels of the required energy requirements. States like Tamil Nadu in India have midday-meal programs for poor school children which meets this basic requirement and to raise literacy levels. Physiological needs also include clean air and adequate rest/sleep.

2. Safety needs: Human beings need to feel safe and free from tension and anxiety. In a war scenario or in a crime-infested locality, safety needs are not met. A child in a war zone or exposed to crime of any kind will be disturbed and unable to properly concentrate on learning. Modern educational institutions go to great lengths to create a safe and conducive place for learning. A strong and responsible police presence as well as an effective justice system ensures that people feel safe and can lead a carefree life.

3. Need for love and affection: Interpersonal relationships including family, friends and peer group relationship which is filled with love, respect and caring and enable a student to learn and engage in activities with a deep sense of joy and involvement. Learning in schools needs to happen in an atmosphere of love and respect rather than fear which can be detrimental to a vulnerable and sensitive child.

4. Esteem needs: Another very important need that shapes a human being and ensures that a child is on his/her way to reach her fullest potential is the esteem need. Every child needs to feel loved and more importantly valued for their uniqueness. Esteem needs get enhanced with encouragement and motivation. Appreciation of the child, for her/his unique contributions in any endeavour go a long way in meeting esteem needs.

5. Self-actualization: Self-actualization is a need that can only be met when all the other needs are met. It is the attainment of a human being’s fullest potential at a particular point in time. Self-actualized individuals transcend their own being and think in terms of the whole of humanity. They engage in activities that will benefit humanity at large and are concerned with the betterment of society and maintenance of well-being, peace and justice in a creative and innovative manner. They are highly balanced individuals with a deep sense of integrity and are not swayed by manipulative forces. The primary aim of education needs to be to nurture children to grow into self-actualized individuals.

The Psychology of Education

On the need for an individualistic educational psychology emphasizing on the central role of the learner

Education and psychology are related in more than just one way and the psychology of education could be related to educational principles in psychology or how education as a discipline is taught within psychology as a subject and how these two disciplines merge. This is primarily the focus of educational psychology which studies how human learning occurs, what ways of teaching are most effective, what different methods should be used to teach gifted or disabled children and how principles of psychology could help in the study of schools as social systems.

Psychological education would be completely focused on learning methods as structured or imparted according to psychological and individual needs of the students. Education would differ according to culture, values, attitudes, social systems, mindset and all these factors are important in the study of education in psychology.

Educational psychology is the application of psychological objectives within educational systems and psychological education as I distinguish here is application of educational objectives in psychological processes. The first focus of using psychology in education is more general and the second approach of using education in psychology is more individualistic. However as far as present study of educational approach to psychology is concerned, there is no difference between individualistic educational psychology and general educational psychology and all interrelationships between psychology and education are considered within the broad discipline of educational psychology.

However a distinction between the more general educational psychology and more specific psychological or individualistic education could help in understanding the nuances of individualistic study and give a subjective dimension to the study of psychology in education. This could also help in making learning systems more student based and according to the needs of culture, society, individual or personal factors. This sort of study with a focus on personal/psychological aspects of learning is not just about social objectives and objectives within educational systems but also about personal goals and objectives and the psychological processes involved in learning. There has to be a clearer demarcation between education in psychology as a general study and individualistic education in psychology as a more specific and subjective discipline.

As of now educational psychology encompasses a wide range of issues and topics including the use of technology and its relation to psychology, learning techniques and instructional design. It also considers the social, cognitive, behavioural dimensions of learning but it would be necessary to make education more personal and individualistic through a special branch with a psychological focus on education so that individual needs are considered. There could be two ways in which this branch of knowledge could evolve – either by strengthening psychological education or individualistic approach to the psychology of education or by having two distinct branches of general educational psychology and individualistic educational psychology.

As in client centered approach to psychology, a psychology of education should also include further research that would highlight the need for individualistic dimensions in learning. Learning psychology is the use of psychological theories for example that of Jean Piaget and Kohler in the study of learning techniques, especially among children. I have already discussed Piaget but briefly Piaget’s theory higlights different stages of learning in children and Kohler suggested that learning occurs by sudden comprehension or understanding, however I will not go further into learning theories here. Whereas the focus of educational psychology is on learning techniques per se and the role of the learner is considered only secondary, a branch of individualistic psychology in education could help in emphasizing the role of the learner considering not just their disabilities or giftedness but also their personality patterns. This focus on personality patterns brings out the central role of understanding psychology in educational systems.

Educational psychology studies both the personal approaches to education as in giftedness, disability, learning theories applied to children and adults, and the more general objective approaches to learning as the role of schools as social or cultural systems.

The psychology of education could include the following branches:

General Educational Psychology

1. Learning Systems – As studied from individualistic learning perspectives and generalized learning perspectives, a discussion of the different theories, practices and systems or techniques of learning is an integral part of educational psychology and especially central to general educational psychology.

2. Social Systems – The use of education in social, cultural and economic systems could be considered within the psychological context and this relates to the role of education in society.

Individualistic Educational Psychology

1. Learning Systems – Learning techniques and systems or methods will have to be in accordance with the needs of the children or adult participants and according to skills of the teachers. Needs vary according to personal traits and abilities and individual needs will have to be considered during the learning process.

2. Social Systems – Individual learning psychology will have to be studied according to specific social and cultural backgrounds of the learners and thus a more subjective study of learning approaches and centralized role of the individual in the learning process considering their social, cultural or intellectual background will have to be considered.