Jean William Fritz Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Piaget's theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called "genetic epistemology." Piaget placed great importance on the education of children. As the Director of the International Bureau of Education, he declared in 1934 that "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent or gradual."
His theory of child development is studied in pre-service education programs. Educators continue to incorporate constructivist-based strategies. Piaget created the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva in 1955 while on the faculty of the University of Geneva and directed the center until his death in 1980. The number of collaborations that its founding made possible, and their impact, ultimately led to the Center being referred to in the scholarly literature as "Piaget's factory."
According to Ernst von Glasersfeld, Piaget was "the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing." However, his ideas did not become widely popularized until the 1960s. This then led to the emergence of the study of development as a major sub-discipline in psychology. By the end of the 20th century, Piaget was second only to B. F. Skinner as the most-cited psychologist of that era. Piaget was born in 1896 in Neuchâtel, in the Francophone region of Switzerland.
He was the oldest son of Arthur Piaget (Swiss), a professor of medieval literature at the University of Neuchâtel, and Rebecca Jackson (French). Rebecca Jackson came from a prominent family of French steel foundry owners of English descent through her Lancashire-born great-grandfather, steelmaker James Jackson. Piaget was a precocious child who developed an interest in biology and the natural world. His early interest in zoology earned him a reputation among those in the field after he had published several articles on mollusks by the age of 15.
When he was 15, his former nanny wrote to his parents to apologize for having once lied to them about fighting off a would-be kidnapper from baby Jean's pram. There never was a kidnapper. Piaget became fascinated that he had somehow formed a memory of this kidnapping incident, a memory that endured even after he understood it to be false. He developed an interest in epistemology due to his godfather's urgings to study the fields of philosophy and logic. He was educated at the University of Neuchâtel and studied briefly at the University of Zürich.
During this time, he published two philosophical papers that showed the direction of his thinking at the time, but which he later dismissed as adolescent thought. His interest in psychoanalysis, at the time a burgeoning strain of psychology, can also be dated to this period. Piaget moved from Switzerland to Paris after his graduation, and he taught at the Grange-Aux-Belles Street School for Boys.
The school was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of the Binet-Simon test (later revised by Lewis Terman to become the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales). Piaget assisted in the marking of Binet's intelligence tests. It was while he was helping to mark some of these tests that Piaget noticed that young children consistently gave wrong answers to certain questions. Piaget did not focus so much on the fact of the children's answers being wrong, but that young children consistently made types of mistakes that older children and adults managed to avoid.
This led him to the theory that young children's cognitive processes are inherently different from those of adults. Ultimately, he was to propose a global theory of cognitive developmental stages in which individuals exhibit certain common patterns of cognition in each period of development. In 1921, Piaget returned to Switzerland as director of the Rousseau Institute in Geneva. At this time, the institute was directed by Édouard Claparède. Piaget was familiar with many of Claparède's ideas. Including the psychological concept 'of groping,' which was closely associated with "trials and errors" observed in human mental patterns.
In 1923, he married Valentine Châtenay (7 January 1899 – 3 July 1983); the couple had three children, whom Piaget studied from infancy. From 1925 to 1929, Piaget worked as a professor of psychology, sociology, and the philosophy of science at the University of Neuchatel. In 1929, Jean Piaget accepted the post of Director of the International Bureau of Education and remained the head of this international organization until 1968. Every year, he drafted his "Director's Speeches" for the IBE Council and for the International Conference on Public Education, in which he explicitly addressed his educational credo.
Having taught at the University of Geneva and at the University of Paris in 1964, Piaget was invited to serve as a chief consultant at two conferences at Cornell University (11–13 March) and the University of California, Berkeley (16–18 March). The conferences addressed the relationship between cognitive studies and curriculum development and strived to conceive implications of recent investigations of children's cognitive development for curricula.
In 1979, Piaget was awarded the Balzan Prize for Social and Political Sciences. Piaget died on 16 September 1980 and, as he had requested, was buried with his family in an unmarked grave in the Cimetière des Rois (Cemetery of Kings) in Geneva.