Ecological Theory

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Urie Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory

An American Russian psychologist introduced a theory on human development known as the Urie Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory, Bronfenbrenner born in 1917 was also a co-founder of the Head Start program in the United States for disadvantaged pre-school children. Bronfenbrenner developed the ecological theory to explain how everything in a child and the child's environment affects how a child grows and develops. He labeled different aspects or levels of the environment that influence children's development, including the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem.


Bronfenbrenner starts Ecological Theory 1979

Bronfenbrenner stated in 1979 "...basic science needs public policy even more than public policy needs basic science" From that statement he went on to develop his primary contribution that of the Ecological Systems Theory in which he holds that development reflects the influence of several environmental systems identifying five such systems.

Bronfenbrenner - Micro System:

The Microsystem is the small environment the child lives in. This is where the most direct interaction takes place for example through interaction with teachers, parents and peer group. The most important learning period of human life is the first four years of life; even then the individual is not a passive recipient of experiences but is instrumental in constructing the settings. It is how these individuals and organisations interact with the child that hase a profund effect on how the child grows. The more encouraging and nurturing these interactions are the better the child will be able to grow. It should also be noted that the make up of the child's personality also has an influence on the interaction coming from these organisations and individuals. It is the child's temprement that often determines how others treat them.

Bronfenbrenner - Mesosystem:

This refers to the relationship between different parts of the microsystems and how they work together for the good of the child.. For example the relation of family experience with the experience of school experiences and family experience to the experience of a peer group. It could be that children who reject a positive student teacher relationship may have experienced rejection in the family environment. The positive involvement of a parent or carer in the school envronment or external activity such as sports days can play a very positive role in the child's overall growth.

Where perhaps a step-dad or a step mother have conflicting opinions on how best to raise the child this can hinder the child's development in various channels because of the mixed messages the child receives.

Bronfenbrenner - Exosystem:

Here the individual may not play an active role the home experience may be influenced by a parents experience at work. Conflict may arise if one parent for example gains a promotion that involves more travel away from the home environment or longer hours at their place of work which changes their pattern of behaviour with the child and could have a negative effect. Perhaps this is more emphasised if a bred-winning parent loses their job and the family find the grind of finding money to pay household bills an increasing burden whereas a parent or step parent increasing their income through promotion without the need for extra travel or longer work hours can have a positive effect on the child with the resultant extra disposable income with the parents better situated to provide for the child's needs.

Bronfenbrenner - Macrosystem

This is the final level of the Ecological System of Bronfenbrenner it deals with the largest and most remote people and things that have an influence over a child's life. national Government, the economy, wars, and cultural values and the relative freedoms they provide all play their part in this system. There is a positive and negative influence on the child from the macrosystem.


Bronfenbrenner - Chronosystem:

Environmental events and transitions over a lifetime. For example in today’s environment divorce is a heavy factor in influencing a child’s development. However, it has been shown to have less effect than previously thought where the first year following a divorce sees a peak on the effect it plays on the child whereas by two or more years following the divorce family interaction is less chaotic and more stable.

The theory recently has been expanded to “Bio-Ecological System” because more attention has been placed on the person’s biological make up. There are many different social structure theories related to human development. The ecological theory emphasises environmental factors as playing a major role in human development although the theory does vary from culture to culture.

The theory is strikingly similar to the social networks approach of James Comer, who developed the School Development Programme at the Yale Child Study Centre, upon which almost every school reform model subsequently is influenced by or based on. Comer believed that children are nurtured in nested environments depicted by a series of platforms of increasing sizes where the institutional policies platform is followed by the secondary social network of schools, workplaces and organisations providing recreational activities and needed health and social services.

Next to the upper level is the primary social network of religious centres and clubs, friend and relatives and immediate family. At the top and centre of this system is innermost environment of the child which ostensibly plays as profound a role in development as anything external to the body. This innermost environment of the child is missing from the Urie Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory and perhaps illustrates the point that his work focuses not directly on the child but on how aspects of the much broader macrosystem directly impinge on what Comer calls the primary social network of the child.

The above represent general statements regarding the development of a child, each child is an individual in their make-up and as such they will develop at their own speed and in their own way with parts of their personality devloping slower or indeed faster then other parts. We may wish it from time to time but no child is a machine that can be built and duplictaed to our whim.

These stages therefore can only be used as a guide in the hope that as a child develops certain traits ahead of others they will all catch up in the end turning the child into a well developed individual who will play a major role in the development of our society.

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