The Progressive Education Fallacy in Developing Countries

In Favour of Formalism

  • Gerard Guthrie

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxxiv
  2. Old Conjectures

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-2
    2. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 3-20
    3. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 21-42
    4. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 43-60
    5. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 61-76
    6. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 77-101
  3. Refutations

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 103-104
    2. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 127-152
    3. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 153-172
    4. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 173-193
  4. New Conjectures

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 195-196
    2. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 197-215
    3. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 217-235
    4. Gerard Guthrie
      Pages 237-251
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 253-257

About this book


This highly controversial book challenges half a century of conventional educational wisdom. The Progressive Education Fallacy in Developing Countries: In Favour of Formalism argues that progressive teacher education and curriculum reforms in developing countries are wrong in principle and widespread failures in practice. The book is essential reading for academics, aid and educational professionals, and for overseas students of education.

In a methodologically elegant contribution to the theory, methodology and practice of education in developing countries, 12 chapters address the merits of formalism and the risks associated with what Gerard Guthrie identifies as the Progressive Education Fallacy. The Fallacy, that developing the enquiring mind needs enquiry teaching methods in schools, has lead to many inappropriate attempts at educational transfer. Progressive assumptions about the classroom have rarely been debated or tested experimentally in non-Western, especially non-Anglophone, cultures. School effectiveness research too has failed to examine adequately classroom processes and their cultural contexts.

A formal analysis of ideas inherent in the Fallacy uses C.E. Beeby’s stages model as an influential example of the progressive position. Progressive claims are refuted using the case of failed curriculum reforms in Papua New Guinea and an analysis of the unlikelihood of the adoption of progressive teaching in Confucian-tradition China. Widespread evidence from Africa and Asia also shows that progressive education reforms have failed in countries with pedagogic paradigms founded in revelatory epistemologies. Old-fashioned though formalism may be in some Western countries, classroom change in the developing world does not necessarily require progressive methods, but can focus on upgrading formalism.

"Gerard Guthrie makes a significant , if challenging and controversial, contribution to the international literature on education and development"
Michael Crossley, University of Bristol, UK


Beeby Comparative Education Developing Countries Education Formalism Formalistic Teaching Stages of Educational Development Teacher Education

Authors and affiliations

  • Gerard Guthrie
    • 1
  1. 1., A1404 Xiagong International GardensGuthrie Development Consultancy PtyZhuaiChina, People's Republic

Bibliographic information