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Systems Thinking > Learning and Education
System thinking in teaching and learning:
The real inception of the general systems theory is crystallized during the last twenty years and ended up splitting into two main streams or schools, led by two system pioneers. The first was Professor Peter Checkland of Lancaster University in England, and the other was Professor Jay Forrester of MIT in USA, who started their works separately in the early sixties. Both have used different approaches to develop methods and tools of systems thinking, and ended up agreeing on the concepts and principles of system thinking and systems approach, as presented here earlier.
As Checkland concentrated on applying systems thinking through the distinction between soft and hard problems (Checkland, 1979) and used his Soft System Methodology (SSM) to study management problems and human activity systems, Forrester concentrated on quantitative representation of dynamic behavior of system, and the effect of its internal structure on this behavior, using his System Dynamics Methodology (SD).
Also, both were interested in teaching the system concept to managers, but each followed different approach, where Checkland concentrated on teaching university students and managers and train them to solve problems with this concept, Forrester has gone to students from the level of primary schools to start teaching them system thinking skills to prepare them from this age as managers of the future. And, indeed, in 1990, MIT in the United States adopted a program to develop system thinking skills through teaching system dynamics to school children up to secondary school and this project has continued to spread to include growing numbers of schools and programs and stages of teaching. In Egypt and the Arab world systemic approach have been used to teach chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology through number of research programs at the Center for Development of Teaching Science, of Ain Shams University, (Mohamed Nasr 2004). The next parts discuss different approaches used in the Western world and in the Arab countries to determine the most appropriate way to develop a general model to be used in formulating and utilizing system thinking in schools.
System Thinking
Western models for system thinking:
Through system thinking researchers in the western world linked learning, for either organizations or individuals, to ability to transform and harmonize the change(Whiston, 1996). They recognized the impact of the information and communication revolution on the methods, contents and means of education. They recognized the fact that the school of today is not the same as it used to be yesterday, and will not be the same in the future.آ  Also the amount of information students can absorb today cannot be compared to what they will be able to learn, or what they will be obliged to learn, tomorrow, and with this increase in capacity of learning; methods and levels of identifying problems will not be the same also. These changes will be reflected on the concept of school teaching and its functions, which require new strategies and methodologies to enhance students thinking skills.
System Thinking approaches:
There is no doubt that the comparison between the English and American applications of system thinking and the strategy to deal with the problem-solving shows that there is fundamental differences between both approaches in terms of the representation of the system and the models used in its solution, but they both agree on the basic principles that they were built on. Both approaches are used to set a precise definition of the problem or situation as a step towards a meaningful change leads to improving its system performance. Both are based on a methodology, with specific methods for modeling that follow fixed rules to build maps or charts to represent the system, and both have building blocks to define the system which reflects the reality of its physical entity or a situation in the real world, and both are used on a wide range of social systems and human situation, and both concentrate on short and long term change. Table (3) summarizes elements of the two approaches.
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