TeampyramidAbraham Maslow (1954), a humanistic psychologist (focused on potentials), developed a hierarchy of needs from his belief that humans strive for an upper level of capabilities. These levels are often represented as a pyramid, with the larger, lower levels representing the lower needs which at a basic level are the equivalent to the instincts of animals. The upper tip represents the need for self-actualisation, the realization of the inner potential.

Within the right environment, people thrive but each lower level must be met to enable individuals to move to the next level. Mia Kelmer Pringle (1974) has suggested that there are four significant developmental needs which have to be met from birth. These are:

a. The need for love and security

This is probably the most important need as it provides the basis for all later relationships. On it depends the development of the personality – the ability to care and respond to affection. A continuous, reliable, loving relationship first within the family unit, then with a growing number of others can meet this need. It can give the individual a sense of worthwhileness and of a coherent personal identity.

b. The need for new experiences

New experiences are a fundamental requirement for mental growth. In early life it is largely through play and language that the child explores the world and learns to cope with it. In adolescence another form of play is important this time the experiments with different kinds of role girlfriend/ boyfriend/worker/leader. Language remains a crucial factor in intellectual growth it helps in learning to reason, to think and in making relationships.

c. The need for praise and recognition

Growing up requires a tremendous amount of learning emotional, social and intellectual. Consequently strong incentives are necessary for the individual to continue through the difficulties and conflicts s/he will inevitably encounter. The most effective incentives are praise and recognition sustained over time.

d. The need for responsibility

This need is met by allowing the child to gain personal independence, firstly through learning to look after him/herself in matters of everyday care and then through a gradual extension of responsibility over other areas until s/he has the freedom and ability to decide on his/her own actions and, indeed, to be able to accept responsibility for others.

*Adapted from Mia Kellmer Pringle, The Needs of Children, Hutchinson, 1980


Maslow has set up a hierarchy of five levels of basic needs. Beyond these needs, higher levels of needs exist. These include needs for understanding, esthetic appreciation and purely spiritual needs. In the levels of the five basic needs, the person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied, nor the third until the second has been satisfied, and so on. Maslow’s basic needs are as follows:

Physiological Needs

These are biological needs. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person’s search for satisfaction.

Safety Needs

When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.
Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness

When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging.
Needs for Esteem

When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.
Needs for Self-Actualization

When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.” “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.” These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.
The hierarchic theory is often represented as a pyramid, with the larger, lower levels representing the lower needs, and the upper point representing the need for self-actualization. Maslow believes that the only reason that people would not move well in direction of self-actualization is because of hindrances placed in their way by society. He states that education is one of these hindrances. He recommends ways education can switch from its usual person-stunting tactics to person-growing approaches. Maslow states that educators should respond to the potential an individual has for growing into a self-actualizing person of his/her own kind. Ten points that educators should address are listed:

  • We should teach people to be authentic, to be aware of their inner selves and to hear their inner-feeling voices.
  • We should teach people to transcend their cultural conditioning and become world citizens.
  • We should help people discover their vocation in life, their calling, fate or destiny. This is especially focused on finding the right career and the right mate.
  • We should teach people that life is precious, that there is joy to be experienced in life, and if people are open to seeing the good and joyous in all kinds of situations, it makes life worth living.
  • We must accept the person as he or she is and help the person learn their inner nature. From real knowledge of aptitudes and limitations we can know what to build upon, what potentials are really there.
  • We must see that the person’s basic needs are satisfied. This includes safety, belongingness, and esteem needs.
  • We should refreshen consciousness, teaching the person to appreciate beauty and the other good things in nature and in living.
  • We should teach people that controls are good, and complete abandon is bad. It takes control to improve the quality of life in all areas.
  • We should teach people to transcend the trifling problems and grapple with the serious problems in life. These include the problems of injustice, of pain, suffering, and death.
  • We must teach people to be good choosers. They must be given practice in making good choices.

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