What is your formative Approach?

formators perspectiveProgram-centered or formandus-centered?

The science of education has undergone revolutionary changes in the recent years with the advancement of various disciplines and changes of perspectives in education. As formation involves transformation of the whole person, advancement in other disciplines offer insights and instruments to help the integral formation of missionaries.

As the perspective of education has changed very much in the recent years, formation sector too has much to gain when we are willing to review our formative approaches. Though there are isolated efforts to attend to the formandi and their personal growth process, most formation houses are satisfied with a ‘content’ approach where fulfillment of academic requirements constitute the central aspect of formation. Accordingly the formators’ function also varies from that of a warden or disciplinarian to one who accompanies the growth process in the formandus. We can distinguish between program-based formation or formandus-based formation. When we make this distinction, we are not ruling out the the role of Grace and divine action in the life of a formandus and the formator. This reflection invites a reflection on the formative approach on the part of the formator.

Formandus-centered vs program-centered formators: Which type are you?

Though formators are not exclusively in any one of these polarities, this distinction is useful to highlight the formation style and the underlying belief system of formators. The formator’s views about formation, the role of the formandi in the formation process and the perception about his own role determine his formative approach. The following questions are useful for an introspection:

–   What do you aim at in formation?

–   What type of activities do you facilitate in the formandus to reach the formation goals ?

–   Do you know what is going on in each of the formus as he goes through the process of formation?

–   How does the formandus go about what is proposed to him in formation ?

–   How do you prepare and communicate the formative materials to your formandi?

Most of the formation centers except the novitiate has an academic aspect outside of the immediate ambit of the formator. The formandi attend the universities or institutes where they undertake academic studies. Most of these centers are curriculum-centered in their educational approach. Personal formation often tends to be sidelined as academic studies demand lot of time and energy from them. Formators may try to make up for it through periodic conferences to supply for the missing Claretian dimension. This formative interventions are often content-oriented.

Formandus-centered formation

Formators who adhere to formandus-centered formation take to the route of constructivism. Constructivism holds that prior knowledge and level of growth form the foundation by which new learning occurs (Piaget and Inhelder, 1969). Different formees are at different levels of growth, maturity and proficiency, even if they are in the same academic level. Vygotsky has pointed out that a student is challenged according to his or her individual zone of proximal development (ZPD)[1]. The difference between a student’s actual developmental level and his or her potential is the zone of proximal development (ZPD). Good formation has to take the ZPD into account.
A program-centered formator adheres to carrying out certain pre-formulated programs and apply them to all formandi, irrespective of differences in their developmental levels. All are exposed to the same content during the same time period. The formator’s role is to implement the formation plan literally without taking its spirit within the larger context of the formative journey of the formandus. Here formation is goal-based. Formandus’ progress is judged by whether he achieves predetermined, developmentally-oriented formative goals.

In the formandus-centered formation learning is primarily experiential where progress is seen in the way he faces life issues and manifest integrity. The curriculum is planned to assist the progressive growth in the different dimensions of life . After planning globally the formator proposes various items for personal growth and propose learning strategies and the formation plan gives the framework to guide formation. The joy of growing in freedom and personal integrity engender enthusiasm in the formandus to stick to his vocational growth process.

Program- centered formation focuses basically on the content of the programs, irrespective of how it is assimilated by the individual formandus. The program that must be covered throughout the year takes precedence. The Formandi are compared with one another and their success is judged in comparison with how well others do.
In the program-centered approach various programs are arranged individually, but integration of the contents studied into the structure of the person is often neglected. Stipulated time is allotted for each topic. Completion of the program takes precedence over ensuring the impact of the program in the life of the formandus.

Comparison of the approaches



Atention to the individual’s
structure and dynamics

Formator and the program
are given priority

Guided by how the formandi internalizes the values

Guided by how the formandi performs




Norm based



Thematic integration

Collection of different themes

Process oriented


holistic approach

Focus on some aspects

Experiential knowledge

Rote knowledge

Most formators fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. They are neither strictly formandi-centered nor only program-centered. They use what works for them based on their fundamental belief structures.

Formators’ practice

The way in which formators spend their time qualitatively for the formandi reveal much about their formation philosophies. A formandi-centered formator tend to collaborate with others and problem solve as challenges evolve. He spends his day researching new ideas and learning key concepts that the formandi must acquire in order to take care of his own vocational growth. Evaluation is ongoing and is done mostly in the context of formandi’s way of integrating vocational values and the progressive transformation he manifests in his life.

 A program-centered formator works mostly by himself when he is giving conferences or organizing formative programs. Collaboration is sought in getting others to give inputs to the formandi. At times the formator is more worried about his status and may keep away potentially challenging team members.

An integration of the best of these models can enhance good formation. The formandi-centered formation is more demanding and requires lot of collaboration and competence. As the point of arrival is not predictable at the beginning, there is room for anxiety in the formators and diffidence in the superiors. A formandi-centered formator has to gain support from other formators and work in collaboration with them. Ongoing formation of formators should include exposures to programs and workshops to aquire skills for personal accompaniment.

Prepared by Mathew Vattamattam

[1] Vygotsky, L.S. Thought and Language. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1986.

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