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Basic Human Needs V-1

No bread is too hard when you are really hungry.

One of the theories most basic to nonformal education is Maslow's hierarchy of basic human needs.


After studying this module you should be able to:

1. List Maslow's five categories of basic human needs.
2. Discuss what each category means for planning educational programs.



Psychologist Abraham Maslow grouped the various motivating drives each of us has into five categories:


  • Income, health, shelter, sex, food, and sleep.


  • Safety, continuing employment, healthy environment, freedom from fear, anxiety and the threat of punishment.


  • Love, sense of belonging, atmosphere of acceptance, prestige, recreation and entertainment.


  • Ego satisfaction, a feeling of value and importance to others. The desire to achieve and to be recognized for it.


  • Personal growth, higher education, spiritual development, the drive to realize and utilize one's potential capabilities, the desire to contribute to the betterment of mankind.

Maslow's hierarchy is often shown as a pyramid:

pyramid.bmp (33782 bytes)

As shown by the illustration, there is a hierarchy of needs. Only when the lower needs are satisfied will the higher level needs be felt. Once lower needs are satisfied, they stop being strong motivating forces. The priorities each of us places on these needs varies with time as lower needs are met, and as we grow and mature as individuals. Likewise, the behavior used to fulfill these needs varies from one individual to another. For example, one person meets his or her economic needs through farming, while another meets them through retail business. One person gets recognition by being cooperative, while another gets recognition by being disruptive.

The important thing for groups to realize is that the real motivators in most of us are the "higher level" needs: social needs, self-worth, and self-realization. But we often forget this. In motivating others, we tend to exaggerate the importance of economic rewards, food and entertainment, intimidation, and arm twisting. On the other hand, we tend to under-emphasize the importance of people's social and self-worth needs--to be accepted by others, to accomplish something meaningful and be recognized for it, to share ideas and be respected for them, and to contribute to community betterment.



1. What significance does this theory have for classroom teachers?

2. What significance does it have for nonformal educators (see modules E-1 and E-3 if you need help distinguishing between formal and nonformal education)?

3. Can you think of educational programs (or activities) that have violated this theory?

4. Why is this theory considered to be one of the most basic theories for educators?