In the 19th century, governments in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries organized national systems of public education. The United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries in North and South America also established national education systems based largely on European models.


In the United Kingdom

The Church of England and other churches often operated primary schools in the United Kingdom, where students paid a small fee to study the Bible, catechism, reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1833 the British Parliament passed a law that gave some government funds to these schools. In 1862 the United Kingdom established a school grant system, called payment by results, in which schools received funds based on their students’ performance on reading, writing, and arithmetic tests. The Education Act of 1870, called the Forster Act, authorized local government boards to establish public board schools. The United Kingdom then had two schools systems: board schools operated by the government and voluntary schools conducted by the churches and other private organizations.

In 1878 the United Kingdom passed laws that limited child labor in factories and made it possible for more children to attend school. To make schooling available to working-class children, many schools with limited public and private funds used monitorial methods of instruction. Monitorial education, developed by British educators Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell, used student monitors to conduct lessons. It offered the fledgling public education system the advantage of allowing schools to hire fewer teachers to instruct the large number of new students. Schools featuring monitorial education used older boys, called monitors, who were more advanced in their studies, to teach younger children. Monitorial education concentrated on basic skills—reading, writing, and arithmetic—that were broken down into small parts or units. After a monitor had learned a unit—such as spelling words of two or three letters that began with the letter A—he would, under the master teacher’s supervision, teach this unit to a group of students. By the end of the 19th century, the monitorial system was abandoned in British schools because it provided a very limited education.


In Russia

Russian tsar Alexander II initiated education reforms leading to the Education Statute of 1864. This law created zemstvos, local government units, which operated primary schools. In addition to zemstvo schools, the Russian Orthodox Church conducted parish schools. While the number of children attending school slowly increased, most of Russia’s population remained illiterate. Peasants often refused to send their children to school so that they could work on the farms. More boys attended school than girls since many peasant parents considered female education unnecessary. Fearing that too much education would make people discontented with their lives, the tsar’s government provided only limited schooling to instill political loyalty and religious piety.


In the United States

Sir Horace Mann

A Massachusetts lawyer and legislator, Horace Mann became the secretary of the Massachusetts board of education—the first state board of education in the nation—in 1837. Mann worked to establish nonreligious public schools so as to provide common education for all citizens, which he believed to be essential to democracy.

Before the 19th century elementary and secondary education in the United States was organized on a local or regional level. Nearly all schools operated on private funds exclusively. However, beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, American educators such as Henry Barnard and Horace Mann argued for the creation of a school system operated by individual states that would provide an equal education for all American children. In 1852 Massachusetts passed the first laws calling for free public education, and by 1918 all U.S. states had passed compulsory school attendance laws. See Public Education in the United States.



At the beginning of the 20th century, the writings of Swedish feminist and educator Ellen Key influenced education around the world. Key’s book Barnets √•rhundrade (1900; The Century of the Child,1909) was translated into many languages and inspired so-called progressive educators in various countries. Progressive education was a system of teaching that emphasized the needs and potentials of the child, rather than the needs of society or the principles of religion. Among the influential progressive educators were Hermann Lietz and Georg Michael Kerschensteiner of Germany, Bertrand Russell of England, and Maria Montessori of Italy.



Montessori Preschool

A young boys and girls in a Montessori preschool matches words and illustrations as his teacher looks on. Italian educator Maria Montessori introduced her method of teaching children in 1907. The Montessori method encourages the development of initiative and self-reliance in children.

Montessori’s methods of early childhood education have become internationally popular. Trained in medicine, Montessori worked with developmentally disabled children early in her career. The results of her work were so effective that she believed her teaching methods could be used to educate all children. In 1907 Montessori established a children’s school, the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House), for poor children from the San Lorenzo district of Rome. Here she developed a specially prepared environment that featured materials and activities based on her observations of children. She found that children enjoy mastering specific skills, prefer work to play, and can sustain concentration. She also believed that children have a power to learn independently if provided a properly stimulating environment.

Montessori’s curriculum emphasized three major classes of activity: (1) practical, (2) sensory, and (3) formal skills and studies. It introduced children to such practical activities as setting the table, serving a meal, washing dishes, tying and buttoning clothing, and practicing basic social manners. Repetitive exercises developed sensory and muscular coordination. Formal skills and subjects included reading, writing, and arithmetic. Montessori designed special teaching materials to develop these skills, including laces, buttons, weights, and materials identifiable by their sound or smell. Instructors provided the materials for the children and demonstrated the lessons but allowed each child to independently learn the particular skill or behavior.

In 1913 Montessori lectured in the United States on her educational method. American educators established many Montessori schools after these lectures, but they declined in popularity in the 1930s as American educators stressed greater authority and control in the classroom. A revival of Montessori education in the United States began in the 1950s, coinciding with a growing emphasis on early childhood education.



Playing with Educational Toys

American philosopher, educator, and psychologist John Dewey reformed educational theory and practice in the United States by making learning more diverse and participatory. He tested his educational principles at the famous Laboratory School, also called the Dewey School, in Chicago. Dewey’s theories were developed while he was at the University of Chicago, from 1894 to 1904.

The work of American philosopher and educator John Dewey was especially influential in the U.S. and other countries in the 20th century. Dewey criticized educational methods that simply amused and entertained students or were overly vocational. He advocated education that would fulfill and enrich the current lives of students as well as prepare them for the future. The activity program of education, which derived from the theories of Dewey, stressed the educational development of the child in terms of individual needs and interests. It was the major method of instruction for most of the 20th century in elementary schools of the United States and many other countries.



Jean Piaget

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget is recognized for his studies of the mental development of children. Piaget was associated with several universities. In 1955 he became director of the International Center for Epistemology in Geneva, Switzerland, where he studied the development of thought and intelligence in children.

The work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget had a major impact on educational theory in the early 20th century, particularly in Europe. Piaget wrote extensively on the development of thought and language patterns in children. He examined children’s conceptions of number, space, logic, geometry, physical reality, and moral judgment. Piaget believed that children, by exploring their environment, create their own cognitive, or intellectual, conceptions of reality. By continually interacting with their environment, they keep adding to and reshaping their conceptions of the world. Piaget asserted that human intelligence develops in stages, each of which enhances a person’s understanding of the world in a new and more complex way.

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