JAN AMOS COMENIUS
Addressing the winners of the Comenius Medal at a solemn ceremony in October 1998, in Paris, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Federico Mayor said that ‘among the eminent educators of the past, Comenius is one of those who incarnates in the best possible way the image one may have of a UNESCO precursor. His philosophy that encouraged political unity, religious reconciliation and international co-operation in the field of education... has lost nothing of its actuality.’
Although generally known by the Latinized form of his name, he was born Jan Amos Komensky1 on 28 March 1592, in Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. He was educated at Heidelberg University in Germany, and subsequently became a clergyman. Upon his return to Moravia, he served as a schoolmaster and later as the church pastor at Fulnek. The start of the Thirty Years’ War was the beginning of all his misfortunes and obliged him to flee his homeland. In 1628 Comenius settled in Leszno, Poland, where he wrote his first books calling for the reform of the education system: The great didactic, The school of infancy, and The gate to languages unlocked. These books earned him a reputation in other countries and he was invited first to England, and then to Sweden and Hungary to reform school systems.
Comenius is best known for his contributions to teaching techniques. Persuaded that education is not limited to the action of school and family but is part of general social life, he believed that teachers should understand how a child’s mind develops and learns. He was convinced that all children, without regard to gender or social class, should attend school and receive the same education so as to understand and accept the civilization in which they live. Comenius was among the first to teach classical languages by use of parallel passages of ancient and modern texts; and his Visible world in pictures (1658) is believed to be the first illustrated textbook for children.
To use the words of Jean Piaget, ‘Comenius was the first to conceive the full-scale science of education’. His educational objective can be summed up in the axiom on the title page of The great didactic, ‘teaching thoroughly all things to all men’. He is also considered to be the first educator to have put forward the concept of international education. His ideas on education for everyone and for all peoples, and on the international organization of public education make him a forerunner of many modern institutions and trends of thought. Comenius’ efforts on behalf of universal education earned him the title of ‘Teacher of Nations’.
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