Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Comenius (1592-1670 )

John Amos Comenius was a Czech educator who promoted ‘universal education’ to solve the problem of human and religious conflict. After the Lutherian Reformation, the idea of education for all took root. As a member of the Unity of Brethren, a group of Protestant reformers, he was educated within this system, as well as a receiving a Calvinist education in Herborn and Heidelberg. Living in turbulent times, in 1618 there was the defenestration of Prague and the start of the 30 Years War. Comenius had to keep on the move gathering an international reputation. He was a bridge between the Reformation and Enlightenment with the reforming zeal of the post-print, Reformation combined with the universal values of the Enlightenment. In addition he was a proponent of the Scientific Revolution, represented by the dedication of his book The Way of Light (1642), written in England and dedicated to The Royal Society, positing a universal college and network of schools working towards universal knowledge.


His Reformation spirit led him to imagine a ‘pansophism’, a universal wisdom, which teaches a unified knowledge, through a unified system of education. It is what we would call a universal curriculum, covering a wide range of knowledge, which is used to understand God’s world. Switching away from the classics, an obsession with grammar and rote learning to content that was sensitive to the motivation and interests of the learner, he saw print as the medium through which this could be achieved, providing universal access to universal content and learning. His universal and encyclopedic approach to pedagogy encouraged parents and teachers to constantly observe and explain the world to children but also to continue to learn themselves, an early proponent in lifelong learning. 

An important dimension of his pansophism was his desire to see universal access to learning, a truly universal, borderless education for the whole human race; rich, poor, male, female, rural, urban and importantly, the disabled – literally everyone.


The Door of Tongues Unlocked (1631) or Janua Linguarum Reserata was the first, followed by a series of other teaching or textbook books. These textbooks were revolutionary as short encyclopedias for children, an alternative to the traditional learning of Latin through grammar, rote learning and memorisation. It was one of the first ‘textbooks’ to teach language through a knowledge of the world and became a bestseller, an international publishing sensation. The idea was to lift education out of the divisive texts in religion, into a more universal orbit by publishing textbooks sensitive to the needs of learners.

His Orbis Pictus (1658) was the first textbook to use pictures to illustrate the content, connecting words to things. First published in German and Latin, it was subsequently published in many languages. He explains its pedagogic approach in the Preface and its 150 chapters start with the phonetics of language (surprisingly modern) to aid reading, then inanimate objects, botany, zoology, religion, humans and human activity. He recognised that pictures mattered, in this case woodcuts, meaningful and illustrative images, to keep the attention of the child. The images contain many objects and concepts, each numbered and related to the writer text. It had two or more columns, in the vernacular language(s) and Latin, and its pedagogic force came through the presentation of ideas in a new language, using objects, starting with familiar objects, gradually increasing in complexity, providing real world knowledge in a way that was motivating for all. It is a truly remarkable and forward-looking textbook.

These textbooks were designed for both teaching, by parents and teachers, as well as independent study. They were highly structured, with related images and text, and have been seen as precursors for later learning technologies in their design, pedagogy and aims.


Comedius had constructed a whole theory of education, published in Didactica Magna (1633-38) along with content, that appealed to the way in which people naturally learn. In that sense he was the precursor to Rousseau and Pestalozzi. But his influence was also as a practical teacher organising schools in several countries, even imagining the structure of modern day schooling from kindergarten to University. Rediscovered in the 19th C as an important figure in the history of education and pedagogy, many of his papers were only discovered well after his death and in the 1960s research into these documents enlarged his reputation.


Comenius, Johann Amos. 1673. The Gate of Languages Unlocked, or, A Seed-Plot of All Arts and Tongues: Containing a Ready Way to Learn the Latine and English Tongue. London: Printed by T.R. and N.T. for the Company of Stationers.

Comenius, Johann Amos. 1967. The Great Didactic of John Amos Comenius: Now for the First Time, tr. and ed. Maurice W. Keatinge. New York: Russell and Russell.

Comenius, Johann Amos. 1968. The Oribs Pictus of John Amos Comenius. Detroit, MI: Singing Tree.

Small, Mary Luins. 1990. "The Pansophism of John Amos Comenius (1592–1670) as the Foundation of Educational Technology and the Source of Constructive Standards for the Evaluation of Computerized Instruction and Tests." International Conference on Technology and Education, March 1990. ERIC. ED325079, microfiche, 1–11.

No comments: