Jan Amos Komensky - a pioneer of education remembered

Jan Amos Komensky

Jan Amos Komensky, also known as Comenius was a great Czech thinker, philosopher and writer, though he is best known as a pioneer of education. On March 28th, the anniversary of Komensky's birth in 1592, Czech schoolchildren traditionally honour their teachers - indeed it is Teachers' Day here in the Czech Republic.

Jan Amos Komensky lived most of his life in exile. He was a devout Christian and a member of the Unity of Czech Brethren. The defeat of the Protestant nobility at the Battle of White Mountain on the outskirts of Prague in 1620 forced Komensky, like many other non-Catholics, to leave the Czech lands. He was never to come back to his homeland and he died in exile. Komensky's greatest contribution to the humanities was his conception of education and he strongly believed that the basis of society should be an educated citizenry. I spoke to Erazim Kohak who is a professor of philosophy at Charles University. I began by asking how Jan Amos Komesnky contributed to the education system.

"To the present education system not at all because there have been so many changes since, but to the idea of the education system very definitely. The modern European idea of education is very much what he had projected and in his day, his textbook Janua linguarum reserata - The Gate of Languages Unlocked - became to be used in both Protestant and Catholic countries. His idea was that education should be in the first place a liberal education, basically an education for the citizen, that is the basis of modern European education."

What would you say is the greatest difference between the education system today and the education system that Komensky helped to create?

"300 or 400 years, that is a big difference. But if I look for the deviation it is that education systems today, for good reasons, have to be much more technical. Instead of seeking in the first place, to educate citizens we tend to educate technicians, people who operate our technologies. I think this is for a democracy a very unhealthy and dangerous trend."

In many ways Komensky was ahead of his time and - as Professor Kohak explains - his ideals were reflected in the creation of the United Nations, over three hundred years after his death.

"He sees the world as meaningfully ordered and interlaced with order. So, it is a world in which the primary principal of comprehensibility is meaning and value rather than cause and affect. Against the technical conception of the world, his is still basically a moral conception of the world. The United Nations is an attempt to order a world on the basis of value rather than on the basis of power."