Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Manuel Belgrano, the educator

Manuel Belgrano (1770-1820) is often acknowledged as an active member of the Argentinian independence movement, a pragmatic military man, and an insightful politician. Having studied law in Spain, he was renowned as an illustrated economist at the Consulate of Buenos Aires for his reformist ideals, which were largely influenced by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. However, he is not usually remembered for his important initiatives and deep concern for education. Belgrano believed that the true wealth of countries was in their formation, and that the best way to promote industrialisation was through education. In 1799 he created the Nautical School, the Commerce School and the Geometry and Drawing Academy. He created the Commerce School to influence future merchants into working towards the best interests of the nation, and the Nautical and Drawing ones to provide the youth with prestigious and lucrative jobs. Those last ones worked under the same institution, next to the Consulate, so that Belgrano could easily supervise their development. Those schools worked for three years and were closed by the Spanish monarchy.
One of Belgrano's main ideals was popular and free education for all. For example, among the regulations for the Drawing and Nautical schools, he established that special consideration should be given to the 'natives' or indians, and to the orphans, as they were the most dispossessed people in our land. At a time when having a 'good' name was fundamental in the social array, Belgrano thought that a boy who went to an orphanage remained 'marked' for the rest of his life. In order to combat this situation, he proposed a scholarship system for the less favoured.
Belgrano was one of the first promoters of women's education in the River Plate. Inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, he proposed the foundation of schools for girls, which was quite original for a time when women were banished from these activities. Although he did not look for 'intelectual' women, for he aimed at educating them with a practical bent for becoming mothers, he was nevertheless concerned with teaching them to read and write - quite revolutionary for the time!
To conclude, Manuel Belgrano was a clear example of commitment with the common good, particularly in the field of education. To him, education was a fundamental and necessary engine for the progress of a society. Though it is true that some of his views towards the less favoured groups may sound outdated nowadays - such as his views on the poor and women - it is important that we contextualise his thinking. In fact, for his historical context, he was certainly advanced and revolutionary in his initiatives, which indeed met considerable opposition at times. In view of this, we can regard him as the first initiator and promoter of free schooling and education for all. He was, in my view, an early believer in the transforming power of education and its potential for allowing learners to free themselves from social stigmatisation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Power of Being an Educator: Ernesto Sabato's view on Education

Ernesto Sabato, one of the most renowned writers in Argentina, has devoted his life to learning. First, he got his PhD in physics and, after working several years as a researcher in Europe, he came back to Argentina to start his writing and teaching career. Either as a student, researcher or teacher, Ernesto Sabato has always been concerned with education. After reading his essay on Education in Latin America, I realised how much he has learnt throughout his life and, most importantly, how much we can learn from this amazing words. One of the most interesting aspects of his writing is the fact that, even though he has always been involved in high education, he is really concerned about elementary education (both primary and secondary). He claims that such education is vital for the lives of our children and adolescents and that it is during those years that students learn the most: to become full human beings. That is why Sabato emphasises the importance of what students are taught during that period. What are we teaching to our students? What is the relevance and usefulness of what they are taught? Two questions that we, as teachers-to-be, need to answer.

Content is the main concern, if not the only one, of most of the school’s syllabi. However, is content everything our students need? Or are there other aspects that need to be tackled? In my humble opinion, I must admit that I do agree with Sabato. Even though content is important, it is by no means the only thing our students need. He calls for an integrative approach to teaching in which students are guided towards self-discovery and integration of what they have learnt into their lives. We should not teach English to our students but give them the learning tools with which they will go on learning after their schooling is over. He says that instead of knowledge students should be given only the essential contents from which they will build their own knowledge. Teaching does not finish when we give our students the information. On the contrary, teaching should start there. Information and content can be taken, nowadays, from many sources, but the ability to think, reason and criticise can only be incorporated if our teachers foster and encourage them. We do not need to teach our students every single thing we know but what we teach should be done passionately and with the intention to form full human beings as the main goal.

We are teachers but, above all, we are educators. We have the possibility and the responsibility to make the best out of the role we have chosen. Teaching only English can be the easiest path but teaching people how to make use of all the potential they have will definitely be more enriching both for us and for our students.

Not Information But Formation” is our main challenge, if you believe, as Sabato does, that education goes certainly beyond learning.

Monday, November 02, 2009


We have all used some kind of materials to work with at kindergarten or primary school but have you ever thought about the importance of the materials we used? Why is it so important to provide materials learners can work and learn with and at the same time enjoy ?
These questions, which we have seen have influenced many classrooms, were explored by the Italian educator Maria Montessori. She certainly left her mark on education, and her method is still used in many schools.
Maria Montessori believed that children learn directly from the environment, and from other children—rather than from the teacher. Children were to be scientifically observed, observations recorded and studied by the teacher. Children learnt from what they were studying individually, but also from the amazing variety of work that was going on around them during the day. When the environment meets all of the needs of children they become, without any manipulation by the adult, physically healthy, mentally and psychologically fulfilled, extremely well-educated. The teacher functions as a designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and observer of each child's behaviour and growth, facilitating learning and providing a good working environment and sensorial materials. Furthermore, the Sensorial materials are also designed to indirectly prepare children for work in other curricular areas. For example, many of the Sensorial materials contain ten pieces which prepares children for the decimal system. The left-to-right, top-to-bottom order of most Sensorial presentations prepares the child for directionality in reading and writing.
Despite what many people think, Montessori’s method does not apply only to children, in fact she set useful guidelines for learners different ages. Taking everything into consideration, I believe that it is extremely important to create a have good working environment and to create activities that will help our learners to develop to their full potential and enjoy while they learn.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was an Italian educator who devoted her life to the education of children from six to sixteen. Her method mainly consisted in letting children work with specific materials within a rich environment that had been carefully created by the teacher. For instance, children at kindergarten would work with materials that foster the development of autonomy and organizational skills. Then at elementary school, they would work with timelines and charts in order to develop abstract reasoning abilities. Nowadays, Montessori´s ideas can be seen applied at Kindergarten when children are allowed to choose self-correcting materials to play and games that involve the psychosocial and academic functioning. For instance, doing the ironing, cooking, shopping, etc.
As a teacher to be, I would like to try the use of timelines, charts and connective narratives in order to enhance imagination and ability of abstraction in the learners. Last but not least, I would like to be a Montessori teacher in the sense of being a facilitator of learning rather than the source of all information.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Learning through real experiences

John Dewey`s contribution to education was very important. I myself experienced at least one of the activities related to his significant ideas when I was at school. Let me tell you all about it:
When I was 8 years old, we were told to carry out an experiment observing the germination and growing of seeds, keeping a record as regards the way in which seeds germinate showing a chain of changes that resulted into the development of the plant. In accordance with Dewey, this encouraged "learning by doing" through experimenting within a natural process, keeping in mind that, as the American educator himself said, experiences do not happen just because, we relate them with previous ones and this allows us to experiment.

As a teacher to be, I would like to live up to Dewey`s call to encourage students to develop creative and artistic abilities to help them reach their full potential. I think that learning through experimenting is likely to have lasting effects upon students`life.

" To "Learn from experience" is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying, an experiment with the world to find out what it is like, the undergoing becomes instruction-discovery of the conection of things"