Giner de Los Ríos: An oldie, or a new educational model?

Academic freedom has been threatened by governments for quite a long time, or so Francisco Giner de los Ríos, a forgotten 19th Century Spanish intellectual, used to denounce. This promising educator was a follower of a trend we in Spain call ‘Krausismo’

Krausismo is actually an Immanuel Kant-based metaphysical theory regarding the concept of God. That, however, is not of importance to this article since we want to focus on the academic perspective. Spanish Krausists, apart from these theories, developed a new and innovative perspective on education and pedagogy, entirely based on the concepts of academic freedom ‘Libertad de Cátedra’ and academic tolerance and sought to fight and denounce academic dogmatism, fuelled by the Spanish government during those years and found in many Spanish institutions during the 19th Century period, when the Catholic Church had huge control over what was meant to be taught and how.

Because of him openly criticizing this situation, de los Ríos was kicked out of university and thus founded a new rather interesting institution of his own, called ‘Institución Libre de Enseñanza’ (Free Institution of Education). It was meant to be a private school, but did, however, try to integrate as many pupils as possible from different social classes. One of its basic ideas was the notion of lifelong education. Learning was not meant to end during your twenties and you were not meant to just get a diploma and start working and forget about how to keep learning that topic and learning new topics of your interest. Instead, they understood that people learn during their entire lifetime and this is not only for the sake of learning. Lifelong learning ought to be fun in this new educational conception. How would our lives change if we lived and were educated this way?

In spite of it being an old school that does not exist anymore, much of its pedagogical philosophy can make a huge contribution to current education, especially in a world where new technologies are more present day by day. In fact, they already made a worldwide contribution to education:

For them, the mind was to be developed in accordance to the body. This meant pupils had a weekly time to exercise as a part of their lessons. Not only was this the beginning of the well-known ‘physical education’ subject we already teach at our schools, but they introduced football/soccer in Spain, which was the beginning of a tradition that has become a part of the Spanish ethos,

-They also introduced moral and artistic education, ‘Educación Plástica’.

-They introduced the concept of ‘Libertad de Cátedra’ in Spanish universities, which would grant teachers and faculties a high level of autonomy.

-They introduced teacher evaluation ‘Inspección Educativa’, to make sure prospective teachers were fit for their jobs, followed the scientific method and had a social ability to help children maintain their interest in learning.

It’s actually an oldie unknown to the very most of society, but we can see its influence is not negligible. If it already did its part and these contributions have already been made and are applied more or less in Spanish schools, how can de los Ríos still help us today?

Through evaluation.

Evaluation was rather different in the Institución Libre de Enseñanza from Spanish schools, now and then. Pedagogy was always given a huge weight in learning. This, however, hasn’t been implemented in schools yet and I think it’s because they seemed unrealistic during the time:

They literally found exams and tests to be not only demoralizing, but also useless, since they tricked the mind into repetition and memorization instead of actual learning (Wow!), so learning was better done through a continuous evaluation based on fulfilling tasks and research. 

They indeed had the evidence to support these ideas. During that time, countries that had already changed their evaluation system to one based on continuous evaluation, focused more on tasks than on exams and were doing pretty well in science, namely Germany and Switzerland, which remain within the top in Europe. This evaluation method is indeed focused not on teaching things, but on how to do things. This is really interesting. I, as a mathematician, think mathematical education in Spanish schools could be done way better, especially in a world where we have created the internet and have literally all human knowledge at our fingertips. 

Why should young kids then focus on memorizing tons of formulae they will forget after finishing each test, instead of letting them use the formulae and teach them to actually use formulae to solve problems and evaluate this in a continuous way instead of by performing outdated examinations? It’s clear to psychology that learning this way is more efficient as far as ideas not being forgotten is concerned. I don’t think people who studied math at school, but not in their college years, remember many things about geometry and trigonometry and that, among other things and other school subjects, because of some unknown reason, is not regarded as an utter failure of the current education system, yet they are forced to memorize and repeat.

How do you think moving to a continuous evaluation based on fulfilling tasks and assignments instead of exams could improve education?

At least, a small experiment on it could be done.

Jorge Ibáñez Puertas

Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Murcia