Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Simon Rodriguez, Champion of Mass Education

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Simon Rodriguez, Champion of Mass Education

Article excerpt

TUTOR of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, and written off by his critics as an eccentric, Simon Rodriguez is considered by many as the pioneer of mass education in Latin America. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1771, and as a young man he came into contact with the educational ideas of Rousseau and of other luminaries of the Enlightenment. He died at Amotape, Peru, in 1854.

Following the abortive insurrection by the Venezuelan patriots Manuel Gual and Jose Maria Espana against the Spanish authorities, Rodriguez was obliged to leave the country. After first taking refuge in Philadelphia, he went to Europe in 1801, where he lived, mainly in France, until 1822, when he returned to South America. During his travels he enriched his knowledge in a variety of fields, studying topography and observing and noting down everything he saw, learning languages and translating French literary works before discovering his vocation as an educationist.

Shortly after his return to America, in 1823, he attempted, with the aid of Bolivar, to set up a model school in Bogota. Called the Casa de Industria Publica, It was intended for poor orphaned, or illegitimate children, who were to be taught the basic elements of writing, grammar and arithmetic, as well as the basic elements of a trade. This initiative and the desire to extend the benefits of education to sections of society traditionally excluded from it roused the opposition of the conservative upper classes of Bogota. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that Jean Bosco succeeded in putting this Rousseau-inspired idea into practice.

Despite this setback, Rodriguez was not discouraged and, in 1825, he attempted a similar experiment at Chuquisaca (now Sucre) in Bolivia.

This involved a Plan for Mass Education based on mixed schooling for boys and girls, who were both housed and fed. The boys were trained as masons, carpenters and blacksmiths, since, according to Rodriguez, stone, wood and metals were the basic components of all the most indispensable objects. The girls received training "suited to their sex", but with the innovative proviso that, to the extent that they were physically capable of it, they could undertake the same tasks as the boys. In addition to this theoretical and practical craft training, all the pupils were given moral, civic and religious instruction by specialist teachers.

Another important innovation was that the workshop/school offered employment to those parents of pupils who were capable of work; to those unable to work payments were made from the funds accumulated from the work carried out by their children. Initially the capital required had to be provided by the government, but it was intended that, thanks to the work carried out by the pupils, the school would eventually become financially self-supporting. When the school was running on a permanent basis, the pupils would not normally be boarders, but those who wanted to could stay overnight, as could those parents employed by the school. …

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