Comenius, apostle of modern education and of world understanding
When last November the Czechoslovak delegation to the ninth session of Unesco's General Conference held in the capital of India proposed that this Organization be associated "with the celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the publication of John Amos Comenius' Didáctica Opera Omnia, by publishing a volume of his selected "works, the resolution was voted unanimously not only by the programme commission but by the plenary session of the conference. Such unanimity, rarely achieved in intergovernmental assemblies, is more eloquent than any commentary.
It testifies to the common will of 79 member states of Unesco to celebrate, at the same time as the Czech nation is doing so, a memorable date on which there appeared, among his other works, The Great Didactic, today recognized as the first complete presentation of a science of education and the inception of modern theories of teaching.
- Why is it that Unesco has deemed it so important to take part in the celebration of this anniversary? It is interesting to quote a few axioms from The Great Didactic and The Pampaedia (The Education of All) which might well be inscribed at the head of the principal chapters of Unesco's programme.
- "'Just as the whole world is a school for the whole of the human race, from the beginning of time until the very end, so all life is á school for every man, from the cradle to the grave." Is this not the Unesco principle of neverending education, the education of adults as well as youth?
- "First of all, it is essential that all persons learn to read and write." Is this not the motto of the struggle against illiteracy?
- "All young people of both sexes should be sent to public schools/' Is this not what Unesco has translated as the development of universal, free and compulsory primary education?
- "No one should be excluded, even less prevented, from pursuing wisdom and cultivating the mind." Is this not the principle of equal access to education and culture, without distinction of race, fortune, creed or social origin?
- And did not Comenius go so far as to conceive of a "Council of Light," an international organization for education, science and culture, which represents a distant préfiguration of Unesco?
These ideas, spread across a receptive Europe three hundred years ago by the great precursor, have lost nothing of their force or their efficacy. But though they are commonly accepted in our time they are far from being an established fact. A gigantic effort still remains to be made, by all peoples uniting their resources, so that they are ultimately applied by all institutions and for all mankind the world over.
It is because his message is still so timely that Unesco, in response to the wish expressed by the Czechoslovak nation, is attempting to make Comenius better known and appreciated. Unesco's contribution on this occasion is designed as an homage of respect and gratitude towards a man whom it recognizes as its spiritual ancestor.
Jean Thomas Assistant Director-General of UNESCO.