Nowadays in Europe, children have their first contact with school learning only in kindergarten or primary school. This makes the life of European children very different from the ones from other continents, where a large percentage of children don’t attend school and have to work to help their family.
|savethechildren.org.uk||children selling coal, Setúbal, 1905|
However, in many countries the organisation of the educational system did not begin with the organisation of the basic learning skills but with the foundation of Universities. Universities are still today considered as the top of the educational system and specialised learning.They were established in the Middle Ages in some European countries. Portugal has one of the ten oldest European Universities — University of Coimbra
University of Coimbra, Tower and main Square
Only in the 16th century were the first institutions founded, which can be considered the origins of the secondary education and also when the first books of initiation of reading and writing in Portuguese were published.
Portuguese Grammar, João de Barros, 1540
The most important college was without a doubt the College of the Arts created in 1547, where it held the preparatory education that gave access to the University. On the XIX century it was converted into a secondary school.Liceu.
Colégio das Artes, Coimbra
The primary public education was organised only on the 18th century with priests as teachers paid by the Government. In Europe, Portugal was pioneer in the organisation of the basic educational system. The decisions were made by D. Jose’s prime minister, the Marquis de Pombal (1772)
Marquês de Pombal ("Carpinetti Lusitanus" engraving, 1759)
It is also after this period (1750 – 1777) that institutions for the technical, industrial and commercial education were established.
However, this type of teaching was not similar to the type used today and of what it is thought to be. Only some social strata of the society had access to school: the nobility, bourgeois children and also children of city working men. Most population was illiterate.
The notion that teaching children at elementary level should be done on adapted spaces, regarding the child’s age, did not exist. Usually the school was in the teacher’s house, or in old convent rooms, or even rented houses by the city hall or by teachers.
It was only on the 19th century that the first scholar buildings were built and the first norms of constructions were proclaimed (1866).
Law Letter from the King D. Luís, 1866
Therefore, the first type of scholar building conceived only for primary school has emerged: the Count Ferreira schools. With him emerges also specific furniture for classrooms, officially recommended as scholar equipment. Books and didactic material were few and expensive and were also different for boys and girls. Its evolution shows the different approaches to the children, theirs education and their social and cultural destinies. It demonstrates also the teaching practices, the ways of being a teacher and the social and cultural contexts.
Conde Ferreira School in Condeixa
In Portugal, during the 20th century, the scholar constructions obeyed a type of blueprint, which allows for an easy classification of the Government’s initiative according to the period. Harder to classify are the countless buildings offered to the Government by individuals.
Since the last period of the 19th century till nowadays, the scholar buildings have accompanied not only the material evolution and construction techniques, but also the changes in the way of life of societies and conceptions about education and learning.
The schools, seen by adults as a place of nursing and learning for children, are felt as their lives, in which the study, games, plays and friendship are learned. The playground is for them the most interesting part of the school. The games and plays are really structures, which are common and, throughout the years, have not known any frontier raised by linguistics or political differences.
Despite the growing homogenisation of the educational systems and styles of life, it is visible that the European scholar context is marked by countless differences.
Schools are mostly living spaces, in which students and teachers acquire knowledge and techniques, produced by society, and recreate them in their own way, according to the culture, traditions, familiar, local or national ways of life. The European project NEOTHEMI pretends to contribute so that the sharing and learning of different types of cultures and of ways of life of the European community can also promote this acquisition. Despite all the current homogenisation of our teaching systems, the pedagogues still think that in the future schools will be very different from nowadays.