Ovide Decroly, founder of a new education system
Belgian pedagogue, doctor and psychologist Ovide Decroly, who was born in Ronse in 1871 and died in Uccle in 1932, is best known for his work on education and more particularly for his promotion of the inclusive approach, a natural method that includes learning to read and write based on the interests of the pupil.
He studied medicine at the University of Ghent, from where he graduated in 1896 and specialised in the study of anatomical changes caused by diseases (anatomopathology), which led to his discovery of mental medicine. He continued his training in Berlin and Paris and specialised in neuropsychiatry.
Questions about education arose from his work on children with disabilities. In 1901, the Paediatric Society asked him to become the head doctor of a small clinic for children with disabilities (he called them "irregulars"). His decision would shape his entire life. He accepted the job but created an institute for these schoolchildren in his own house and educated them with his own daughters, because he wanted to be able to observe the children in their daily lives. He chose a child-centred pedagogy, the opposite of teaching based on imitation and passivity. Shortly afterwards, Decroly founded the Ecole de l’Ermitage in Brussels for children without disabilities.
In his inclusive method, intellectual education was dominated by the organisation of the school environment and by the exploitation of students' interests. These interests are supposed to meet the basic needs of the child: to feed, combat bad weather, defend themselves against various dangers, work and rest. Exploiting the children's interests led to the use of active methods that involved observation, association and expression. Games were the culmination of all learning activities.
A layman, a Freemason and a profound humanist, his convictions led him to campaign against exclusion in all areas, particularly education. It should be remembered that on the eve or at the beginning of compulsory schooling (1914), our schools looked like barracks.
The Decroly method was gradually adopted in progressive schools, first in Brussels and then in the rest of the country. It soon spread to other countries, as through his work its founder took part in the New Education movement and joined the International League for New Education.
At the time of his death in 1932, Decroly classes or schools existed in France, Spain, the United States, Turkey and South America. His system of education has even been officially adopted in the public school programme in Ecuador.