Ferrière's Progressive Education

Thinking of an active school with independent children was one of the great contributions of Ferrière's beliefs. In this article, we'll learn more about his form of thinking.
Ferrière's Progressive Education
María Matilde

Written and verified by the pedagogue and trainer María Matilde.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Adolphe Ferrière was a Swiss pedagogue born in Geneva in 1879. His ideas about education and pedagogy brought about great changes and advances with respect to the traditional teaching of the time. In addition, many of the fundamental principles of Ferrière’s pedagogy are still valid and have a significant impact on school and education today. Let’s take a closer look at Ferrière’s progressive education.

Main characteristics of Ferrière’s progressive education

Framed within the New School movement or, for many authors, even a precursor to it, Ferri ère developed a whole proposal for the renewal of a traditional school. In fact, in this proposal, his focus was on the figure of the child, their needs, and the need to capture their attention to make learning possible.

Along the lines of the New School and the pedagogies, philosophers, psychologists, and other professionals that were part of it, Aldophe Ferrière advocated a more free education. In addition, he also suggested education for life and connected to the field of work.

In this sense, Ferrière’s main contribution is his defense of an active school. For example, he emphasizes the use of active teaching methods as well. These methods had the goal of awakening curiosity, creativity, and developing the capacity for observation and investigation in children.

Ferrière's Progressive Education

“The ideal of an active school is spontaneous, personal, and productive activity.”

– Adolphe Ferrière –

Fundamental psycho-pedagogical principles of Ferrière’s progressive education

  • Education must be based on trust and authenticity and on the daily relationship with children.
  • Childhood should be a time of responsibility and joy at the same time. According to Ferrière, it’s an honor for children to do things independently. And the role of the older ones is to help the little ones.
  • Activities in nature are essential and outdoor time is necessary for children. For example, they can collect firewood, climb trees, and tend to a garden.
  • Learning is based on the mobilization of centers of interest taken from ordinary life. In other words, children learn to read by designated objects in their everyday environment or draw a plant they collected from the garden or make calculations by playing shop.
  • Individual work is alternate with collective work. Furthermore, the latter should be developed on the basis of explanations for all students.
  • Education should be based on self-discipline and solidarity. And it should also be based on the joy of learning and not on formal lessons.
  • Without the need for violence, guilt, or sanctions, everything should remain clean and organized.
  • All children can use their individual qualities and use them to the best of their abilities.
  • Teachers are able to emphasize gymnastics, games, and crafts within the subjects they taught. 
  • Evaluations were based on individual tests and on participation in group talks and debates. They also served to create similarities, differences, and share experiences in the different learning activities.

Activity and autonomy in Ferrière’s progressive education

For example, in Ferrière’s education and pedagogical concept, one standout suggestion is forming a child who is capable of achieving relative autonomy in their learning process. Similarly, they may be able to maintain certain development standards of predominantly active activities.

For example, Ferrière’s approach is interesting in terms of teaching independence, self-discipline, self-government, and minimizing adult presence in the learning process. As a result, the educator must trust the child to delegate responsibilities.

Ferrière's Progressive Education

In this sense, Ferrière’s progressive education was a great advance regarding the figures of both the teachers and students since it changed the focus from the adult in the classroom to the child. In addition, he also recommended diversifying teaching according to the corresponding stage of development of each student.

About the legacy of Ferrière’s approach

Like other pedagogical ideas from thinkers of the New School movement, the ideas, theoretical, and methodological approach of an active school as proposed by Ferrière is still used today. As a result, we can say that the organization of early childhood education is based on some central and progressive ideas proposed by this thinker.

For example, these ideas include the consideration of the child’s needs. They also include the need to awaken their interests through activity as a condition for their learning and development. Another concept is the development of personal autonomy in the education of children.

Finally, we should also emphasize Ferrière’s idea about the freedom of the child. This is a fundamental idea in our current educational structure.


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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.