monitorial system

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monitorial system,

method of elementary education devised by British educators Joseph LancasterLancaster, Joseph,
1778–1838, English educator. In 1801 he founded a free elementary school, using a type of monitorial system for which he acknowledged his debt to Andrew Bell. The Royal Lancasterian Society was later established (1808) to direct the school.
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 and Andrew BellBell, Andrew,
1753–1832, British educator, b. St. Andrews, Scotland. After seven years in Virginia as a tutor, he returned to England, was ordained a deacon, and later (1789) became superintendent of an orphan asylum in Madras (now Chennai), India.
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 during the 19th cent. to furnish schooling to the underprivileged even under conditions of severely limited facilities. It was sometimes called the mutual or Lancasterian system. All students met in one room, with about 10 students and one monitor to each bench. The monitors, older and better students, were instructed directly by the teacher and in turn instructed the other pupils. It was often assumed that the monitors would eventually become teachers. This system, which might involve several levels of monitors, used elaborate programs of reward for good deportment and scholarship, supplemented by punishment based on "shame rather than pain." The success of the monitorial system stimulated interest in education for the poor.


See J. Lancaster, The Lancasterian System of Education (1821) and The Practical Parts of Lancaster's Improvements and Bell's Experiments (ed. by D. Solmon, 1932); C. Kaestle, Joseph Lancaster and the Monitorial School Movement (1973).

Monitorial System


(in Russian, the Bell-Lancaster system of mutual instruction), a system of organization and teaching methods at the elementary school level in which older and faster pupils (monitors) under a teacher’s direction conduct classes with the remaining pupils. The term derives from the names of the British pedagogues A. Bell (1753–1832) and J. Lancaster (1776 or 1778–1838), who independently advanced similar methods of instruction. This method was first used in India, where Bell was living at the time. At the beginning of the 19th century it became widespread in a number of countries (the USA, France, Belgium) as an inexpensive and rapid method of increasing literacy. The reading of religious books, writing, and arithmetic were taught in the mutual instruction schools. They had neither grades nor teachers in the modern sense of those words. The pupils, divided into groups (divisions) of ten, were taught by the monitors, who were themselves studying and who—in order to teach their comrades—received instruction from the teacher concerning the subject matter and method of its presentation during a given day. There were no textbooks, but in their place various teaching materials were used. Under the monitorial system the pupils did not acquire systematic knowledge. J. H. Pestalozzi and his followers were opposed to the system.

In Russia, schools that were operated under the monitorial system began to open in 1818, but they did not become widespread. The system of mutual instruction was utilized by the Decembrists in order to increase literacy among soldiers and peasants. The Decembrists M. F. Orlov, V. F. Raevskii, and others in schools organized by them (approximately 800 pupils) broadened the educational content; they introduced history, literature, and mathematics. Using the possibility of teaching by means of manuscript materials, they composed tables that had an antiserfdom content, and they attempted to awaken independent thought among their pupils as well as giving them a political education. The Decembrist organization “The Voluntary Society for Establishing Mutual Instruction Schools,” which created such schools, was abolished by the tsarist government shortly before the Decembrist uprising.


Druzhinin, N. M. “Dekabrist I. D. Iakushin i ego lankasterskaia shkola.” Uch. zap. Moskovskogo gorodskogo pedagogicheskogo in-ta, 1941, vol. 2, issue 1.
Salimova, K. I. “Iz istorii shkoly i pedagogicheskoi mysli v Anglii v period promyshlennoi revoliutsii (1760–1830).” Izv. Akademii pedagogicheskikh nauk RSFSR, 1959, no. 105.
Paina, S. B. “Vol’noe obshchestvo uchrezhdeniia uchilishch vzaimnogo obucheniia (1818–1825 gg.).” In Novye issledovaniia v pedagogicheskikh naukakh [Moscow, 1968, vol. 12.]