Célestin Freinet had unpleasant school days as a kid and when he grew up and became a teacher, he was eager to reform the education system. Born on the 15th of October 1896 in Gars in France, a small town on the slopes of Alpes Maritime, Freinet spent his early days in the midst of labourers in the field like every other child in the village at that time.

Freinet was the fifth child of eight children. One of the hobbies he picked up as a child was shepherding the flock. Freinet also developed an early love for education which saw him complete primary continuation classes in Grasse and enrol in Nice primary teacher's training college.

In 1914 when Freinet was 19 years war broke out and he was called to serve. He was severely injured and never fully recovered. He suffered from shortness of breath throughout his life, a condition that he said inspired his educational innovations.

Freinet’s Nature Of Educational Innovations

Freinet became an elementary school teacher in 1920 in the small village of Le Bar-sur-Loup. It was at this place that he began to experiment and develop his teaching methods. In Freinet’s teaching methods, pupils engage in different activities which replaces the usual ‘chalk and talk’ pattern many teachers observe.

Unable to talk for a long time because of his lung injury, Freinet bought a printing press in 1923 to aid his teaching. With the aid of the press, he was able to print free class newspapers and texts which he gave out to his students.


Freinet’s teaching method gave the students the chance to compose their own work on the press and discuss and edit them as a group before finally presenting it to the class as the team’s effort. The students also undertake regular field trips. The students also started exchanging the newspaper with other schools and, gradually, these group texts, replaced school textbooks which were in conventional use.

This teaching method introduced by Freinet was in contrast with the National Education Board’s official education policy. He was transferred to Saint Paun-de-Vence in 1928. Over the years, many educators have come to embrace or appreciate Freinet’s education method but many others still do not agree with his methods.

Freinet Pedagogy

Freinet ‘s pedagogy is based on a number of principles but researchers usually limit their study to a few of these principles. His methods maximized school activities based on a number of instrumental techniques. From the onset, Freinet ‘s technique promotes collaboration among students who proceed to share their works among other students and their teacher. Some of the concepts of Freinet's pedagogy includes;

  • Learning as a group based on trial and error
  • Encouraging students to learn through the provision of service or creating products
  • Cooperative learning
  • Harnessing student center of interest
  • Exploiting real experiences to educate children
  • From a tender age, children are thought the act of taking responsibility for their work through a democratic process.

Freinet mapped out what he called pedagogical constants in 1964 to help teachers evaluate their individual class practices in comparison to his basic values. A few of the constants from the intensive work done by Celestin Freinet’s include;

  • Big doesn’t mean better
  • A child and adult has the same nature
  • Psychological state and health determine the academic behaviour of a child
  • Both adult and children don’t like authorities commanding them
  • Adult and children like to choose their task—even when they are not advantageous
  • It is the responsibility of teachers to motivate the work
  • Rankings and grades are mistakes

Secular Education Co-operative

During his time in Bar-sur-Loup, Freinet developed the basic concept of his work which encompassed inter-school correspondence, printing, the school co-operative which is known as Secular Education Co-operative (Coopérative de l’enseignement laïque) on the national level.

Freinet took Secular Education Co-operative to Saint Paul-de-Vence where he was transferred to but the environment was hostile and the government at that time rejected the idea. He was transferred back to Bar-sur-Loup. Amidst a warm welcome from parents and students, Freinet rejected the offer and resigned and channelled their time and resources to building Secular Education Co-operative movement.

This movement soon became a viable industry for the publication of educational works and production of teaching materials. Secular Education Co-operative metamorphosed to Institut de l’école moderne in 1948 with its headquarters in Cannes. Institut de l’école moderne became the pivot for creation and dissemination of teaching materials.

Freinet’s Later Life

Freinet was able to set up his own school in Vence between 1934 and 1935. The school had spacious classrooms painted mostly in green and white. The students were mostly borders and comprised of underprivileged families. When the Second World War broke out, Freinet was arrested and sent to a concentration camp because he was a well-known communist.

Freinet and his wife Elise continued their project after the war. In Vence in 1966 Celestin Freinet died. Elise Freinet continued the work of her husband and kept his memory alive. Freinet‘s memory lives in the Freinet Modern School Movement which is widely practised across the globe.

Few years before his death the Freinets founded the International Federation of Modern School Movements (FIMEM) with the aim of helping them propagate their education ideas and believes to the international community. FIMEM was saddled with the responsibility of organizing national groups around the globe.

The Freinets has a different concept for education. They saw it as a place of social renewal, that is, a place that connects one with other social areas like politics and family. The Freinet approached education in a natural way and revolved education around the day-to-day activities guided by socialization, expression, and motivation.

The Freinet classification used in different elementary school libraries to facilitate the finding of documents was developed by Celestin Freinet. Critics have termed Freinet’s education idealism as a free education grounded on intersubjectivity. The summary of Freinet’s ideals can be summed up in his quote,

“Give children the freedom to choose their work, to decide the timing and pace of this work, and everything will have changed.”

Source: History-biography