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History of education sciences

The history of a young, innovative discipline

Education has been a source of reflection since antiquity. Educators throughout history have followed one another, asked questions and published their theories, but often with no research to support them.

Comenius was the first to evoke the need for an experimental pedagogy in the 17th century, but it was not until the 19th century that an experimental school was annexed to the Department of Psychology and Pedagogy in Königsberg (former East Prussia). The scientific attitude toward educational research thus began a period of extensive growth.

In 1912, an Institute of Education Sciences was created in Geneva. In the 1960s, several foreign universities transformed their Education Departments into Faculties of Education Sciences.

In France, starting in 1967, three universities – Bordeaux, Caen and Paris – developed an education sciences course programme within their Faculties of Arts.

At first, education sciences were rooted in four fundamental disciplines: philosophy, sociology, psychology and history. Over time, the field opened up to other disciplines such as economy, health, cognitive science and other fields of research like training or professional activities and practices.

Since then, the positions and subjects of research in education have continued to proliferate.

In Strasbourg, an Education Sciences programme was officially inaugurated in 1975 within the ULP (Louis Pasteur University) and the USHS (University of Humanities and Social Science). Five years later, the Department of Education Sciences joined together with the Faculty of Psychology of Louis Pasteur University, before becoming a completely separate faculty within the new University of Strasbourg in 2010.

Key dates


Henri Marion becomes France’s first professor of education sciences


Education sciences departments removed during the war


Institute of Pedagogy opens at the Sorbonne’s Faculty of Arts


Strasbourg’s first Department of Educational Psychology opens


“Education sciences” established as an academic discipline in France under Section 70 of the National Board of Universities (Conseil National des Universités)


Foundation of a research group – the Inter-University Centre for Interdisciplinary Didactic Research (Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Didactique, or CRIRID) – shared between Louis Pasteur University and Strasbourg’s University of Humanities and Social Science


France’s first Education Sciences school created: the Institute of Education and Training Practices and Sciences (Institut des Sciences et des Pratiques d'Éducation et de Formation, or ISPEF) in Lyon


The Education Sciences Laboratory (Laboratoire de Sciences de l'Éducation, or LSE) founded at Strasbourg’s Louis Pasteur University


The Education & Communication Sciences Interuniversity Laboratory (Laboratoire Interuniversitaire de Sciences de l'Éducation et de la Communication, or LISEC) founded at Strasbourg’s Louis Pasteur University


University of Strasbourg created


Faculty of Education Sciences (Faculté de Sciences de l'Éducation, or FSE) inaugurated in Strasbourg

Several important Strasbourg figures

Many individuals have marked education sciences, and continue to support the development of this field. Through this guide, we wished to pay homage to two Strasbourg figures who are no longer with us: Maurice Debesse and Olivier Reboul.

Maurice Debesse (1903-1998)

His first teaching experience dated back to the First World War when, as just a young schoolboy, he became a class instructor at the school where he himself was a student. At that time, all the teachers had been mobilised for the war.

During his studies at the Sorbonne, Maurice Debesse met several brilliant thinkers, including Henri Wallon, philosopher turned doctor and psychologist, and Paul Fauconnet, professor of psychology and pedagogy, and former disciple of Émile Durkheim. These meetings seem to be at the origin of his interest in science. He went on to write two theses on the subject of adolescence: “The Crisis of juvenile originality” (La crise d’originalité juvenile) and “How to study adolescents: An examination of juvenile confessions” (Comment étudier les adolescents ? Examen des confidences juveniles).

His career began in 1945 at the University of Strasbourg, where he held the position of Professor of Educational Psychology until 1956. Well-read in philosophy and scientifically rigorous, he also distinguished himself as an educational psychologist who refused any notion of fatalism. Maurice Debesse believed that “education does not create man – it helps him create himself.”

It is to him, in part, that education sciences owe their introduction to the French university landscape. In 1967, together with Jean Château and Gaston Mialaret, he was in charge of organising the first studies in Education Sciences at a French university.

Selected publications:                                                                                                                                                            

  • Debesse, M. & Mialaret, G. (1974). Traité des sciences pédagogiques : 6 aspects sociaux de l'Education. Paris : PUF.
  • Debesse, M. (1956). Les étapes de l’éducation. Paris : PUF.
  • Debesse, M. (1942). L’adolescence. Paris : PUF.

Olivier Reboul (1925-1992)

“Education is about learning to be human,” stated this great specialist of the French philosopher Alain. In fact, this statement is quite a good summary of Olivier Reboul’s personal philosophy, as the question of values was a central one for him. Reboul considered that school was responsible for conferring knowledge upon and educating future citizens, capable of thinking and acting. By forming links between Piagetian constructivism and the Socratic ideal, he breathed new life into the philosophical fundamentals of thought, refusing indoctrination and ideology.

After having taught first at the University of Tunis and then Montreal, Olivier Reboul obtained a position as University Professor at the University of Humanities in Strasbourg. He taught there until 1992.

Selected publications:

  • Reboul, O. (1992). Les valeurs de l’éducation. Paris : PUF.
  • Reboul, O; (1980). Qu'est-ce qu'apprendre ? Pour une philosophie de l'enseignement. Paris : PUF.
  • Reboul, O. (1971). La philosophie de l’éducation. Paris : PUF.