Volume:3, Issue: 2

Dec. 1, 2011

S.A. Amonashvili: A Humanistic Pedagogy Centered on the Individual
Boguslavsky, Mikhail V. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: Russian education, humanistic pedagogy, a child as a center, renunciation of number grades, “A School of Life,” the Pedagogy of “Love and Light for Eternity.”
SYNOPSIS: Creating a unique, humanistic educational philosophy and implementing it during one of the most authoritarian periods in Russia’s long history, puts S.A. Amonashvili on the list of the nation’s outstanding educators. His still unfolding, 60 year career is covered with a stack of books, fairy tales, parables, and scientific research findings all aimed at promulgating the humanistic beliefs created, tested, and implemented by this famous thinker and his team.


In the long course of our centuries-old, Russian pedagogical tradition there have always arisen very special and prominent figures that seemed to possess complex combinations of unique qualities. They were talented educators, shrewd psychologists, creative educational philosophers, pedagogical thinkers, exceptional writers, impressive publicists, and passionate social activists. A brief historical retrospective of moral and intellectual leaders of Russian education who were dominant influences will identify: N.I Pirogov, K.D. Ushinsky, L.N. Tolstoy, P.F. Kapterev, S.T. Shatsky, P.P. Blonsky, A. S. Makarenko, S.I. Gessen, V.V. Zenkovsky, and V.A. Sukhomlinsky.

Starting in the middle of the 19th century, the baton was passed from educator to educator in this moral, intellectual, and pedagogical “relay race.” Despite innumerable thorns and obstacles, it proceeded through the 20th and continues on into the 21st century. It is well that we, even if late, begin to understand the significance and appropriately recognize not only those who instigated the honor of our national education in the past but those, like Shalva Alexandrovich Amonashvili (born on August 3, 1931) who constitute its pride today.

S.A. Amonashvili made a relatively swift entrance into the pedagogical sciences. He received his Ph.D. in education in 1960. In 1972 at the age of 40, he defended his dissertation in psychology at the Institute for General and Educational Psychology of the Soviet Union’s Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. After that he was elected to be a corresponding member and in 1989 a full member of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR. At the present time, S.A. Amonashvili is a full member of the Russian Academy of Education, a professor at Moscow City’s Pedagogical University, and serves as head of its Laboratory for Humanistic Pedagogy while also heading up the publishing house named after him, “The Shalva Amonashvili Publishing House” which specializes in books that espouse humanistic education.

However impressive it is, this list of titles and awards does not convey the essentials of his career. Shalva Alexandrovich Amonashvili occupies a unique place in contemporary Russian education, as a great educator and psychologist, and as an original, spiritual thinker who will be forever enshrined in the world of childhood.

Over the expanse of more than half a century’s untiring and creative quest, S.A. Amonashvili created the doctrine for an integrated, humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual. It is one that continues to be utilized to this day as not only a classic Russian national pedagogy but as one of the best traditions in the world. It is built on original and highly intellectual, philosophical, psychological, and educational foundations. Of course, Shalva Alexandrovich Amonashvili’s doctrine had to progress through a series of interrelated steps in its formational process just like any other powerful collection of ideas. A thorough study of his work allows us to divide it into three fundamental periods: formation, development, and achievement.

Period One – Formation

Amonashvili worked from the end of the 1950s to the beginning of the 1990s on a substantial plan devoted to the formation of a new philosophy of education, “a humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual,” whose leading concepts were humanism and individuality. His humane pedagogy was in opposition to a powerful, authoritarian, “world view” but an impetus for change arose from new research in pedagogy and psychology.

Shalva Alexandrovich’s humanistic educational theory was constructed on the philosophical and pedagogical foundations of such diverse and prominent thinkers as:  the individualization of educational activity ideas of M.F. Quintilian, as well as the legacies of J.A. Comenius,  J.H. Pestalozzi, K.D. Ushinsky, D.N. Uznadze, J. Korczhak, and V.A. Sukhomlinsky. His diverse, experimental, research activities involved teachers in Georgian elementary schools. When it came to publicize the results, he acted quite creatively and utilized different formats such as periodicals, scientific works, methodology publications, and even scientific, advertising brochures.

In turn, the formational first period itself can be subdivided into three internal stages:

  • The stage of finding meaning can be considered as the time from the end of the 1950s to the beginning of the 70s. The main contents of this time was the formation of didactic foundations, methods, and technologies of a humanistic pedagogy.
  • The stage of confirming meaning chronologically occupied the 70s and was dedicated to the large-scale experimental development and implementation of a humanistic path centered on the individual child. During this time, a tested model for the process of educating an individual based on humanistic theory was created.
  • The stage of expanding the meaning came about in the 1980s. The main content of this stage was the formation of the philosophical and pedagogical foundation of the theory of humanistic education of the individual with an accent on the personality of the teacher.

In the course of the first and second stages described above, Professor Amonashvili fruitfully occupied himself with scientific activities in Tbilisi, the capital of the Georgian Socialist Republic at the time, as part of the staff of the Laboratory for Experimental Didactics, Research Institute of Pedagogy named after Y.S. Gogebashvili. The scientific research activity of the lab was multi-layered. There was a very large portion of activity dedicated to fledgling scholars taking part in experiments that were aimed at defining new content, forms, and methods for improving instruction for beginning learners. Within the framework of the subject under study, there were three vectors to the research problem:

  • The introduction of six year olds into the formal school structure as they leave the kindergarten;
  • Renunciation of number grades in the evaluation process;
  • Fundamental writing skill formation and the development of written speech in elementary school classes.

The laboratory staff focused its energies on a more significant problems: “the logical formation of humanistic principles (as developed by S.A. Amonashvili) of instruction that would foster development of the student’s personality; the strengthening of humanistic, moral attitudes; as well as the careful attention to the internal world of the child, his interests and needs, in addition to enrichment of his mental and inner potential.”[1]

Thus, the researchers logically identified two trends. First was the problem of creating new educational models for developing instructional methods. Already within their theoretical framework, the creation, approbation, and subsequent implementation of new models were geared toward transforming all traditional and complex, pedagogical approaches whether philosophical, psychological, didactical, or methodological. They would, essentially, revise the entire content of the nation’s elementary education system. In light of this, it would be necessary to implement teacher retraining in the spirit of the new pedagogical ideology.

Later, during the early 1960s, in summing up these activities, S.A. Amonashvili wrote:

“On the whole, we had taken on a wide range of problems: teacher attitudes toward collaboration with their students; the pedagogical relationship itself including respect and approval for the personality of the individual child; renunciation of formal indicators (number grades) in evaluating student success; the introduction of a content-rich evaluation system; and the construction of alternative, evaluative activities like assessing the quality of the child’s personality. We, first in this vast country, began the reception into formal schooling of children from age six; created a system for their language development; laid the foundation for written language instruction that would  serve as ‘lamps for the spirit’; established the principle of freedom of choice in the educational process; put together new text material for all subjects; and established the necessary conditions for the collaboration and development of children’s creativity.” [2]

Special note must be taken at this point, of not only the social topicality and significance, but also the brilliant and pronounced, prognostic character of this “solver of research problems,” S.A. Amonashvili. The results of his scientific, pedagogical activity, though, did not immediately receive recognition and massive dissemination. It was not until 1986 that the “old” USSR implemented the policy of “ungraded” instruction (without number or letter evaluation indicators) and only in elementary school instruction for children of six years of age. At the beginning of the 1990s in elementary schools of the “new” Russian Federation, the policy was implemented for children in the first and second grade.

These events generated a feeling of optimism in the research “collective,” the team that was united around Amonashvili. At the same time, characterizing the direction of their unique study, and underscoring the concrete, scientific, research problems which had been identified by the “laboratory for experimental teaching techniques,” the team came out with a configuration within which a truly humanistic approach to children would be developed as a basic pedagogy.

At the beginning of the 70s, the research team, functioning under the leadership of Amonashvili, came to the conclusion that their general theory of development required enhancement in the area of motivating activities. The scientists, “preserving the idea of ‘development,’ widened their approach in respect to the aspect of forming motivation. We were convinced that we had not merely created new didactic models but a completely different pedagogy. We had encapsulated formation, development, and instruction. We began to search for a motive force for the entire pedagogical process and came to the conclusion that such a link existed. That link is the heart of any vibrant educational process. It strengthens the quality of the process.”[3]

As a result, the duration of this stage was spent on creating an experimentally approved, humanistic model for the entire educational process of a child. It became perfectly clear to S.A. Amonashvili that “in order to encompass the complete nature of a child, the pedagogical process must be focused on the education and development of the free personality of the child. This is necessary not just to prepare the child to live but to form his very life.”[4] The research team’s resultant, scientific advancements revitalized the curriculum, created new textbooks, and dramatically improved appropriate teaching methods.

With his inherent, metaphorical ability, S.A. Amonashvili wrote, “The child is not a clean slate nor a block of wax but simply the most astonishing miracle of all miracles, who presents to his teacher a marvelous gift which is the unique opportunity for becoming a ‘wonder-working wizard.’ Mastering the subtle skill to locate the exact point of contact with the child’s spirit, a shrewd teacher is gradually able to open wide the limitless quantity of rich, diverse, and multi-colored deposits or talents that are concealed in the child’s inner world. The teacher is then able to transform the child into a ‘comrade-in-arms’ in the business of his education, to direct his self-knowledge, self-discovery, self-development, and self-perfection. Children are marvels, but they need teachers who are ‘wonder-working wizards.’ These are needed not only to individualize children but also to uncover the wonders that are in each of them. The teacher’s ‘magic’ ought to be multi-faceted, thorough, and harmonious so that it stimulates and develops the child. This is an absolute necessity in order to equip him with confidence in his own enormous potential.”[5]

Taking into consideration his important positions, it is necessary to further emphasize an essential aspect of his personality without which it is impossible to understand the creativity of Amonashvili. For quite a long time, he stubbornly maintained his right, not only to communicate his thoughts, but also to do so in the artistic, poetic, and metaphorically saturated style that was inherent to his soul.

By the 1980s, the main direction of the team’s work was the construction of a theory of humanistic education which would have deep, classical, pedagogical roots and still incorporate contemporary, psychological and pedagogical concepts. As Shalva Alexandrovich later wrote, “I felt that I would find some kind of internal condition of the soul which would repeat over and over again to me: ‘I will accomplish my destiny, my mission.’ I had become well known for my work and even though a great number of problems arose with the authorities and fellow academics, I remained a happy man. I made my own destiny. This feeling has not abandoned me yet, and I hope that it never will. It is the fountain-head of my faith.”[6]

Period Two-Development

The second, formational period of Amonashvili’s humanistic, personality centered pedagogy took place in the 1990s. During this time, he and his “collective” carried out an extensive, developmental process of their new philosophical and educational system. They would call it, “A School of Life.” The primary intellectual ‘conflict’ occurred within the opposition, “spirituality” versus “non-spirituality.”

Production of a spiritual and providential, humanistic philosophy was developed and as a result, an entire value system was created on the groundwork of the new educational philosophy, “School of Life.”  A complete exposition of this new philosophy for education was set forth by Amonashvili in his book, A School of Life. “The treatise concerns the beginning stages of an education that is founded on the principals of a humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual.”[7] The creation of this treatise itself marked the qualitative beginning of a new period in the development of a humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual, namely, its crossing over to the status of a doctrine. By means of the leading principles of the “School of Life” doctrine, Amonashvili proclaims progress and development in the child for life by means of life itself. And although in his treatise he revealed a foundational position for his “humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual” for the early stages of education, this position remained significant for subsequent stages of schooling.

Third Period-Achievement

The third period in the formation of the doctrine, the “embodiment of the understandings,” began in 2001 and continues to the present time. During this period, the new pedagogy was formulated as an original and integrated instructional tool called, “the Pedagogy of Love and Light.” It included the humanistic, personality oriented pedagogy, “A School of Life,” and a few other ideas.

The Doctrine. The entire, basic doctrine, including the main concepts of “Love and Trust,” seems quite esoteric. There seems to be a conflict of freedom versus lack of freedom (both external and internal) in the doctrine, as well as an impetus towards changing the nature of a child. An intensification of S.A. Amonashvili’s creational and quite esoteric motifs was occurring at this stage. The depth of his foundational well-springs was influenced by A Living Ethic, works by N.K. Rerikh and E.P. Blavatskaya. When he finally published the results of his work it was done through such unusual genres as scientific publicity-pieces, a book of short stories with moral lessons, essays, and artistic works. This master craftsman worked in two interrelated genres. He crafted pedagogical treatises written on high literary levels [8, 9, 10, and 11] and artistically constructed pedagogical works in the form of fairy tales [12] and parables. [13]

Undoubtedly, all the works of S.A. Amonashvili written in the first decade of the 21st century bear a heavy oriental (Eastern) influence. On his new and rich content and style vector several layers of his own life and activities; his organic perception of a vigorous, Georgian cultural heritage; his deep familiarity with literature in the original Persian from the Middle Ages; and the influence and traditions of A Living Ethic.

Amonashvili wrote the following in 2001, “I, myself, discovered another pedagogical ‘science,’ an esoteric one. It is unique and confidential. It is pedagogical knowledge that is revealed only to the degree that a teacher struggles for it. It is acquired through sensory data and intuition. The acquisition of this sensory data and intuition, however, requires sacrifice, namely, the educator’s unselfish love and devotion to children, as well as honest interactions with them that are based on the principles of equal rights, freedom, collegiality, and the highest aspirations.

This esoteric knowledge contains very special qualities: it does not meddle with the words or the context of books but restricts itself to the depths of their concealed meanings where words alone are powerless to reveal and make them public; it, by no means, gives in to exposure by any of the formal sciences; it can not be identified by ordinary vision; and it is grasped only by the heart, only by the spirit while reading noble, pedagogical books.”[14]

As a result of his “new science” discovery, all Amonashvili’s activities took on a futuristic direction: “My deep conviction was that we should not only educate ‘the man of today but also the man of tomorrow.’ I will pull tomorrow into today. In this regard, I always travelled against the current. This isn’t because I want to destroy, but because I want to create harmonious relationships, a necessary condition for the development of people’s talents. Confidence in the necessity of such activity gives me a well-spring of inexhaustible power.”[15]

His fundamental, metaphorical style can be seen clearly in the writings of S.A. Amonashvili that were begun in the 21st century. The actual language of his message when projected into the future, say to the year 2050, may seem vague, disorganized, or lacking in semantic context. Perhaps he felt that the deep message of his doctrine, in order to be grasped in the future, would fare better in the form of a myth, fairytale, or parable.

Thus, the system of ideas and views of S.A. Amonashvili that resulted from so many years of work convincingly demonstrate that this thinker, from the beginning, carried within himself a mission to create a spiritual and pedagogical doctrine not only for his own contemporaries but also for future generations. Over the course of 60 years of pedagogical activity, he created three inter-related systems: the doctrine of a “humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual” (created at the beginning of the 1990s) which is being implemented at the present time; the “A School of Life” (developed during the second half of the 1990s) which will be implemented during the second quarter of the 21st century; and the Pedagogy of “Love and Light for Eternity” (created in the first decade of the 21st century) which perhaps will be called upon for implementation during the second half of the 21st century.  The location for the condensation of these pedagogical ideas will be in the “noosphere,” the collective realm of human thought, or as Shalva Alexandrovich defines it himself, in his book, Concerning the Earth, the “Sphere of the Heart.”


[1] Amonashvili, S.A., The Formational and Educational Functions of the Evaluation Process in Teaching Students, Moscow, 1984, p.4.
[2] Amonashvili, S.A., How to Love Children (A Self-Analysis of My Experiences), Moscow, 2010, p.64.
[3] Ibid. p. 65.
[4] Amonashvili, S.A., A Pedagogical Symphony, Moscow, 2002, p. 15.
[5] Amonashvili, S.A., Instruction, Evaluation, Grades, Moscow, 1980, p. 9-11.
[6] Amonashvili, S.A., How to Love Children, p. 87.
[7] Amonashvili, S.A., A School of Life, (A treatise concerning the elementary stages of an education based on the principles of a humanistic pedagogy centered on the individual), Moscow, 2000.
[8] Amonashvili, S.A., Truth for Schools, Moscow, 2008.
[9] Amonashvili, S.A., A Ballad on Education, Moscow, 2009.
[10] Amonashvili, S.A., How to Love Children.
[11] Amonashvili, S.A., Teacher, Inspire Me to be Creative! Moscow, 2011.
[12] Amonashvili, S.A., Amun-Ra, the Legend of the Stone, Moscow, 2002.
[13] Amonashvili, S.A., Faith and Love, Moscow, 2009; Parables, Moscow, 2010.
[14] Amonashvili, S.A., My Smile, Where Are You? Moscow, 2002, p. 4-5.
[15] Amonashvili, S.A., “In Order to Give Children the Spark of Knowledge, the Teacher Needs to Absorb a Sea of World Experience.” Three Keys, 2010, No. 12, p. 9.

Paulina (Sep. 04, 2015)
I would like to thank you for this article. It's very well written and informative. It helped me to prepare for my MA disseration. Greetings!

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