The current place of Philosophy in the secondary school curriculum. Developments in four European countries.

Issue 11-12

“The current place of Philosophy in the secondary school curriculum. Developments in four European countries.”

Dimitris Kyritsis
Page 176-199


In this paper, I present the evolution of the subject of Philosophy during 19th and 20th centuries within the educational system of four European countries with profound philosophical tradition (Germany, France, Italy, and England), while particular emphasis is given in its current state. The diversity in the diachronic treatment of Philosophy as a subject is remarkable, as appeared by its place in the curricula of each of the above mentioned countries. Specifically, in the German educational system Philosophy was firstly taught in 1826 as an optional (elective) and in 1837 as an obligatory (requirement) course, but was suppressed in 1892 as it was “exceeded” by the conquests of science. It reappeared in 1925, however, with short-lived presence and came back after many ¨adventures¨ in 1972. Today, students have the option of choosing among Philosophy, Ethics and Religion in the last two high school years for two hours weekly. The place of Philosophy in Great Britain’s educational system was even more unfavourable. During the 19th century and up to the middle of the 20th century Philosophy courses had not been taught at all. For first time in 1951 two examining committees included a subject of Philosophy in A-level examinations. However, the latter inclined more to the direction Religion and the majority of schools avoided to teach it. Since 1988, when the National Curriculum was established, Philosophy has not been included in the small number of required courses. Nevertheless, since 2000 a committee organises exams with the subject of Philosophy in central place, which resulted to the remarkable increase of the number of students who participate in these exams. In Italy, since 1861 the subject of Philosophy has been included in the secondary education curricula. Currently, Philosophy is taught in the three of the five directions of study of the last three high school years, making its presence satisfactory. In France, since 1808 the subject of Philosophy occupied an important place, which was strengthened over the years. France is the only country in which Philosophy is taught in all three directions of high school as an obligatory (required) course for the acquisition of Baccalaureate. There is a considerable variation in the way that certain philosophical issues are presented to students in each of the above mentioned countries, thus reflecting different educational approaches to philosophical education. For example, Germany and England uses the field model, France the thematic-conceptual model and Italy the historical model. On the contrary, convergence among those countries is realised in: a) the preference of teaching the subject in the last classes of secondary education (due to its intense difficulty), b) the limited determination of the syllabus, c) the teacher’s ability to choose the textbook (or textbooks) and d) in the absence of state-prescribed directives for didactic approaches imposed by the Ministry of Education.