Sensory education


Brother of Charity Ebergist De Deyne taught mentally ill children in the St. Joseph Institute. By training their learning skills in a sensory way, he hoped to improve their development. He photographed each new pupil for medical purposes.

In the 19th century, patients at the Guislain Institution were housed in nine different departments, grouped to some extent according to their disease. Retarded patients from the lower classes, the then “uncurable ones suffering from the falling disease”, were housed in the so-called children's courtyard. Up until the end of the 19th century, this was the only place in Belgium where the retarded could receive any upbringing or education. The children's courtyard was a fully independent department within the psychiatric hospital, although it was situated within the institution’s walls. For centuries no difference was made between imbeciles, idiots and madmen. They were all simply catalogued as “crazy” and all suffered the same fate.

By 1901, insights had evolved to such an extent that a decision was made to remove retarded patients from the Guislain Institution and to house them in their own 'children's asylum', the St Joseph Institute on the Stropkaai in Ghent. This became an internationally renowned institute, primarily due to the work of Brother Ebergist De Deyne (1887-1943), a Brother of Charity. His starting point was that the abilities of retarded children had potential but that these abilities had not yet matured. He believed that they could be further developed by training their learning skills in a sensory way. To this end, Brother Ebergist developed various didactic learning methods to increase the development of retarded children via their senses.

Brother Ebergist also gained a reputation as a photographer. After all, he photographed each new student at the St Joseph Institute, among other things for medical purposes. His educational insights and methods were published in 1922 in the book entitled L'éducation Sensorielle chez les Enfants Anormaux (Sensory Education of Abnormal Children). Afterwards, there seemed to be a lot of parallels with the views and insights of Italian doctor and pedagogue Maria Montessori (1870-1952).