History of education

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Education

The history of education is both long and short. In 1994, Dieter Lenzen, president of the Freie Universität Berlin, said "education began either millions of years ago or at the end of 1770". This quote by Lenzen includes the idea that education as a science cannot be separated from the educational traditions that existed before.

Education was the natural response of early civilizations to the struggle of surviving and thriving as a culture. Adults trained the young of their society in the knowledge and skills they would need to master and eventually pass on. The evolution of culture, and human beings as a species depended on this practice of transmitting knowledge. In pre-literate societies this was achieved orally and through imitation. Story-telling continued from one generation to the next. Oral language developed into written symbols and letters. The depth and breadth of knowledge that could be preserved and passed soon increased exponentially.

When cultures began to extend their knowledge beyond the basic skills of communicating, trading, gathering food, religious practices, etc, formal education, and schooling, eventually followed. Schooling in this sense was already in place in Egypt between 3000 and 500BC.

Basic education today is considered those skills that are necessary to function in society.


India has a long history of organized education. The Gurukul system of education supported traditional Hindu residential schools of learning; typically the teacher's house or a monastery. Education was free, but students from well-to-do families payed Gurudakshina, a voluntary contribution after the completion of their studies. At the Gurukuls, the teacher imparted knowledge of Religion, Scriptures, Philosophy, Literature, Warfare, Statecraft, Medicine Astrology and History (the Sanskrit word " Itihaas" means History).

Takshashila was an early centre of learning dating back to the 5th century BCE. Some claim Taxila was an early university or centre of higher education, though others do not consider it a university in the modern sense. Takshashila is described in some detail in later Jātaka tales, written in Sri Lanka around the 5th century CE.

One of the oldest university in ancient India was the Nalanda university. Nalanda University, founded in Bihar, India around the 5th century BC conferred academic degree titles to its graduates, while also offering post-graduate courses. Nalanda was a Buddhist centre of learning from 427 CE to 1197 CE partly under the Pala Empire. It has been called "one of the first great universities in recorded history." Nalanda is located at 25.135766° N 85.444923° E Coordinates: 25.135766° N 85.444923° E. Nālanda was identified by Alexander Cunningham with the village of Baragaon.

Another Indian university whose ruins were only recently excavated was Ratnagiri University in Orissa.

Vikramaśīla University was one of the two most important centers of Buddhist learning in India, along with Nālandā University during the Pala dynasty. Vikramaśīla was established by King Dharmapala ( 783 to 820) in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nālandā. Atisha, the renowned pandita, is sometimes listed as a notable abbot.

Education was widespread in the 18th century, with a schools in most regions of the country. The subjects taught included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics, Medical Science and Religion.

The current system of education, with its western style and content, was introduced & founded by the British during the British Raj, following recommendations by Lord Macaulay. Traditional structures were not recognized by the British government and have been on the decline since. Gandhi is said to have described the traditional educational system as a beautiful tree that was destroyed during the British rule.


Unlike in many regions of the world, education in China began not with organised religions, but based upon the reading of classical Chinese texts, which developed during Western Zhou period. This system of education was further developed by the early Chinese state, which depended upon literate, educated officials for operation of the empire, and an imperial examination system was established in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220) for evaluating and selecting officials. This merit-based system gave rise to schools that taught the classics and continued in use for 2,000 years, until the end the Qing Dynasty, and was abolished in 1911 in favour of Western education methods.


The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco as the oldest university in the world with its founding in 859.


The origins of education in Japan are closely related to religion. Schooling was conducted at temples for youngsters who wanted to study Buddhism to become priests. Later, children who were willing to study started to meet at places called, "Tera-koya" (literally meaning temple huts) and learned how to read and write Japanese.


Primary School in "open air". Teacher (a priest) with class, from the outskirts of Bucharest, around 1842.
Primary School in "open air". Teacher (a priest) with class, from the outskirts of Bucharest, around 1842.

Modern systems of education in Europe derive their origins from the schools of medieval period. Most schools during this era were founded upon religious principles with the sole purpose of training the clergy. Many of the earliest universities, such as the University of Paris, founded in 1150 had a Christian basis. In addition to this, a number of secular universities existed, such as the University of Bologna, founded in 1088.

The curriculum of the educational institutions of this period was frequently based around the trivium and quadrivium (the seven Artes Liberales or Liberal arts) and was conducted in the clerical language of Latin.

In northern Europe this clerical education was largely superseded by forms of elementary schooling following the Reformation. In Scotland, for instance, the national Church of Scotland set out a programme for spiritual reform in January 1561 setting the principle of a school teacher for every parish church and free education for the poor. This was provided for by an Act of the Parliament of Scotland, passed in 1633, which introduced a tax to pay for this programme. Although few countries of the period had such extensive systems of education, the period between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries saw education become significantly more widespread.

This growth resulted in increased government interest in education. In the 1760s, for instance, Ivan Betskoy was adopted by the Russian Tsarina, Catherine II, as educational advisor. He proposed to educate young Russians of both sexes in state boarding schools, aimed at creating "a new race of men". Betskoy set forth a number of arguments for general education of children rather than specialized one: "in regenerating our subjects by an education founded on these principles, we will create... new citizens." Some of his ideas were implemented in the Smolny Institute that he established for noble girls in Saint Petersburg.

Betskoy's work in Russia was soon followed by the Polish establishment in 1773 of a Commission of National Education (Polish: Komisja Edukacji Narodowej, Lithuanian: Nacionaline Edukacine Komisija). The commission functioned as the first government Ministry of Education in a European country.

Meanwhile, there was an increasing academic interest in education and the first attempts to create what might be considered academic rationales for teaching methods. This led, in the 1770s, to the establishment of the first chair of pedagogy at the University of Halle in Germany. Other contributions to the study of education elsewhere in Europe included the work of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in Switzerland and Joseph Lancaster in Britain.

Huge textbanks are available concerning history of education, of different countries. For example: Hungary: http://mek.oszk.hu/03700/03797/03797.htm

United States of America

New Zealand

Education began with provision made by the provincial government, the missionary Christian churches and private education. The first act of parliament for education was passed in 1877, and sought to establish a standard for primary education. It was compulsory for children to attend school until the age of 14 years.

Recent world-wide trends

Overall, illiteracy has greatly decreased in recent years. In some countries this has been the result of deliberate government action. For example, in Cuba the illiteracy rate was for many years less than that in the USA.

Illiteracy and the percentage of populations without any schooling have decreased in the past several decades. For example, the percentage of population without any schooling decreased from 36% in 1960 to 25% in 2000.

Among developing countries, illiteracy and percentages without schooling in 2000 stood at about half the 1970 figures. Among developed countries, illiteracy rates decreased from 6% to 1%, and percentages without schooling decreased from 5 to 2.

Illiteracy rates in less economically developed countries ( LEDCs) surpassed those of more economically developed countries ( MEDCs) by a factor of 10 in 1970, and by a factor of about 20 in 2000. Illiteracy decreased greatly in LDCs, and virtually disappeared in MDCs. Percentages without any schooling showed similar patterns.

Percentages of the population with no schooling varied greatly among LDCs in 2000, from less than 10% to over 65%. MDCs had much less variation, ranging from less than 2% to 17%.

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