Origins of ordinary things: Formal education

Pupils ina a classroom. File.

For hundreds of thousands of years, children grew up in hunter-gather societies. According to Education, a blog about the history of formal learning, during this period of time, it was necessary to acquire a vast set of survival knowledge and skills as the living conditions were harsh. Parents passed the knowledge and skills to their children.

According to knowledge platform Psychology Today, this sort of setting gave children the freedom to interact, explore and play, which is said to be an effective way of learning. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle then gave way to agriculture and children now spent most of their days working on family farm land.

By 3100 BC, Egypt and other ancient civilizations had recognised the fact that it was difficult to pass on knowledge from one generation to another if it had to be done by word of mouth. According to History World, an education website, writing was then invented to record and preserve knowledge. However, writing was reserved for elites known as scribes.

When the idea of formal learning began to spread to ancient civilisations as Greece, a group of people that were known as sophists began to move around teaching various subjects such as grammar and logic to people who wanted to learn how to become more persuasive. Others, such as Greek philosopher Socrates were concerned with teaching people to think deeply about life, truth and justice.

This culminated into schools for children aged 6 to 13, which according to Psychology Today, were established by 1st Century AD. The schools were mostly religiously oriented. However, other institutions supported formal education. Governments wanted patriotic citizens, religious groups wanted morally upright adults, while those who operate in trade wanted compliant workers. 

By the 16th Century, education had become compulsory in Europe. The protestant religion played a hand in advocating for formal education as they believed that every person should be able to read a scripture on their own. Thus, focus was put on religious education. At this point, only boys were being taught to read and write. 

By the 19th Century, different religious factions in Europe were fighting for world dominance. According to Oxford University, this was the motivating reason behind the spread of missionaries to different parts of the world such as Africa. There, they introduced church-based schools and influenced the indigenous people who were mostly still living in hunter-gatherer societies to desire formal education.

The education system constituted memorisation and little exploration and students were punished as a way of making them learn. At the turn of the 21st Century, many countries started to put laws in place barring harsh punishment for children in school. Now, there are period curriculum reviews in most countries to align formal education with the changing world. 


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