EDUCATION IN ANCIENT TIMES
Education can mean many different things. Anything that you learn is a part of yours education, even though you may not have learn it in school. You learn from books, magazines, newspapers, pictures, the radio and so on. You learn from talking with other people. The education that you get in school is called formal education.
From time of the cavemen, human beings have always caught what they know to their children. If they had not done so in past, no child would have survived. He would not have known which animals were dangerous, which plans were good to eat, or how to make a fire to keep warm.
After many centuries man learned to write down what he knew. In this way he could save up more knowledge and pass it on to his children and grandchildren.
Once systems of writing had been invited, school began. The earliest schools we know about were in Mesopotamia and Egypt, three to four thousand years ago.
Mesopotamian and Egyptian systems of writing were difficult. Most of the people never learned them at all. A boy might have had to study hard for six to eight years just to learn to write. When he had mastered writing, he was then admitted as a scribe. A scribe was a highly respected, well-paid. professional man who wrote and red letters for other people.
In Egypt there were higher levels of education for young men who wanted to be priests, government officials, architects or doctors.
Another ancient people, the Hebrews, had a long tradition of education. When they were an independent nation, the father or each family taught his sons the history of their nation, their laws and their religion. Later, when the Hebrews were colonized by other nations, they were afraid that their own customs and beliefs might be lost. So they set up format schools where every boy, rich or poor, was taught the language, the religion and the history of the Jews. This was probably the first time in human history that formal education was given to rich and poor alike.
From the time of Confucius, 500 years before Christ was born, until 20th century, education in China changed very little. In almost every village and town there was an elementary school. Families who could afford to pay the school fees sent their boys to learn read and write.
The boys also learned by heart long passages from the writings of Chines philosophers. All the boys said the memory work over and over again, as loudly as possible, until they were able to memorize the passages perfectly.
A talented student might attend a university. Throughout the centuries in China the government has maintained universities in the national capital. A few boys, usually those who were rich enough not to have to work to support their families, continued their studies. If they had become very learned, they might have been able to pass the examinations given by the imperial government. A young man who passed these examinations could then become a high government official.
In ancient India there was not even a small change for a person to improve his life by getting a higher education.
From the earliest times, according to Hinduism, the people of India were divided into classes or casters. At the top were Brahmans, and at the very bottom were the Pariahs or the outcasts, who were sometimes also called the untouchables. They had no rights at all. Between this two castes were the Ksatryas, consisting of soldiers, the waisyas, consisting of business people and then the Sudras, who included farmers, laborers and the like. The son of businessman, for instance, had to follow only a trade that suited their caste. They could not move up and become officers or Brahmans. They allowed to learn whatever was needed for that business, and nothing else. Only the Brahmans received a complete education.
The son of Brahmans went to a 12 year school, which was called a ‘parishad’. There they learn the prayers and sacred ceremonies of the Hindu religion. Five hundred years before Christ was born, the Hindus had a highly developed system of mathematics. They had a literature of poetry and philosophy. They had learn much about astronomy and medicine. All these subjects were taught in the ’parishad.’
The Greek city-states of which Athens was the more developed, were the starting point of modern formal education.
The ancient Chinese and Hindus saw education as a means of maintaining their old ways of life with as little change as possible. The people of the Athenian city-states were more broad-minded and future-oriented. They did not believe that the whole truth about everything had been handed down from the past. They believed it was good to ask questions and to look for the new knowledge.
The ideal of education in early Athens was to prepare a boy to become an all-round person. Everyone was to be excellent in all things. An educated Athenian was supposed to be good at games and sports, too. All Greek students learned boxing, wrestling, racing, jumping and discus throwing.
Athenian youngsters were also taught philosophy from earlier ages, The philosophy teachers, who often wandered from town to town, were called Sophists. The most famous of these wandering teachers was Socrates. He did not even have a schoolroom. He went to the fields where the boys were practicing their sports or to the market-places. He would begin to talk with young men. He was able to carry on such interesting conversations that groups of curious people would gather around him.
Socrates did not teach the young people who crowded around him . Instead he asked the questions that made people think.
Once a student had given an answer. Socrates would ask him more questions. As Socrates went more and more deeply with his questions, the students might realize that his facts had been wrong or his arguments had been weak. A special kind of conversation, which is now still called a Socratic dialogue followed. Among modern-day philosophers this kind of argument also known as dialectic. Many of Socrates’ dialogues were later written down by one of his students, Plato.