10.1 History of Education: Can you give a description of education during the renaissance and reformation age?

Chapter  10


1a i). Describe education during the period of renaissance and reformation

  1. Introduction

In our last lecture we discussed education during the medieval period. In the process of doing so, we looked at the main factors that contributed to the development of universities during that period. We further looked at the types of universities in Europe during the period. We finally looked at the influence of the university of the medieval period on modern university. In this lecture we are going to discuss features of historical importance in education during the period of Renaissance and Reformation.


By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:

  • explain what renaissance was;
  • discuss the causes of Renaissance;
  • describe the re-emergence of liberal education with Renaissance;
  • explain what the reformation and counter reformation stood for, and their specific influences upon



  • The Renaissance and education

The conventional term employed to denote the rise of worldliness ushering in the modern period of Renaissance (rebirth). The era of Renaissance covers the period between 1320 and 1600. The Renaissance represents a new period in man’s history and culture. It was, however, a gradual break with medieval times. Whereas the middle Ages had advocated mortification of the body, the Renaissance strongly asserted that life was to be enjoyed to the utmost. The keynote of the shift to  worldliness, as exemplified in the spirit of Renaissance, was an emphasis on man. Renaissance humanist culture was filled with a sense of opening vistas, a broader social and cultural outlook, the possibilities of self- actualisation, freed from old bonds. Thus the spirit of humanism can be seen as a belief in mad, a passion for learning and, stress on scholarly exactness. Reasons were more important than faith, an emphasis which led t classical learning and modern liberalism.

The rebirth of knowledge revived the ancient Greek and Roman heritage, adding to it a new appreciation of the humanities. In fact, the Renaissance has correctly been referred to as a ‘Humanistic’ revival, with ‘humanistic’ being interpreted broadly rather than confining it to the revived interest in Litterae Humaniores (a study of classics). The Renaissance was to a greater extent an age of optimism: the feeling then was that no discovery and no scientific advance lay beyond human achievement. Nevertheless, the Renaissance mind looked both forwards and backwards.

  • Causes of the Renaissance

The causes of the Renaissance include the following:

  • The spirit of discussion of medieval universities

Scholasticism led to the speculative spirit which culminated in a struggle between Naturalism and the Hellenic in nature, seen then to be progressive; and Supernaturalism, seen in the authoritarian, stable and suspicious Catholic Church.

  • The Crusade of 1095 – 1270

The crusaders who flocked to the east in the seven crusades  following 1095 came into contact with eastern civilization. This created a craving for new products and commodities; trade prospered and  commerce and manufacturing were reactivated in the free cities. The middle class or burghers rose in importance, pointing the way to a new manner of living. The crusades also brought European contact with Byzantine and Arabic learning, both being in direct line with the Hellenic tradition. This tradition was more thoughtful and inquiring.

  • The Age of Discoveries

The work of explorers and scientific discoverers quickened the spirit of inquiry and investigation. Expanding commerce sought new trade routes. Free cities could not handle their trade alone, so other cities combined with them to form the nuclei of nations.

  • The New Spirit of Nationality

The new spirit moving in Western Europe also found expression in the evolution of the modern European states based on the emergent national consciousness. This spirit stimulated the European mind, which came to believe in its own natural powers, as opposed to the static church mentality. Many hitherto settled questions were raised again by the universities, the supreme agent of belief in man’s natural powers. New national languages were also coming into existence, and people’s national epics were recorded in writing. Thus, new native literatures were being produced throughout Europe.

  • The Invention of Printing

Towards the close of the thirteenth century, the process of making paper was introduced into Europe from the East. By 1450 paper was in common use, with the way being opened for the invention of printing. The discovery of the art of printing spread the new learning all over Europe. It meant that manuscripts were replaced by books, and great numbers could be printed, so that information and learning spread to more people. Printing therefore made learning and education widespread, though grammar was still the despot and rote memory the slave.

  • The Order of Chivalry

The order of chivalry, a secular ideal adopted by the rich, emphasized prowess and character. This led to greater faith in human capacities and possibilities in opposition to the dogmatic ecclesiastical bondage.


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