1.1 History of Education: What is the importance of Studying History in the 21st Century?

1a i). Outline the significance of teaching history in the 21st Century.




1.   Introduction.

In this lesson, we shall discuss the importance of studying history of education to a teacher or teacher-to-be. To do that we need to clearly understand the meaning of the terms “history”, “education”, which will help us in understanding the term “history of education. We shall then discuss the aims and benefits of studying history of education and the scope of this unit.

2.   Objectives:

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

  • Define history, education, and history of
  • Name at least five benefits a teacher gets from studying history of education
  • Describe the scope of the unit from the ancient times to the

3.   Content


Historians as have defined history:

The record of all past human experience, showing how groups of people  are and how they came to be. It is concerned with political, social, economic, scientific and technological factors and events, which have shaped the growth and development of mankind.

Education has been defined by some educationists as:

The total process by which human abilities and behaviour is developed; or the organized and continuous instruction aimed at imparting knowledge, skills, attitudes and understanding necessary for full participation in life. Education is also seen as a social process through which a member of a society achieves individual growth and development and social competence, carried out in selected and well-defined institutional settings. History of Education could be defined as:

The study of the past development of educational systems, theories, practices and institutions within the general historical framework of political, social, economic, scientific, technological and cultural changes that different societies have gone through over time.

Note:  There are many definitions of the above terms. There is no single definition of any one of them that is universally accepted by all.  You can also come up with definitions in your own words!!

Question:       What do you understand by the term history of education?

Activity: Having read how others have defined history, education and history of education, try to come up with a definition of each using your own words.



Having defined what we mean by History of Education, let us now find out the importance of this subject to teachers or teachers-to-be.

History of Education is studied for the following reasons:

  • Improving the quality of education

The study of the past educational experience has many lessons that can be used to improve present educational theory and practice. The problems and challenges we face in our education today are not unique; others have faced the same problems and attempted solutions  with  varying degrees of success or failure. We can adopt their successes and avoid their mistakes in attempting to improve our education. History of education is rich in both failures and breakthroughs for us to run away from or copy, respectively.

  • Strengthening the professional competence of the teacher

A proper study of the history of education affects the way in which teachers or student teachers conduct their personal and professional activities. The subject contributes to strengthening both by encouraging  the teacher to examine, evaluate, accept or modify the cultural heritage; and to become an educational critic and agent for intelligent cultural transmission and change, rather than blindly accept the educational status quo, ideas, practices and unchallenged claims. In other words, an examination of educational theories and practices in their historical context encourages teachers to adopt a critical attitude towards present theories and practices.

  • Understanding our own educational systems

The past illuminates the present. History not only teaches what education is, but also where it came from, why it came to be, and what it is bound to become in the future. History of education is a narrative of the origins, growth and development of educational institutions, methods, concepts, aims, curricular, theory and practice without which they would appear new, unexplored, and untried to us in the present world.  History   of education thus helps us to appreciate the road travelled by education to reach where it is today.

  • Making comparisons within a historical perspective

History of education helps one to draw comparisons of the origins and development of several different ideas, practices and theories of education in different societies. In that way it can help one to formulate better ideas, patterns and principles and provide a larger perspective. It may also enable one to draw from and act imaginatively using a broader range of humanity than that represented by a single cultural experience. Apart from drawing a comparison in the evolution of educational ideas, one is also able to show the development of a particular theory and  practice in historical context, and demonstrate the particular conditions out of which such a theory or practice arose and the specific purpose it was intended to serve.

Making comparisons within a historical perspective enables one to use the power of contextual study to introduce innovation by formulating new and better questions, generating fruitful hypotheses and initiating unexplored lines of inquiry.

  • Satisfying intellectual curiosity

History of education is like other areas of knowledge, with its own body of knowledge and conventional methods of acquiring  this  knowledge. Human beings, and no less teachers and teachers-to-be are possessed with the inherent desire or curiosity to explore and know what education is, where it came from, and where it is going.  Studying history  of education satisfies this inmate desire. One need not go beyond this reason to justify the study of history of education.

  • Developing powers of

The fruitful study of history of education compels us to train and exercise all our aspects of intellectual activity, excites curiosity and the spirit of inquiry, disciplines the faculty of reason, and cultivates the arts of self-expression and communication. Historical study is also basic to cultivating the attitudes of the mind that characterize the educated person, the habits of scepticism and criticism; of thinking with broad perspective and objectivity; of distinguishing between the good and the bad in human experience. The historical study of education gives one the discerning eye to give shape, form, organization, sequence and interrelationship and relative importance of ideas.

  • Exposing one to knowledge in other

Historians of education must always go beyond the confines of their discipline to fully understand the nature of the phenomena they study. They particularly need to be acquainted with the social sciences such as sociology, psychology, philosophy and comparative education, which can be used in a mutually enriching way to analyse important educational ideas. Though scholars in each discipline may operate from their own particular perspective, they must of necessity all draw from the well of history, which contains the raw record of human experience, and sets the context of events in a time continuum within which other disciplines must operate.       The study of history of education thus exposes one to knowledge in other social sciences and humanities, which are engaged in the study of human affairs.

Note: The importance or non-importance of history of education to teacher training is debatable depending on one’s experience and viewpoint. Here we  take  the broad view of the subject, which has definite and important role to play in teacher education. Sometimes people with a narrow view of history have seen the subject as irrelevant to teacher preparation.

Question: Why should a teacher or teacher-to-be study the history of education?

Activity:  Using your own words, name at least five reasons for the teacher to study history of education.



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