1.3 History of Education: Can you give a brief overview of the Education throughout history?

1a iii). Give a brief overview of the Education throughout history



In our first lecture, we defined the history of education. We went further to discuss why you need to learn the history of education. We finally looked at the scope of this subject. In this lesson, we are going to have an overview of the development of education through phases in history in the context of the course prescribed for this unit.


Man has existed in some form on this planet for between 0.5 million and 1 million years. Between 500,000 and 75,000 years ago, the tools man-made became refined. 75,000 to 20,00 years ago, there were rapid strides in human culture. Art and expression took place. From 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, there were even more rapid developments than before: complicated buildings were constructed; man produced his own food rather than simply gathering wild fruits. Indeed, man developed gestures, signs and symbols to convey ideas and communicate. Between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago man invented writing. Education thus became an institution. Significantly, when pre-historic man began to control his environment rather than submit to it, human culture took familiar forms, somewhat recognizatoday-day. Between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago, man improved skills in commerce. Ironically war consolidated the cities into large empires.



In the ancient or classical times, there was no common education in the Persian Empire. Only a few people were chosen for schooling to be scribes and priests. Education in the Persian Empire was a tool to make the masses conform.

In Sparta, a city-state of Greece, in about 8,000 BC the sole purpose of education was to produce warriors, for Spartans dwelt in the middle of a hostile conquered people. Spartans, therefore, developed a system of education for instilling obedience and loyalty to their state.

Athenian training, about 8,000 BC was not unlike Spartan training. Athenians felt that the state was supreme. However, there was also a growing conviction among the Athenians that individual fulfillment was good for well-being of their state. Thus the great ‘mediators’: Socrates (469-399 BC), Plato (429-347) BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) tried to make people realize that the social process cannot be arrested, and demanded reconstruction on a higher plane than before. They advocated the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

The Romans, on their part, consistently sought the application of knowledge rather than the pursuit of truth for its own sake. They were therefore unlike the Greek ‘mediators’. Their educational approach was thus suggestive of power and organization. The fusion of the Graeco- Roman heritage is the basis of western civilization.

Educationally, the Greek and Roman influence saw the development of three levels of educational institutions; the lowest schools, with extended literary content, taught by imitation and memorization, the learning being accompanied by severe discipline; grammar schools, where the teaching was done in both Greek and Latin, the curriculum including oratory, and interpretation of poets; and technical schools where both Greek and Latin were used for training students in legal and literary subjects. On compilation, the Greek students went to universities in Athens.

As to the Roman influence in education, this is evident in ideas of a universal empire; the concept of law; and the ‘pax Romana’ (Roman peace) which to this day underlies the guides civilization. The coming of Christianity is also a result of roman genius for organization. In AD 313

Christianity was recognized as an imperial religion with the Roman Empire. This witnessed the rise of catechumenal schools which gave some sort of formal instruction, lasting for three years, to members of Roman Catholic Church. Catechumenal schools offered little or no intellectual message in the formal instruction offered.



Following the arrival of barbaric hordes from Northern Europe, for three centuries after AD 300 Europe presented a spectacle of ignorance, lawlessness and violence. It was the Moslems who were to awaken mediaeval Europe, developing universities in Spain (A1050) which in the end saw mediaeval universities developing out of cathedral and monastic schools. Universities grew out of growing need for higher education.



By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Europe witnessed a rebirth of knowledge, the renaissance. This revived the ancient Graeco-Roman heritage and added to it a new appreciation of humanities, arrears of knowledge that refine human spirit, such as literature, and philosophy.  The Renaissance was an offshoot of progressive social, political, economic and philosophical changes. The crusades, the enrichment of cities, the expansion of commerce, industry, and banking, the rise of guilds, and the growing spirit of nationalism were key causes of change which led to the development of national languages and literature.



In the sixteenth century Protestants revolted and the Roman Catholic Church reformed. The reformation was a series of revolts from the  Catholic Church, which had resisted all attempts at internal reform of its ecclesiastical doctrines and abuses of the 16th century. The reformation brought more changes in education.

The Counter Reformation arose out of the Council of Trent (1543-1563) and used inquisitions and education a reaction against the Reformation Movement, which was leading to separation. Thus, whilst the Protestants allied themselves to the state, the roman Church developed theological seminaries, encouraged teaching congregations and reorganize parish schools to counter the protestant onslaught.



The 17th century was to be gripped by the cult of realism, which resulted in an attempt to make education more meaningful. It witnessed humanistic realism, an attempt to understand the content of what was taught, and social realism an attempt to adjust education to the life situation. The crux of the matter was that the enormous heritage of the  past collided with over-whelming body of new ideas.



In the 18th century there was a general revolt against absolutism and ecclesiasticism. By 18th century, authoritarianism was giving way to the spirit of truth and freedom based on reason and inquiry. Despotism and ecclesiasticism were becoming thoroughly intolerable, and the individual saw his own development as an individual as within his reach. The picture of education, however, was bleak, though the presence of perspective individuals, like Rousseau (1712-1778) was a redeeming feature.



The 19th century was an age of conflicting ideologies. The various socio- political dogmas of the 19th century replaced the much worn out inherited commitments to the religious dynastic status Quo. Industrialism, liberalism, democracy and capitalism were the context of the 19th century socio-political ideologies. Educationally the interaction of these trends has a graphic influence, leading to great diversity of educational development in various parts of Europe, which corresponded to the diversity of national conditions resulting from Napoleonic wars.



20th century education trends should really be the concern of the philosopher and sociologist rather than the historian. Nevertheless, a number of historic trends are noteworthy: he thrust of modernization, problems of generation gap, and the changing criteria of educational authority. These have witnessed he emergence of two broad educational movements: progressive and radical.


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