4.2 History of Education: What are the aims and structure of Ancient Egyptian Education?

Chapter 4

EDUCATION IN ANCIENT EGYPT

4a ii). Explain the aims and structure of Ancient Egyptian Education

The Aims and Structure of Ancient Egyptian Education.

  • AIMS

Egyptian education aimed at perpetuating social stability and the status quo. Education perpetuated a socially stratified society by slotting the various classes into their social, political and economic riches in society.

The education aimed at producing professionals and labour oriented personnel to support the social structures. For this reason, Egyptian education was practical, technical, professional, and utilitarian.

The River Nile being at the heart of Egyptian civilization, education was designed to foster the development of a complex agricultural science, creating irrigation and flood control networks, which made Egypt the granary of the ancient world.

Egyptian education also preferred a religious view of the world by seeking to enhance the people’s religious and moral development and piety to the gods.  Education was considered both a preparation for life and a vehicle for life after death. Education thus contained religious and philosophical studies to achieve the society’s polytheist ideals.

Structure 

  • Elementary Education.

Elementary schools were first established between 3,000 B.C. and 2,000 B.C: in response to the basic needs of Egyptian society. They were established to offer training in various vocations rather than literacy. The latter was initially restricted to the clergy, with only their sons being exposed to reading and writing under priests in temple schools.

Schooling for the few lucky boys began at four years of age and lasted up to the time they were 14 yeas, when they were considered ready for the world of work.

The curriculum included mastering the symbols and signs of writing unique to the respective social classes, professions or vocations; elementary science, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music and dancing. The last two were taught for recreational, moral and religious training.

The dominant methods of teaching were dictation, memorization, copying of texts, imitation, repetition, participation and observation, the last particularly in physical education. These methods did not encourage higher-level thinking, problem-solving, or the spirit of inquiry, with teachers hardly explaining their lessons. School discipline was severe and ruthless. Laziness was highly discouraged and severely punishable.  Good manners, physical fitness through swimming and  archery, cleanliness and moral uprightness were highly valued.  To  Egyptians bodily hygiene was of religious significance, and may well have originated the adage that cleanliness is next to godliness.

Those boys who did not go to elementary school were trained informally by their fathers in skills other than the 3Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. Through apprenticeships and oral traditions the masses were taught to fit into their prescribed positions in society. Girls only received training in domestic roles under their mothers at home. Slaves were not offered any formal education.

  • Secondary Education

Secondary education was conducted in the same premises as elementary education. It was mainly a continuation of improvement and consolidation of the elementary school learning, with particular attention being given to refining the style and composition of the art of writing and craftsmanship. Boys of the upper class informally participated in learning activities that enhanced their etiquette and code of behaviour.

 

  • Higher and Professional Education

This education took place in temples, colleges or universities.  On  the East bank of the Nile, at Tell-el–Armana, there was a kind of university, the House of Life. Higher education was mainly for the instruction of priests and professionals.

This education was guardedly, secretly and informally passed on to immediate relatives, colleagues and social equals. It was thus restricted to those recognized as heirs by virtue of birth. This was particularly in regard to priesthood and medicine. Other professionals included teachers and scribes who used their homes, offices, business premises and temples to impart the relevant knowledge and skills to selected boys.

Note:   It is important to note that education in ancient Egypt was closely modelled on the stratification of the society into classes, and that there was rampant gender inequity in addition to the class inequality.

Question:  What were the aims of ancient Egyptian education?

Activity: Discuss how the aims of ancient Egyptian education were achieved through the established structure and content of education.

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