Evolution of Education

The Evolution and History of Education Worldwide

Education has existed in some form or another since the beginning of the human species. This reason is that education, defined as the process of enabling learning, has always been a must. After all, without education, no generation would be fully prepared to fulfill its responsibilities in the world. Each new generation gets the previous generation’s knowledge, and as a result, each new generation gets better.

Most people today think that school and education mean the same thing. This belief is not a big surprise since most of us will spend most of our lives in school, probably the most crucial part of formal education. So, for example, most of us get better at getting along with other people, learn to read, and see the authority that doesn’t come from our parents at school.

Schooling and education as we know them today only make sense when viewed through the lens of history. Humans could always organize, store, and convey information through sounds and words, unlike other animals. Before the invention of technology, the only form of education available was through word of mouth. People relied on word-of-mouth communication to acquire immense knowledge about the plants, animals, and land they relied on from the hunter-gatherer groups until the advent of agriculture, which began 10,000 years ago.

History of Education

History of Education
Credit: University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing

The history of education goes back at least as far as the first written records from ancient civilizations. Studies of modern people who live far away from the west or other societies and have little history of a written culture show that they teach children and adults about their history and culture through oral stories. So, it’s likely that the natural history of education goes back to the first people.

Written language shows that people in the area of modern Egypt and the Middle East learned to read and write as early as 3500 BCE and in China as early as 1200 BCE. After that, education evidence can be seen in many places worldwide, like the Indian subcontinent, Greece, and Rome. It also starts to be linked to specific religions.

We first know how schools worked in ancient Greece, around the 4th century BCE. “School” originates from the Greek word for “leisure,” “schole.” Back then, when only the rich could go to school, people would have thought that leisure time was the same as learning.

During the Middle Ages, ecclesiastical institutions were the basis for what schools and universities look like today.

Types of Education

Types of Education
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Education isn’t just about students’ essential academic ideas in school. Outside of school, societies also teach their children about valuable things for daily life. Formal Education and Informal Education are the two ways that people can learn.


This type of education is when you learn facts and ideas through a set curriculum. Since the ancient Greeks taught them how to think, scholars have used formalized ways to learn about different subjects. In the past, only people from the upper classes could get an education. They could afford to buy books and had the luxury of free time, which they could use to study. The Industrial Revolution and the social changes that came with it made education easier for most people to get. Many families in the growing middle class were able to find new ways to go to school.

This change led to the modern education system in the United States. People now think that getting primary education is a right and a duty of every citizen. The main focus of this system’s expectations is formal education. Curriculum and assessments guarantee kids acquire vital information and ideas.


On the other hand, informal education is when people learn about cultural values, norms, and expected behaviors by being a part of society. This learning can happen both in a school setting and at home. Most of our earliest knowledge comes from our parents, relatives, and other people in our community. For example, we learn how to dress for different occasions, shop for and cook food, and keep our bodies clean through informal education.

Cultural transmission is how people learn their culture’s values, beliefs, and social rules. Both informal and formal education are ways to pass on culture. In a US History class, for example, a student will learn about the cultural parts of modern history. In the same classroom, the student could learn how to ask a classmate out on a date by listening to whispered conversations and passing notes.

Ancient Greek Education

Ancient Greek Education
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In ancient Greece, girls learned things from their mothers, like how to weave. At home, a lot of girls also learned to read and write. Boys from families with more money went to the school when they were seven years old. A slave would take boys from wealthy homes to school.

The boys learned to read, write, do the math, and play music and poetry. The Greeks also thought that physical education was essential, so they had their boys do things like dance and sports. Discipline was severe in Ancient Greek schools, and children often got a beating.

Mistreatment of children was common in Sparta. When they were seven, boys were taken away from their families and sent to live in barracks. They were hurt badly so that they would become brave soldiers. They weren’t given enough food on purpose, so they had to steal. This treatment taught them to be sneaky and clever. They were given the lash for the slightest error. Spartan girls learned sports and dance to have more healthy and fit children.

Ancient Egypt Education

In Egypt, most kids did not go to school. Instead, men taught their sons how to farm or do other jobs. The girls’ mothers taught them how to sew, cook, and do other things. Sometimes, boys from wealthy families learned to be scribes. They learned by copying and remembering, and they had to follow the rules. Bad boys got hit by their teachers. The boys learned how to read and write, as well as math. At home, some girls learned to read and write.

Education in Ancient China

Education in Ancient China
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Yao and Shun (24–23 BCE) supposedly founded the first schools. Xia dynasty (2076–1600 BCE) built the first education system. Xia dynasty schools taught rites, literature, and archery to the aristocracy.

Like farmers, laborers, etc., ordinary people accepted rough schooling under Shang (1600-1046 BCE). Then, aristocrats’ children attended public schools. Students learned about rituals, literature, politics, music, the arts, and archery at government schools.

During the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BCE), the capital city of Shang Xiang was home to five different national schools, one of which was Shang Xiang. Schools taught rituals, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and algebra. According to the Book of Rites, males learned ceremonial arts at age 12 and archery and chariot driving later. Girls learned rituals, manners, silk manufacturing, and weaving.

During the Zhou dynasty, Chinese philosophy began. Confucius (551–479 BCE), founder of Confucianism, influenced successive generations of Chinese and the Chinese educational system for 2000 years.

During the Qin dynasty (246–207 BCE), establishing a hierarchy of bureaucrats happened to oversee the empire’s periphery. Literacy and knowledge of philosophy were required to enter this hierarchy.

During the Han dynasty (206–221 CE), males studied reading, writing, and math at age 7. The Five Classics of Confucius were part of Emperor Wudi’s 124 BCE curriculum for the Imperial Academy. By 220 CE, the institution recruited 30,000 youths ages 14 to 17. During this time, schooling was expensive.

The nine-rank system was in use for civil service nominations during China’s Three Kingdoms (220–280 CE) and Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589 CE). Local governments had the task of picking bright applicants and classifying them into nine classes. The selection process happened only for the affluent and influential. Civil service exams replaced the Nine Rank System in the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE).

Education in Ancient Rome

In wealthy Roman homes, a tutor taught the children at home. Seven-year-old boys and girls attended a Ludus primary school to learn to read, write, and perform math. Next, boys went to high school, where they learned math, history, literature, and public speaking.

A lot of Greek slaves worked as teachers. Teachers were stringent, and they often hit students. Children used a sharp bone stylus to write on wax tablets. Adults wrote on papyrus, a paper made from the papyrus plant.

Education in Ancient India

Ancient India
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Most people in ancient India learned through the Vedic and Buddhist education systems. The language that was in use to teach the Vedic education system was Sanskrit. Buddhist schools taught Pali as their first language. In the Vedic system, a child starts school when they are five years old. However, in the Buddhist approach, a child begins school when they are eight years old. In ancient India, the main reason for education was to build a person’s character, teach them how to be self-controlled, make them aware of their place in society, and keep and spread ancient culture.

The ideas in the Buddhist and Vedic systems were different. In the Vedic education system, students learned the four Vedas: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. They also learned the six Vedangas, the Upanishads, and other things.

Vedic Period

During the Vedic period, which lasted from about 1500 BCE to 600 BCE, most education had its base in the Veda chanted by priests and later Hindu texts and scriptures. The Vedas say that freedom is the primary goal of education.

Vedic education taught people how to say and recite the Veda correctly and the rules of sacrifice, grammar, derivation, composition, verification, meter, nature’s secrets, reasoning, logic, the sciences, and the skills needed for a job. In addition, there was some knowledge about medicine taught.

At first, anyone could get an education in Vedic society, but as the social systems changed, only people with a good lineage were allowed to study the scriptures. Initially, the basis of castes happened on occupation, with Brahman (priests) having the most privileges, followed by Kshatriya, who could also wear the sacred thread and get an education in Vedic.

Education for Buddhists in India

The teachings of the Pitakas were part of the Buddhist education system. The Vinaya Pitaka is a Buddhist canon with rules for the Buddhist community that lives in the Monastery. The Vinaya Pitaka teaches Buddhist monks (Sanga) how to be disciplined in their relationships with people and with nature.

Takshashila was a place of learning in India that dates back to the 5th century BCE. From the 6th century BCE to the 5th century CE, it was an important place to learn about Vedic, Hindu, and Buddhist ideas. Nalanda, built in the 5th century CE, was another important place for learning. Nalanda was a well-known Buddhist monastery in the kingdom of Magadha. Scholars and students from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia went to Nalanda to get an education. During its construction in the eighth and ninth centuries, Vikramashila was one of the largest Buddhist monasteries.

How People Learned in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the majority of people couldn’t read or write, but not everyone. Children from the upper class went to school. Priests who knew more than the poor people of the Middle Ages might have taught some children how to read and write, but only a little. In many towns, boys from the middle class went to grammar schools to learn. Teaching Latin grammar gave them their name. In grammar schools, boys worked long hours and had to follow strict rules. Boys, for instance, were beaten with sticks and branches of birch trees.

There were also singing schools. Some men put money in their wills so that a priest could say prayers for them after they died. When he wasn’t praying, the priest taught the children in the area.

Throughout the Middle Ages, more and more people went to school. By the 1400s, about a third of the people in England could read and write. Since the early 1300s, Oxford and Cambridge were England’s two universities. Students learned grammar, the art of public speaking, logic, astronomy, math, music, and geometry.

16th Century Evolution of Education

16th-century education prospered. Rich guys started elementary schools. Boys generally attended a ‘petty school’ as a nursery and grammar school at age 7. Summer and winter school days began at 6 am (people went to bed early and got up early on those days). 11-1 for lunch. 5 pm was dismissal. The boys had six days of school and a couple of breaks.

Many 16th-century youngsters learned to read and write with hornbooks. There were no modern books. Instead, it was a handle-less wooden board. A sheet with the letters and the Our Father prayer was on the board. Animal horns were in use to protect the paper.

Tudor’s discipline was harsh. The teacher carried a birch-twigged stick. Boys got a beating in their buttocks with birch twigs. Nevertheless, bright boys may attend Oxford or Cambridge at 15 or 16. Tudor lads often skipped school. If they’re lucky, they’ll secure a 7-year apprenticeship. Some craftsmen and few workers could read and write. A tutor mainly educated females in privileged families. In middle-class families, the mother may teach.

17th Century Evolution of Education

17th-century schooling changed little. Boys and girls from affluent backgrounds attended a tiny school. The grammar school was boys-only. Tutors taught upper-class females (and guys). Mothers may teach middle-class girls. Dame schools, managed by women, taught girls reading and writing. Many municipalities created girls’ boarding schools in the 17th century. Teaching happened in the areas of writing, music, and needlework.

18th Century Evolution of Education

18th Century Evolution
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Boys and girls attended dame schools in the 18th century. Many English towns started charity schools in the early 1800s. Because of the uniforms, they got the title of Blue Coat Schools.

Rich boys attended grammar school. Girls from wealthy households went to school, but they learned ‘accomplishments’ like needlework and singing rather than educational topics. Public schools did not admit nonconformists and dissidents. They attended dissident academies.

19the Century Evolution of Education

In the 19th century, boys and girls’ education improved. Early in the 19th century, there were dame schools. Women taught reading, writing, and math, and many dame schools were daycares. Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori established more revolutionary baby education approaches in the 19th century.

Governesses taught upper-class girls and boys who often attended Eton. Victorian boys only got the teachings of Latin and nothing else as they ignored science and tech. Character-building via sports and games got an emphasis in public schools. Grammar schools served middle-class males. Middle-class females were taught music and needlework at private institutions.

Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) established a new form of working-class education in the early 19th century. In the Lancaster system, the ablest students became monitors. Before the others came, the monitors got their education, and the monitors corrected them.

National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principle of the Established Church happened in 1811. It had National Schools. Nonconformists created the British and Foreign Schools Society in 1814.

British state education began in 1870. Forster’s Education Act required schools for all kids. If current schools were full, the construction of board schools happened. 5 to 10-year-olds started school in 1880. Until 1891, only the poorest children had free school. 1893 increased the school leaving age to 11. Since 1899, children must attend school until age 13.

In 1841, three women graduated from Oberlin College. First American women with a bachelor’s degree. Helen Magill White earned the first US Ph.D. in 1877. In 1880, British women first received degrees.

20th Century Evolution of Education

18th Century Evolution
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20th-century Education evolved significantly. In 1900, some 12-year-olds abandoned school. In 1918, the compulsory schooling age went up to 14 years old. Even working-class kids attended elementary school between the wars. Upper-class kids went to public schools, middle-class to grammar schools. 1948 raised the school leaving age to 15, 1973 to 16. All pupils have to take the 11 plus after the 1944 Education Act. Passing students moved to grammar schools, failing students to secondary modern schools. Finally, in the 1960s and 1970s, most schools became comprehensive.

Teachers struck children until the late 20th century. In the 1970s, most elementary schools eliminated physical punishment. State secondary schools banned the cane in 1987, and private schools prohibited it in 1999. In the 1960s, numerous new universities opened. Universities replaced polytechnics in 1992. Open University started in 1969. Late in the 20th century, education and training possibilities increased. However, since 1998, most students have had to borrow money.


Since the middle of the twentieth century, economies and technology worldwide have been rapidly evolving. It has had a tremendous influence on the workplace and, as a result, on the educational system’s requirements for preparing students for employment. Moreover, today, school is where all kids learn the difference between work and play, something that hunter-gatherers never knew. In the end, we now see how people’s history has led to the education we have today.

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