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Learning from our ancestors - Education through the ages

Learning from our ancestors - Education through the ages

Throw your minds to a long time ago, when you were new to school, getting used to being away from home, and among teachers and other children your age. At some point then, we have all asked ourselves whether our parents and grandparents attended school like we did, with a new dress, a bag full of books and a pencil box. In our young minds, we believed that everyone goes to school in yellow buses, where they learn rhymes and ABCs and take lunch boxes. 

As adults, we know better now, yet we find it hard to trust anything other than a formal education with an established curriculum, even if the curriculum is taught at home by a private tutor. Several parents plan the child’s education even before they’re born and named! 

However, the concept of schooling is relatively new to mankind. Let us go back much further, back to when human beings were still hunter-gatherers, and agriculture wasn’t discovered. Parents used to give their children unlimited freedom because they believed that a child could learn to be a hunter-gatherer only if they explored nature on their own. 

However, when mankind discovered agriculture and began settling down, through a series of changes, children were regarded more as necessary resources to help around the farm. They were beaten and taught discipline, and to avoid being wilful. Even to this day unfortunately, there are still a few who resort to violence to suppress a child’s natural instincts to explore instead of understanding it. 

For some countries, like ancient Greece, this was incorporated in their governance. The military state of Sparta aimed to create an entire population of trained warriors. To this end, the society of Sparta was very unique. They trained their children, both boys and girls, in war from the age of 7. Boys would attend harsh training schools that would toughen them into adulthood through a life of self-discipline and simplicity. Those who failed to make it through their warrior examinations would be deemed an incomplete citizen, or a “perioikos”, without access to political decisions of the state. 

In Japan, during the Edo period (17th century to late 19th century), literacy was considered far more important. As the economy and business thrived in Japan during this period, people wished to be literate so people couldn’t cheat them. Children were commonly sent to schools associated with Buddhist temples, where monks, priests and samurai taught how to read, write and calculate on an abacus. These schools were very widespread and popular. It is said that by the end of the Edo period, the literacy rate in Tokyo was higher than most Western countries, at over 80%. 

In India, the famous Gurukul system was conceived in ancient times, where a child ready to begin his formal education would go to live at his Guru’s abode with a few other students, and devote themselves to obeying the Guru, and serving him. This is a strong root in the Indian tradition; even to this day, the teacher is considered equal to parents, as our gods. Based on caste, the child would learn a set of skills required to make him a highly specialised and skilled practitioner of his chosen field. Brahmins learned the Vedas and other scriptures, Kshatriyas learned governance and warfare, the Vaishyas learned trade and business, and the lower castes weren’t offered education. This system worked to create a highly efficient society of specialised workers in every field. 

The idea of education has been diverse across cultures, eras and geographies, depending on how children were perceived in each culture. There is no clear answer to: Which mode of education is superior. 

However, what is certain is that independence was always a much needed and continues to be one of the most in demand traits for any learner. Perhaps it is time for educators to take this from the old and tweak it to suit today’s world, to create thinkers, doers and innovators. Ensuring every child is independent will ensure higher learning and in turn betters achievers!

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