Continuous Learning – The Story of Education

The First Revolution – The Invention of Writing

The first significant advance in education arose as a result of the invention of writing. In the ancient world, formal education was centered around the capacity to read and write. This was, however, limited to those in power or in high ranks amongst the priests. In ancient Egypt, around 2000 BCE, this meant that a few privileged boys were taught how to read and write in hieroglyphic scripts. In Mesopotamia, scribes also learned about measurements and calculations. In ancient Indian Vedic schools (1500 to 600 BCE), learning was passed primarily orally and mostly only to boys. In ancient China (2000 BCE) the state was involved in teaching reading and writing, but this was limited to the children of the upper classes.

For the rest of the population and nearly all girls, education meant following one’s parents. Learning was “on the job” and meant manual labor in agriculture or as an artisan in a craft.

There were some exceptions, such as Nalanda University (in present-day Bihar), which was a Buddhist monastery and university. A wide range of subjects were taught, and students attended from many other Asian countries.

However, in most cultures, other than for medicine and law, the priests and the state continued to be the primary providers of formal schooling of young males and the employer for these “educated” youths.

The Second Revolution – The Printing Press

It was a combination of the printing press and a revival of learning during the Renaissance that began to open up the world of reading and writing to a wider populace and gradually to girls. In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and a revolution in education began. As books became cheaper to print and buy, more and more people became literate. The demand to be taught and to learn a wide variety of subjects grew rapidly.

John Amos Comenius (1592 –1670), a Czech philosopher, is considered the father of modern education. Comenius encouraged the teaching of subjects in native languages instead of just Latin. He developed a methodology of moving up “standards” from basic to more advanced. Comenius pushed for the education of all classes of children (poor and rich) and women. He influenced the manner of education in a large number of countries.

Comenius saw education as the path through which humanity would make a better world. He wrote, “We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate people because they were born in another country, because they speak a different language, or because they take a different view on this subject or that is a great folly. I implore you, for we are all equally human. Let us have but one end in view: the welfare of humanity. The school is the [factory] of humanity.”

Schools and universities, along the European model, started being set up in many countries around the world. A system of specialization, grading, exams, and degrees was developed. Going to school and, if possible, university became a “must-have” for millions of people worldwide.

The Third Revolution – The Internet

In a rush to be accepted in a top university and the eagerness to “get a degree” and score high marks, we now seemed to have forgotten what Comenius explained “education” really meant. In the conventional educational set up, learning is limited to young people who then graduate, get a job, and leave learning aside for the rest of their lives.

The Internet has now shaken up this old approach to learning and education. Through the Internet:

  • Courses can be pursued without physically being in attendance
  • The cost of education is dramatically lower
  • Employers are increasingly testing skills directly, rather than just relying on a piece of paper stating that a student has a “degree.”
  • Anyone can attend online courses, and there is no restriction to just males or females

There are, of course, challenges. Since anyone can set up a course and “teach,” false information is more easily spread. There is less of a check on wrong ideas being spread. These are issues to be tackled by all of us.

Future trends are, however, firmly along the lines of online learning. Most importantly, education has begun to be seen not as an activity you do just when you are young. Education and learning is a continuous process for people of all ages.

Let us keep in mind what John Amos Comenius wrote:

“Education does not consist in stuffing [students’] heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree.”

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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