14.09.2015

The evolution of educational systems through history

Image | Phil Roeder

Over the years educational models have changed in step with society, adapting to the circumstances and needs of each era. As is only logical, the educational reality today is nothing like that centuries ago.

If we go back to prehistory, the educational model, if we might call it that, mainly depended on the figure of the mother. Women were in charge of almost all education, while the father figure centred on more concrete aspects related to subsistence, such as hunting and survival. This was a very primary and individual system through which children acquired from their parents the essential knowledge necessary to meet basic needs.

A first great change, or even revolution, came about in Sumer, Mesopotamia, in 2000 BC, when the first schools appeared, centring mainly on teaching writing, and distinguished essentially by the fact that it went a step beyond meeting everyday needs. The people benefitting from this new model were, however, limited to a privileged class.

Greece and Rome

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The concept of the school as we understand it today – an institution complementing family-based education – played an important role in Ancient Greece. It was at this point when schools first shed their links to religious institutions, present since antiquity, giving way to a more global concept and seeking to cultivate the spirit.

Education in Greece, and also subsequently in Ancient Rome, sought to provide students with a comprehensive education. By means of instruction in all necessary knowledge, pupils could be fully integrated into society. Different subjects were taught, like Arithmetic, Music and Physical Education. And in Greece there already existed what we know today as university education, based on knowledge transmitted by great teachers. It should be noted, however, that schools in Greece were private and not open to the entire population, and in Rome education was also restricted to the social elite.

18th Century

A key turning point came when in 1787 Frederick William II of Prussia enacted a scholastic code that wrested responsibility for education from the clergy and assigned it to a Ministry of Education. In this way the State came to be responsible for schools through a coordinated academic system. This code was notable for requiring all children to attend primary school, with a view to offering basic education to all of them, while providing for the exclusion of students exhibiting poor conduct.

Since then basic education has continued to be obligatory for all children, but even today this aspiration is far from reality. According to UNESCO figures there are some 57 million unschooled children in the world today, half of them living in countries racked by conflicts.

The present day

Our own era also deserves to be underscored in history, thanks to the change borne of technology and the possibilities that its integration into the classroom offers. Thanks to technology we have access to more customised education, making it possible to meet the specific needs of each student, adapting the pace of learning to his or her capacities.

In addition, as has been stressed by the Fundación Santillana, “technology has the potential to help transform school systems into much more flexible and effective mechanisms.”

The teacher’s role has also been bolstered by the advent of technology in schools, as thanks to the opportunities that it offers routines can be optimised and lessons complemented with a range of highly varied elements. We have gone from blackboards to digital elements, which also means that classes are more enjoyable and entertaining. The Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation, through the mSchools programme, offers the educational applications platform Toolbox, a compilation of resources evaluated by teachers designed so that students, parents and educators can begin to take advantage of quality mobile educational contents on a regular basis.

In many countries today it is standard practice for each student to have his own computer. The use of technology in education will be increasingly widespread and important, and not only in the most developed countries. The UNESCO itself indicates that technology can contribute to universal access to education, so as the use of technology expands, it will play an ever more significant role in education around the world.