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How the Current Education System came into existence?

Nearly all of the countries in the world follow the same education we see in India and elsewhere. Still, education in some countries is better implemented e.g. Japan, and Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland) than others like India, China, the US, etc.

But after studying extensively the education systems of different countries we have reached the conclusion that even though the education system is the same throughout the world but elements like socialism, well-trained teachers, and accountability are what makes some countries fare better than others.

But the topic of today’s post is not a comparative analysis of various education systems. Instead, we will discuss the evolution and history of the current (modern) education system. We’ll try to understand the conditions under which the modern education system developed in 18th-century northern Europe particularly Austria and Prussia and its subsequent copying by the US around 1839 by a person named Horace Mann and improving it.

But the uniformity of the syllabus and time period requirement (how many years to study). In 1892 a committee of 10, determined that the period of education will be 12 years, what to teach when to teach and syllabus, etc. Slowly higher education becomes prevalent.

Let’s start where it all started i.e. the Kingdom of Austria under Maria Theresa in the 1750s.

Historical Background

In the 18th century, the kingdom of Prussia (modern-day Germany) was the second country to implement free and compulsory education (the first being Austria under Maria Theresa). After the defeat in 1806 at the hands of Nepolean, it was decided that the reason the battle was lost was that Prussian soldiers were thinking for themselves instead of following orders.

To make sure this couldn’t happen again an 8-year system of schooling was created. This new system not only provided the skills needed for the early industrialized world such as reading, writing, and arithmetic but also a strict education that taught duty, discipline, respect for authority, and the ability to follow orders.

After the American Civil War, the Prussian model that was being taught in the northern United States was also integrated into the South. By the 1900s most of the compulsory schooling laws that implemented the new system had been passed. From then on, every American child is grown under the Prussian system

Elite children destined for higher offices went on to attend private schools while the rest who didn’t have any access to secondary education was the working class.

Through this system, the Prussian state tried to create social obedience in citizens. In truth, the entire purpose was to instill loyalty to the crown and to train young men for the military and bureaucracy. To achieve this, it was necessary to squeeze out all independent thinking from the masses.

Phases of education in Europe

Education in Europe has evolved through 5 phases. Let’s discuss the phases of educational evolution in Europe:

1. Greek schools and universities

This was the phase when education was only available to a few, but its accessibility wasn’t as limited as we will see in Europe during its dark ages (5th to 15th century)

2. Catholic church and Middle ages

The church had most of its power by interpreting the Bible. So The church had an incentive in NOT educating the masses. So education was avoided and most people were illiterate during the dark ages, rightly called so. Higher institutions were exclusively religious and run by monk orders like Florentine, Jesuits, etc

3. Enlightenment Phase

This phase started after the Reconquista (reclaiming Spain from Muslim rulers, 722 – 1492). The city of Toledo was at the center of all this and emerged as a center of learning. A huge cache of Arabian books was translated which introduced Christian Europe to a number of Indian ideas through Arabian sources, particularly philosophy and mathematics.

This introduced Europe to the scientific thoughts of the middle east and Asia proper (India, China, etc.). The philosophical understanding of the civilizations of the east helped Europe overcome its dark ages and a tradition of scientific thoughts was started with the likes of Copernicus, Kepler, Gallelio, and Tycho Brahe.

Read our post on how knowledge traveled to Europe by merchants during the age of discovery, if you want to know more.

4. Industrial Revolution

The mass education or increase in the accessibility of education to the masses was the main achievement of this period. Education which was religious in nature and was only accessible to the rich was started to offer to the masses. The main reason was the industrial revolution and the rich and wealthy needed people to work in their factories in addition to the fields. But unlike agriculture industries required skilled labor and hence the requirement for education arose.

This was the period when the current education system started to take shape initially in the kingdom of Austria (1750-1780) and then the kingdom of Prussia, especially after the defeat at the hands of Napolean in 1806.

5. Modern Age (After the 1870s)

The secularization of education was the main feature of this era. It was led by the US. After the introduction of the Prussian system of education by Hoarse Mann in 1839, public education become prevalent in the US. But it was still very much focused on religion.

But after the formation of the committee of Ten in 1892, education was given a formal form. The following things were decided by this committee:

  • The 12-year schooling system was proposed by this committee.
  • The syllabus was standardized
  • A wide variety of subjects were introduced which were earlier only Latin or Greek
  • The decision on when to offer a particular subject was also taken by this committee.

Problems it faced

Throughout the 20th century, USA’s education system was extremely flawed due to

  • Teachers weren’t trained
  • Schools were highly segregated as recently as the 1960s
  • The curriculum was overly focused on subjects like Greek and Latin

What is the Prussian model?

The current education system was developed in the kingdom of Prussia. Initially, it was an 8-year compulsory schooling which was later turned into 12-year schooling in the USA.

Purpose

A few of the stated aims of the Prussian model were:

  • To produce a docile factory or military workforce.
  • Teaching sub-ordination so that they can grow out to be a subordinate adult.
  • Bells, attendance, orders, licenses, constant testing, rankings, and class timetable was used to prepare them for their working days in factories.
  • Make them obedient to authority.
  • To flush out critical thinking so that they can be a great factory worker or military recruits.
  • Destroy the imagination
  • Going to school takes you to a place in the societal system as a cog nothing more.
  • By the year 1900, 34 states had compulsory schooling laws, and half the children attended one-room schools. By 1918, elementary school was made mandatory for every student.
  • It was designed in the industrial age, mainly to churn out factory workers.

The 3-tier model of Prussian Schooling

  1. Gymnasium/Realgymnasium: Existed to serve or empower ~0.5% with critical thinking (original thinking), and active literacy (persuasive language). The gymnasium focused on classical languages and humanities. The latter focused more on utilitarian subjects like modern languages, maths, and science.
  2. Realschule: Schooling for the ~5%, it focused on numeracy, passive literacy, and technical skills aiming to produce professional engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, and civil servants.
  3. Volkschule: Schooling for the rest 95%, focus on obedience, cooperation, and correct attitude, along with the rudiments of literacy, and official state myths of history

Problems with the Prussian model

  • One size fits all type model
  • Focuses on efficiency like factories
  • A fixed timeframe is set for everyone to pass through a fixed syllabus
  • Then students are segregated based on what they have achieved

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