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Education in Antiquity: An education designed to maintain social systems

canstockphoto26295238Learning contents:

In Ancient Egypt: This was a society-based caste system passed down from father to son. The “people” received professional training as well as some notions of reading and writing of hieroglyphics, used in administrative work, as well as simple mathematics and geometry. Only the sons of priests, architects, doctors and scribes learned hieroglyphics and were able to benefit from more complete instruction in the subjects of religion, law, astronomy, mathematics, mechanics and medicine.

In Ancient India: This was also a caste system based on a hierarchy from the Untouchables to the Brahmins, with only the Brahmins having access to higher education. This higher education was based on sacred texts written in Sanscrit and included grammar, literature, law, astronomy, medicine and mathematics.

In Persia: Education was regulated by the state and was military and moral in nature.

In Ancient China: The rare students who were allowed access to the Imperial Academy learnt literature, dynastic history, arithmetic and rhetoric.


Ancient Egypt: Education was mainly the responsibility of the head of the family. Further professional training was corporative. Higher education was solely for priests.

Ancient India: Elementary and professional education were provided by families of the middle castes, while higher education was provided to students by masters.

Teaching methods:

Ancient Egypt: memorization and imitation, with more rarely the use of games.

Ancient India: memorization (recitation), allowing the spirit of the sages to infiltrate the mind.

Persia: character is formed by practice and example.

Ancient China: importance of memory and veneration of books.

School organization:

Ancient Egypt: Only sons of the upper classes go to school. There is a distinction made between “l'at sebay.t” (school) and “per ankh” ("house of life") which was a more serious centre of higher learning.

Ancient India: There is no education available for girls. Secondary and primary schools for Sanskrits and for Muslims are developed but few children have access to them.

Ancient China: From the age of ten, children can go to school . However, due to the complex language, few are able to follow this path. To gain admission to the Imperial Academy, students must pass numerous examinations with increasing difficulties.


Ancient Egypt: Education was conformist and totalitarian with the use of corporal punishment.

Ancient India: The system of education developed passivity and contemplation with little regard for the physical and corporal worlds.

Ancient China: This was an elitist education system which disregarded manual work and was devoted to developing a static society. Originality, initiative and freedom were scorned.

Key concepts and important figures:

In China: The great philosophers Lao Tseu (Bad rulers leave their people in ignorance in order to govern better) and Confucius (“To learn without thinking is useless and to think without learning is dangerous”).

Further readings (in French):

Vial Jean, « L'Education dans l'Antiquité », Histoire de l'éducation, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France , «Que sais-je ?», 2009.

Éducation dans l'Antiquité selon la Wikipedia

Maison de vie dans l'Egypte antique selon la Wikipedia

Egypte selon l'édition électronique du Dictionnaire de la pédagogie de Ferdinand Buisson

Perse et Médie selon l'édition électronique du Dictionnaire de la pédagogie de Ferdinand Buisson

Chine selon l'édition électronique du Dictionnaire de la pédagogie de Ferdinand Buisson

Lao Tseu selon la Wikipedia

Confucius selon la Wikipedia