Education has changed radically over the past two years.
From face-to-face classes being the standard in early 2020, we’ve now evolved into a world where video lessons, digital homework, and virtual assessments have become the norm.
Granted, even as millions study everything from yoga to effective leadership and agile marketing at the family dinner table, problems of educational inequality persist.
Nevertheless, what can’t be denied is that thanks to this transformation, education is now accessible to people in the most far-flung of places.
With that in mind, and in conjunction with the United Nations’ International Day of Education on Jan 24, here’s a brief look at the history of learning and how society advanced from primitive scratches and scribbles to where we’re at.
Pictures on walls
Long before formalised education, humans used drawings on cave walls as a means of communicating stories and lessons.
To be clear, the scrawls — generally made in red or black pigment and often of formidable beasts — are believed to have been more religious in nature than educational. Even so, the drawings serve to illustrate how early man was likely just as interested in imparting knowledge as human beings today.
Interestingly, while later periods saw parents and, eventually, professional teachers, shoulder much of the educational weight for kids, researchers say that in primitive hunter-gatherer societies, children tended to educate themselves.
School’s in session
As primitive humans moved from caves and established more structured civilisations, and images gave way to writing, there appeared more of a need for formal education. Hence, the setting up of the first institutions of learning in Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt.
Accounts differ concerning how and where the first school was established and who was responsible for it — some credit Greek philosopher Pythagoras as founding an academy circa 510 BCE, while some others say schools were already in existence well before that in ancient Egypt. Yet what’s clear is that lessons in the early days were reserved exclusively for members of the highest stratum.
As civilisations advanced, from Rome to Baghdad, schools became prominent features of society. There were even tiered school systems, much like today, in the later Roman and Byzantine empires.
Printing and mass education
There were books in existence long before German inventor and publisher Johannes Guttenberg appeared on the scene.
The Chinese, who invented paper, had long been binding and distributing tomes. Yet Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 15th Century proved a game-changer that suddenly allowed for the bulk copying and production of books.
This mass explosion of knowledge didn’t immediately impact learning, however. But historians say it did pave the way for Christian Sunday schools, mandatory schooling and, eventually, the Industrial Revolution.
New approaches and tools
As industrialisation spread across Europe in the late 18th Century, learning was often viewed as work. As such, discipline was insisted on, and students were given no choice over what they could or could not study.
Even so, as the centuries turned and more classes of people were educated, the idea of learning began to change, resulting gradually in expanded curriculums and more playtime for students.
Crucial, too, to this change were technological inventions — like the television and yes, computers and the internet — that altered how people viewed the world.
Eventually, all these resulted in not just distance learning, but massive open online courses that could be taken by students asynchronously.
Digital education for all and shifting needs
Today, the internet and advancements in access speeds have changed the way education is delivered.
And shifting societal needs, due both to the pandemic and changing trends, have been just as instrumental in determining the structure of programmes as well as what and how students learn.
For example, while regular certificate, diploma and degree programmes remain popular, there has been a growing demand for micro-credentials — short, specialised programmes — to plug skills gaps in certain industries.
In a nutshell, consider direct selling and the skills one requires to advance in the field.
Yes, a business degree would offer today’s independent representatives and marketing professionals invaluable grounding. But just as essential would be to learn about problem solving and effective decision-making on top of how to deliver professional presentations.
It is for this reason that specialist e-learning platforms like qLearn, which deliver highly-targeted programmes designed and curated for business professionals, have thrived.
It is also why learning is more democratised than it’s ever been at any point in history!
The future’s so bright
While numerous predictions have been made, it’s tough to say what the future has in store for learning and whether it will evolve significantly from our current situation.
What we can say with certainty, is that the history of education reveals human beings to be a species that has consistently emphasised learning.
And this means that even as trends change, we will be sure to find a way to impart and gain knowledge.