Education in Ancient India

In this post, we take a look at India education in the ancient past. The sub-continent of India has one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Their culture has had a strong influence on both the East and West.

Background

One unique characteristic of ancient education in India is the influence of religion. The effect of Hinduism is strong. The idea of the caste system is derived from Hinduism with people being divided primarily into four groups

  1. Brahmins-teachers/religious leaders
  2. Kshatriyas-soldiers kings
  3. Vaisyas-farmers/merchants
  4. Sudras-slaves

This system was ridged. There was no moving between caste and marriages between castes was generally forbidden. The Brahmins were the only teachers as it was embarrassing to allow one’s children to be taught by another class. They received no salary but rather received gifts from their students

What Did they Teach

The Brahmins served as the teachers and made it their life work to reinforce the caste system through education. It was taught to all children to understand the importance of this system as well as the role of the  Brahmin at the top of it.

Other subjects taught at the elementary level include the 3 r’s. At the university level, the subjects included grammar, math, history, poetry, philosophy, law, medicine, and astronomy. Only the Brahmins completed formal universities studies so that they could become teachers. Other classes may receive practical technical training to work in the government, serve in the military, or manage a business.

Something that was missing from education in ancient India was physical education. For whatever reason, this was not normally considered important and was rarely emphasized.

How Did they Teach

The teaching style was almost exclusively rote memorization. Students would daily recite mathematical tables and the alphabet. It would take a great deal of time to learn to read and write through this system.

There was also the assistance of an older student to help the younger ones to learn. In a way, this could be considered as a form of tutoring.

How was Learning Organized

School began at 6-7. The next stage of learning was university 12 years later. Women did not go to school beyond the cultural training everyone received in early childhood.

Evidence of Learning

Learning mastery was demonstrated through the ability to memorize. Other forms of thought and effort were not the main criteria for demonstrating mastery.


Conclusion

Education in India serves a purpose that is familiar to many parts of the world. That purpose was social stability. With the focus on the caste system before other forms of education, India was seeking stability before knowledge expansion and personal development. This can be seen in many ways but can be agreed upon is that the country is still mostly intact after several thousand years and few can make such a claim even if their style of education is superior to India’s.

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