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Ever since the existence of man the teaching and learning process has been

an integral part of human experience. The communication of knowledge and

practical skills has always been essential to the development of

individuals, groups and wider communities. If this is true of the most

primitive of communities it is all the more so in today’s complex society

where personal fulfilment depends to a large extent on one’s social role

which is often a direct result of acquired knowledge and the ability to

make the most of it. The ability to develop one’s critical sense, the

ability to analyse, to see how things and persons relate are all skills

that are the result of education.

It was not long before communities realised that if they needed people of

ability then it had to encourage education. After all a society of any kind

is not a mere abstraction but a number of individuals that are in some way

are related and interact. The development of society as a whole depends on

the development of each constituent part.

Even the Homo Habilis of the Stone Age had to learn to make rudimentary

weapons to defend himself and to hunt for food. He had to learn how to use

the skins of the animals to make basic protective clothing. The

transmission of knowledge and skills (education) allowed him to survive. We

are the living proof that he did survive; we have built upon his


Some early schools that still survive

In Britain, during the Middles Ages, formal education was already taking

shape. Schools ranged from those organised by the local parish to those

connected to Cathedrals, chantries and monasteries.

These gave a very elementary education. Pupils were given religious

instruction and were taught to read.

We also have the first grammar schools that prepared pupils for entrance

into the colleges in Oxford. The Bishop of Winchester founded Seinte Marie

College of Winchestre (chartered in 1382 and opened by him in 1394).

Another very prestigious institution, Eton College, was founded by Henry VI

in 1440. Both Winchester College and Eton College still exist as very

exclusive institutions.

Henry Fielding, the Duke of Wellington, William Gladstone and George Orwell

are among the many famous people who attended Eton.

Apart from those already mentioned there are a number of other ancient

schools that still survive: St Paul’s School founded in 1509 by John Colet

(?1467-1519). Rugby founded in 1567 and associated with the name of the

Victorian poet Matthew Arnold (1822-88).

All of these institutions provided specialised knowledge in Latin and Greek

necessary for their future studies in one of the Oxford colleges.

Apart from these academically orientated institutions there were also other

forms of formal education especially those of a vocational kind.

Apprentices learnt their trade skills in schools run by the various guilds.

Already we can see from the age of primitive man down to the Middle Ages

and the Renaissance the two essential forms of the modern system of

education in England today. From early times we have two separate systems

providing different types of education: academic and vocational.

We also see existing side by side two types of educational institutions:

secular and religious. From early times there has always been a close

association between the Church and education which has survived throughout

the ages. Schools run by religious organisations have always had a profound

influence on the development of education and still offer an invaluable

service to the nation.



The events that lead directly to the birth of the modern system of

education in England are to be sought mainly in the second half of the 19th-


There were certain individuals at the beginning of the 19th century who

were in favour of widespread education, however, for a number of reasons,

they did not have the backing either of the government or of the people.

Later on in the century leaders of the Chartist Movement and the Radicals

were in favour of some sort of national system of education. However, it is

safe to say that there was no widespread desire for the education of the

population as a whole. In the social legislation of this period education

did not become a real priority until the year of the first Education Act,


Obstacles in way of a national system of free compulsory education

The establishment of a national system of education came late in England

mainly because of the social, economic and religious climate of the


The higher classes of society had no interest in advocating the

cultural development of the working classes. On the contrary, the

effects of the revolutionary spirit in Europe reinforced conservative

attitudes that were certainly not conducive to advocating the

development of the critical faculties of the people as a whole.

Neither did the vast majority of the working

class have any real

interest in education. Child labour was common practice in this period

and working-class families were very reluctant to give up the earnings

of their children for the benefit of education. The employment of

children continued to increase even after 1850.

Also the effect of Protestantism, with its emphasis on individualism,

personal salvation, the private reading and interpretation of

Scripture, ran contrary to any sort of collectivist thought.

Religious conflict also delayed the establishment of a national system

of education. One example of this can be seen in the reaction to the

clauses regarding education in the 1843 Factory Bill. There was

violent opposition on the part of nonconformists and Catholics alike

because, according to the Bill, headmasters had to be of the Church of

England. Furthermore, the children were to be taught the catechism and

be present at liturgical celebrations as well as service on Sundays.

The Bill failed.

The idea of secular education had never been popular during the

century. Education had almost exclusively been under the control of

the established church. Furthermore, we should not forget the conflict

between secular and religious thought that characterised the century,

especially the latter half. Given the cultural and religious climate

of the century it became obvious that any nondenominational system of

education would be well nigh impossible. It was only in the 20th

century, with the rise of indifference towards religious teaching,

that general nondenominational schooling became possible.

Denominational education was further reinforced by the increase in the

Catholic population due to the wave of Irish immigrants during and

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