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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.cave_man

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 knowledge!!


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).

Eton College


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.

Robert Walsh


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