By the Bronze Age,
around 3000 BC, there were schools in Egypt
and West Asia and (later,
around 1500 BC) Greece
for a few boys, who learned to read and write and do math (so they could
keep accounts). These boys grew up to be scribes, who were a sort of
combination secretary/ accountant/lawyer for kings
and aristocrats. The schools were often in the king's palace, or run
by priests. The boys' parents probably paid for their education.
But many merchants, both men and women, also knew how to read and write, and so there were probably also schools for them. These schools probably involved a group of parents who hired a teacher and paid him to teach their children, maybe in an open square, maybe in a rented room, or maybe in one of their houses. Nobody knows anything about these schools, not even whether boys and girls went to the same schools. But still most children did not learn to read or write or count, and did not go to school at all.
In the Iron Age, after about 1000 BC, the invention of the alphabet made it a lot easier to learn to read and write, and so professional scribes stopped being so important. More children learned to read and write, and to keep accounts. A teacher rented a room, or picked a place in a park or square, and set up a school, charging parents so much a month for their kids to go there. (The way music lessons or tae kwon do classes still work today). Of course you could only go if your parents could afford it, and if they wanted you to go. Most children, still, didn't go to school, and didn't learn to read or write.
Around 500 BC, the Greeks developed a more organized system of education (or maybe it is just that we know more about it), where boys of different ages went to different teachers. Greek girls seem not to have gone to school much. Instead, their parents taught them at home, if they learned anything. (Though Sappho seems to have run a kind of school for girls). In the 300s BC, Plato and Aristotle started the first advanced schools, the ancestors of our universities.
The Romans greatly admired the Greek system of education, and didn't change it much, though at least some Roman girls certainly went to school. Romans who wanted their children to get a good education sent them to Greece for college. At the same time, the Germans in northern Europe mainly did not have schools at all. Historians argue about how many of the Romans learned to read or write. Some historians think that most Romans could read and write. Other historians think very few could, and that people in the country mostly could not.
With the fall of Rome, after 400 AD, fewer people seem to have learned to read or write. Even a lot of priests could not even read the Bible, though the bishops tried to make sure all the priests could read a little. Because of this, a lot of churches and monasteries began to run free schools for boys who were going to be monks or priests. Some girls who became nuns also learned to read and write. In the Islamic Empire after about 700 AD, a lot of mosques also opened schools. These schools were less interested in teaching reading, and mostly had their students memorize the Koran. In the Islamic Empire, reading and writing continued to be taught by private teachers in small schools.
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