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How did the Current Education System come into existence?

Nearly all countries follow the same education system seen in India and elsewhere. However, education is better implemented in some countries, such as Japan and the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland), compared to others like India, China, and the US.

After extensively studying various education systems, we concluded that while the core system is similar worldwide, factors like socialism, well-trained teachers, and accountability make some countries perform better than others.

But this post isn’t about comparing different education systems. Instead, we’ll discuss the evolution and history of the modern education system. We’ll explore the conditions under which it developed in 18th-century northern Europe, particularly in Austria and Prussia. We’ll also look at how it was adopted and improved by the US around 1839 by Horace Mann.

The uniformity of the syllabus and the required period for education were established in 1892 by a Committee of Ten, which determined that education would last 12 years. This committee also decided what should be taught and when it should be taught, thereby standardizing the curriculum. Over time, higher education became more widespread.

Now let’s step back and start where it all began: the Kingdom of Prussia under Frederick the Great in the 1750s.

History of Education in Europe

Education in Europe has evolved through 5 phases. Let’s discuss the phases of educational evolution in Europe:

1. Greek schools and universities

This was the phase when education was only available to a few, but its accessibility wasn’t as limited as we will see in Europe during its dark ages (5th to 15th century)

2. Catholic church and Middle ages

The church had most of its power by interpreting the Bible. So The church had an incentive in NOT educating the masses. So education was avoided and most people were illiterate during the dark ages, rightly called so. Higher institutions were exclusively religious and run by monk orders like Florentine, Jesuits, etc

3. Enlightenment Phase

This phase started after the Reconquista (reclaiming Spain from Muslim rulers, 722 – 1492). The city of Toledo was at the center of all this and emerged as a center of learning. A huge cache of Arabian books was translated which introduced Christian Europe to several Indian ideas through Arabian sources, particularly philosophy and mathematics.

This introduced Europe to the scientific thoughts of the Middle East and Asia proper (India, China, etc.). The philosophical understanding of the civilizations of the East helped Europe overcome its dark ages and a tradition of scientific thoughts was started with the likes of Copernicus, Kepler, Gallelio, and Tycho Brahe.

Read our post on how knowledge traveled to Europe by merchants during the age of discovery, if you want to know more.

4. Industrial Revolution

The mass education or increase in the accessibility of education to the masses was the main achievement of this period. Education which was religious and was only accessible to the wealthy, was started to be offered to the masses. The main reason was the industrial revolution and the wealthy needed people to work in their factories in addition to the fields. But unlike agriculture, industries required skilled labor and hence the requirement for education arose.

In the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia (northern parts of modern-day Germany) was the first to implement municipality-funded compulsory education. This was further accelerated after the Prussian defeat by Napoleon in 1806, it was believed that the loss occurred because Prussian soldiers were thinking independently instead of following orders.

For the creation of a socially obedient and disciplined citizen that follows authority, an 8-year schooling system was established. This system provided essential skills for the early industrialized world, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, and enforced a strict education that emphasized duty, discipline, respect for authority, and the ability to follow orders.

The main goal was to instill loyalty to the crown and train young men for the military and bureaucracy. It was essential to eliminate all independent thinking from the masses to achieve this.

5. Modern Age (After the 1870s) / USA Phase

The secularization of education was the main feature of this era. It was led by the US. After the introduction of the Prussian system of education by Hoarse Mann in 1839, public education became prevalent in the US. But it was still very much focused on religion, Greek and Latin.

However, after the formation of the Committee of Ten in 1892, education was given a formal form. This committee decided the following things:

  • This committee proposed the 12-year schooling system.
  • The syllabus was standardized
  • A wide variety of subjects were introduced which were earlier only Latin or Greek
  • This committee also decided on when to offer a particular subject.

Why does every country have nearly the same Education System?

After World War II, most of the powerful countries like Germany, France, the UK, Russia (USSR), Japan, and China, except for the USA, were left in ruins. Others, like India, were emerging from colonization.

Many countries, weakened by the war, lacked the influence or financial resources to fund research like the USA. They simply copied the American system and adapted it to their needs. However, India, still influenced by its colonial past, adopted it directly without modifications, even retaining English as the medium of instruction.

Every country acknowledged the dominance of the USA, which then exported its institutions, work methods, culture, and most importantly, its education system, through corporations and soft power.

The USA follows the Prussian model, which we discussed earlier. Shouldn’t we examine its pros and cons in comparison to our own Gurukul Education System? But that’s a topic for another day. Today, let’s discuss the Prussian model in detail.

What is the Prussian model?

The current education system was developed in the Kingdom of Prussia. Initially, it was an 8-year compulsory schooling which was later turned into 12-year schooling in the USA.


A few of the stated aims of the Prussian model were:

  • To produce a docile factory or military workforce.
  • Teaching sub-ordination so that they can grow out to be a subordinate adult.
  • Bells, attendance, orders, licenses, constant testing, rankings, and class timetables were used to prepare them for their working days in factories.
  • Make them obedient to authority.
  • To flush out critical thinking so that they can be a great factory worker or military recruits.
  • Destroy the imagination
  • Going to school takes you to a place in the societal system as a cog nothing more.
  • By the year 1900, 34 states had compulsory schooling laws, and half the children attended one-room schools. By 1918, elementary school was made mandatory for every student.
  • It was designed in the industrial age, mainly to churn out factory workers.

The 3-tier model of Prussian Schooling

  1. Gymnasium/Realgymnasium: Existed to serve or empower ~0.5% with critical thinking (original thinking), and active literacy (persuasive language). The gymnasium focused on classical languages and humanities. The latter focused more on utilitarian subjects like modern languages, maths, and science.
  2. Realschule: Schooling for the ~5%, it focused on numeracy, passive literacy, and technical skills aiming to produce professional engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, and civil servants.
  3. Volkschule: Schooling for the rest ~95%, focuses on obedience, cooperation, and correct attitude, along with the rudiments of literacy, and official state myths of history.

Problems with the Prussian model

  • One size fits all type model. There is no scope for individuality.
  • It focuses on efficiency like factories. So the same subjects are taught in a time-bound manner.
  • A fixed timeframe is set for everyone to pass through a fixed syllabus.
  • Then students are segregated based on what they have achieved.

2 thoughts on “How did the Current Education System come into existence?”

  1. Read your article and liked it very much where you covered our Vedic knowledge and wisdom. we at ISKCON BHAGAVATA MAHAVIDYALAYA have courses to dive deep in vedic text given by our sages.

  2. Gurukul Barara is considered the best Gurukul in Haryana, a state in India. Located in the peaceful town of Barara, it has a long-standing reputation for providing excellent education and character development.

    Gurukul Barara follows the traditional Gurukul system, which focuses on building strong relationships between students and teachers. The teachers at Gurukul Barara are highly qualified and passionate about their subjects. They provide individual attention to each student, helping them grow academically and morally.

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