The first schools were obviously linked to the appearance of writing, so it is not surprising that they appeared in Sumeria around 3,500 BC, when cuneiform writing appeared. Textbooks – or rather, text tablets – have been found in the city of Uruk, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, and consisted of hundreds of clay tablets containing lists of words that appeared to have been arranged in such a way. way to be memorized.
Although most of the tablets that have been found have to do with financial and administrative memorandums, these “study sheets” clearly indicate that not long after the invention of writing, a rigorous and formal teaching of it had already been designed . . In the middle of the third millennium there were already schools where children and adolescents were taught: the equivalent of notes and homework have been found in the city of Shurupak, dated around 2,500 BC. C. Now, since the children used to carry on the family tradition, the son of a carpenter would learn his father’s trade and end up as such. Hence, only the sons of kings, nobles and scribes received such training. On the other hand, although it was not common for girls to go to school, it was not prohibited either, as evidence has been found that there were female scribes in Mesopotamia.
The work that the students faced was hard because learning cuneiform fluently required dexterity and concentration . Not for that reason there was a proverb that said: “Whoever seeks to excel in the school of the scribes must get up at dawn.” Being a scribe was a job with a future: from keeping accounts and administrative matters to writing delivery notes, purchase-sale contracts or simple letters. So it is not surprising that their number increased until it became a social class.
From the archaeological remains found, it is deduced that the education of the scribes was carried out in private houses called eduba (school of scribes). The best example is House F in the city of Nippur, where some 1,500 pieces of tablets have been found dating to around 1,750 BC; most are school exercises done by students.
The Mesopotamian Curriculum
From these remains we have been able to deduce the curriculum of a typical Nippur eduba. What we could define as primary education obviously consisted of learning the basic concepts of cuneiform writing over four years , writing long lists of signs and words and copying simple texts. In the first, they learned writing techniques, such as working with clay and tablets, handling the brush to make the three types of wedge (horizontal, vertical and oblique), beginning to master the basic signs and writing people’s names. In this course the student learned the Syllabic Alphabet B, which are signs or syllables with a certain resemblance to Sumerian words but whose use was to teach the student to know the correct signs. In second grade, students memorized and wrote lists of words organized by topic, such as those in the group of wood, fur and leather… In third grade they went a little further and learned the numbers, measurements and common formulas used in the economic contracts . They also learned more complex word lists than the previous year. And in fourth year they began to work on complete sentences in Sumerian, copying model contracts and legal texts (such as the one for the sale of a house) and, finally, Sumerian proverbs. This served as a transition to secondary school, consisting of only two courses and whose objective was for the scribe to learn to write complete texts and to enjoy the main texts of Sumerian literature.
And the higher education centers, where you could learn medicine, astronomy, geometry…? For that we had to wait several centuries.
The first universities
In the 9th century, the first medical schools appeared associated with the bimaristans , a Persian word that means hospital or sick house, some centers where anyone who needed it was treated without having to pay anything (it is the closest thing to the first social security in the world), since they were financed through donations.
The other source of training in the Islamic world was the madrasas, which although we associate them with something similar to Catholic seminaries, is actually a term that designates any type of school. In 859 Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri, decided to use the fortune bequeathed to her by her father when he died to build a madrassa next to the Al-Qarawiyyin mosque in Fez, Morocco. Although it began as a place of study of the Qur’an and Islamic jurisprudence, it soon turned to the teaching of grammar, rhetoric, logic, medicine, mathematics and astronomy, making it the oldest university in the world.
Now, many European historians rebel against this title because they consider that the university is not defined by what it teaches but how it is taught , that is, that a university is “a community of teachers who have certain rights, such as administrative autonomy and design and implementation of study plans and research objectives, as well as the granting of publicly recognized titles”. And that is a purely European product. Considering it this way, the oldest university would be that of Bologna, founded in 1088 and recognized as such in 1158.