The biggest revolution in the field of education took place when the civilization laid the foundation of the world’s first writing technique. Storing information and passing it on became child play.
The Sumerians invented writing around 3100 BC. They first used pictrgrams and then cuneiform signs that consisted of around 600 wedge-shaped elements representing Sumerian syllables and numbers. Later Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians used these cuneiform signs to transcribe their languages. Cuneiform was the writing system used in Mesopotamians for over 300 years, with the last known cuneiform text written by Babylonians in the 2nd century AD.
Teachers were very strict. Students had to do a perfect job, or they were punished. In spite of the punishment they quite often received, most students wanted to go to school anyway. Someone who could read and write could always find a good job. Cuneiform was learned in Sumerian schools called edubbas, or tablet houses. Only a select group of boys were able to attend Sumerian schools. The boys were usually sons of the very wealthy.
Students worked very hard at Sumerian schools, and the school day lasted from early morning until evening. Students were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. The teachers severely disciplined the students. For example, a mistake on a clay tablet could merit a beating.
All the sacrifice and schooling was worth it. Once a student successfully completed twelve years of schooling, he was an official scribe, or writer. This was a prestigious position in Sumerian society. Scribes were very valuable in order to maintain and improve the record keeping that the Sumerians deemed so very necessary.
Throughout history, most children’s education came from their parents. If you were the son of a farmer in ancient Mesopotamia, you would learn the ways of a farmer. You would then take over the family farm and pass that knowledge down to your children. If you were a girl in ancient Mesopotamia, you learned the incredibly important skills of your mother – cooking, raising children, caring for the family, making clothes, possibly creating pottery, etc. In other words, you learned the occupation of your mother or father.
As a civilization contemporary with Egyptian civilization, Mesopotamia developed education quite similar to that of its counterpart with respect to its purpose and training. Formal education was practical and aimed to train scribes and priests. It was extended from basic reading, writing, and religion to higher learning in law, medicine, and astrology. Generally, youth of the upper classes were prepared to become scribes, who ranged from copyists to librarians and teachers.
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Ancient Mesopotamian Schools and Children’s Education