The Evolution of Education

A glimpse into the past and a prediction for the future


Micah Gerstner, Editor-In-Chief

As a student who used to love going to school every day, I’ve realized that I no longer enjoy it. Every day feels the same: I wake up, go to class where I sit in a chair and listen to a teacher talk for around 50 minutes, before I go to the next class where I’ll likely sit in a chair and listen to another teacher talk. Later, I’ll sit at my desk for a few more hours doing school work, and if I’m lucky I’ll have time to play a game, work on a side project, read, or chat with my friends. At the end of the day, I’ll go to sleep; the next morning, I will wake up and inevitably repeat the cycle of sitting and learning.  Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how I used to be so excited for school when I was little. I would wonder what I would learn the next day and think of infinite impractical uses for this knowledge. Today, I sit at my desk and write papers about facts and ideas my teachers share with me. By examining the history of schooling and examining how the current system hurts students, educators can better understand why the current system exists and how altering the way they think about the school can improve the quality of education for students.

In the West, formal education originated in Athens as a way for the boys of the elite to become literate and physically fit, as well as to instill morals into the Greek youth. Later this would evolve to a system that would educate children from ages 7 to about 20 in literature, math, and philosophy, with the last few years spent in military training. This system would persevere for many more centuries, changing only the subjects of education, who controlled education, and who could attend. This system would remain relatively unchanged, only changing what was taught and who ran the schooling, until the Reformation, where importance was placed on elementary education and instruction in the local language, as opposed to Latin. 

The 19th century brought an emphasis on instilling life skills into students as well as learning sciences, literature, and humanities. On top of this, the first kindergartens would be opened, education would be regulated by the state, and girls could finally begin to receive formal education in some parts of the world. Further developments would be noted in the 20th century, such as increasing the equality of opportunity, exploring child-centric education, and standardizing the education system. These ideas continue to develop in the 21st century, with individuals such as Salman Khan of Khan Academy and Ken Robinson advocating for even more child-centric education.

For a majority of history, education has been exclusive: given only to the rich and the religious. Only in the past few hundred years has the diversity in gender, socio-economic status, race, and sexuality been acknowledged, and even today there are still political battles to ensure that students cannot be discriminated against for these reasons. Despite the diversity which can be found in the students, the modus operandi of education hasn’t particularly changed. In the current system, the school caters to average students who neither excel or lag behind in their studies. 

The schooling system currently produces mostly average students. If a student is lagging behind, they receive special instruction so that they can reach the average at a minimum, whereafter they may receive no more help. If a student is ahead, they may be admonished for working on something they aren’t supposed to be doing at this moment in time or even allow their performance to slip as they instead focus on other things that interest them. By pushing the students who perform extremely well or poorly toward the average, there is often is no room for students to truly excel. 

Naturally, there will be students who perform extremely well in this system and go beyond the expectations set for them. I would argue that these cases happen in spite of the school system, not because of the school system. Typically, this is because teachers recognize the ability of a child and work with them to nurture their abilities. This could manifest as working extra with students to ensure that they master a topic or providing extension topics for advanced students. Oftentimes, these teachers aren’t even one of their school teachers: they could very well be a coach, a parent, or even an educational YouTuber. These individuals could only go above and beyond because of something outside of the system which enables them to do so.

Considering that a teacher is limited in what they can do for students — after all their workday is spent with these kids and they need a break from them — it is worth considering how students can benefit from the personalization they receive from a teacher, but also how this could look on a larger scale. After all, it must almost be impossible for a teacher to provide unique instruction to each student. I challenge this notion by considering the wide variety of technology available to us today. The internet provides so many resources for learners, including full lectures, videos of experiments, short videos which explain complex topics in-depth, and even poem analyses. With such a wealth of information available on the internet, I frequently wonder why many schools and teachers haven’t taken steps toward individualization.

There are a variety of methods that can be used to implement an individualized education. One such method which could exist in the current education system requires creating a digital center for all the content the teacher must cover in a year. This digital center could be a website, a PowerSchool Learning page, or even a Google Classroom. After creating this center, it should be populated with a variety of learning materials, including videos, worksheets, literature, presentations, and quizzes pertaining to each module. It could even record video recordings of the lectures teachers give on the topics so that students can listen back to what they said in class. In order to allow for a greater degree of individualization, teachers could allow students to approach these modules in whichever order they would like or allow unique forms of final assessment including presentations, art projects, designing posters, or writing an essay.

Even if the technology for entirely personalized learning isn’t available yet, it could certainly be an aspiration for the future. As more websites such as Kognity and KhanAcademy are developed, there is a visible pathway to a future where each student engages in topics they find interesting in a way that suits them.