The first Mesopotamian schools were set up by temples, and were run by priests. Over time, however, the schools became secular (not based on religion) and regular teachers took over instead. The Mesopotamian education system was formally developed after 3100 BC, when the world’s first writing system was created.
This writing system, cuneiform, became a staple of Mesopotamian education. Cuneiform was a pictographic form of language, meaning that it used images/symbols to write whole words instead of something like the English alphabet, which has individual letters instead. There were over 1,000 symbols in the first system of cuneiform.
This was the main subject taught in Mesopotamia; if a student learned how to read and write, they’d always be able to find work. Cuneiform was used for both the drafting of new laws and the recording of stories/finances, which meant that it was very important to the infrastructure of the country.
The Mesopotamian education system also based much of its practice on the idea of corporal punishment. This meant that students would be physically punished if they broke a rule or got a question wrong.
Mesopotamian teachers were extremely strict with this; for example, a mistake as simple as writing the wrong word on a clay tablet could justify a beating. Many common schoolboy errors, such as talking out of turn or getting up without asking for the teacher’s permission, could be punished with whipping.
In Mesopotamia, the school-day would last from sunrise to sunset. This meant that, in some seasons, the school day may have been as long as 12 hours.
Only boys received a formal education in Mesopotamia, and only very wealthy boys. This meant that the Mesopotamian education system only benefitted the already rich and powerful, which made it difficult for peasants to climb the social hierarchy.
Although literacy became more widespread in later empires of Mesopotamia, the education system never expanded to match it. Boys would start school around seven or eight, and would stay in education until the age of nineteen or twenty.
Literacy was important in Mesopotamia for:
For a boy to become a priest, he would first have to complete the training of a scribe – twelve years of practice writing cuneiform in his school, as copying sacred texts was an important task for priests in Mesopotamia.
As previously stated, cuneiform was the main subject taught to Mesopotamian children. However, the boys would also learn about the history and geography of Mesopotamia, as well as basic mathematics.
Depending on what they wanted to specialize in as adults, they would also learn astronomy (the study of the stars), botany (the study of plants), architecture, engineering, botany, and zoology.
Although the most common job in Mesopotamia was farming, this was not taught in school; this is because the children who would go to school were the higher-class citizens of Mesopotamia, and only the peasants would be forced to work in that kind of job.
If Mesopotamian children didn’t go to school, they’d be taught by their parents instead of a teacher. This meant that, for most Mesopotamian boys, they would be taught how to farm by their fathers. Mesopotamian girls would learn the skills of motherhood, such as cooking, cleaning, and sewing.
In a similar fashion, Mesopotamian traders would teach their children the art of trade and finance; but unlike farming, this was taught to both boys and girls, as it was one of the few unisex jobs available in Mesopotamia.
– 3100 BC.
– Corporal punishment is the system of physically punishing students to teach good behavior. Students would be beaten or whipped in Mesopotamia if they broke a rule or failed to complete their work correctly.
– Wealthy boys.
– Seven or eight.