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The first formal education systems developed when writing became an important means of communication. Around 300 B.C. the Sumerians and the Egyptians (who invented cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing) started creating centers where reading and writing could be taught to larger segments of the population. After the development of the first alphabet by Semitic (Hebrew) people in Syria between 1800 and 1000 B.C., schooling became associated with religious education. Priests in this region set up schools in which they could teach the sacred Hebrew writings of the Torah (the entire body of Jewish law and learning) to privileged boys.
It is believed that the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 B.C.) opened the first truly public schools that were accessible, in theory, to anyone who wanted to learn. He taught literature, music, conduct, and ethics (a system of moral values). The Western model of education is based on the Greek system, which emerged around the fifth century B.C. and stressed military training. In the Greek city-state of Sparta, boys were taught to fight while being schooled in reading, writing, and music. In other parts of Greece boys were trained in poetry, athletics, and the social and political arts in the hopes of molding them into ideal citizens and statesmen.
Further Information: Guteck, G. L. The History of the Western Educational Experience. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1995.
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