Who invented school? (Homework & Exams?)

who invented school

School is something that all of us have to go through in the younger years of our lives. In fact, most of us still go back to school, even as adults or senior citizens. However, we do not actually think about the concept of school itself. Such as who invented schools and why they exist.

Modern schools were invented by an American named Horace Mann. Horace Mann proposed a universal schooling system when he was the secretary of education in Massachusetts. However, school as a concept went back to much earlier. It is believed that the first school system was established in ancient China in the 2nd millennium BC.


This article discusses who invented school and why schools exist. We also explore who invented school-related things, such as homework, examinations and universities. Lastly, we check if it is legal to not go to school.

Why Do Schools Exist?

A school is an educational institution created to provide spaces for students to learn from their teachers. Teachers usually teach content set by the national education systems and are trained on their tasks.

Almost all countries have a formal education system, where children go through a series of schools and learn progressively more difficult subjects and skills. Students who are capable of performing may proceed to higher learning institutions such as colleges or universities.

Schools exist for many reasons, such as building national character, developing skills to contribute to society, and many more.

Human Experience Beyond Family: For many children, a school may present their first life experience beyond their immediate family. They encounter many other people of similar age and learn to interact with other adults who are not part of their family.

This helps children develop social skills and the ability to navigate and function as a part of a community.

Teaches Foundational Skills: Schools are often the place where children learn many basic skills and abilities that they can later expertise in or build a career on. These basic skills may not be immediately teachable at home, as not all parents have these skills. Schools may be a better place to teach it.

For example, the skills of calculating and developing numerical literacy could be learned in school. If the child sees an interest, the child can choose to use the skill further and eventually end up in a career in accounting or actuarial science.

A child can also transform their ability to read into eventually becoming a lawyer, writer, or university professor later in life.

Safe Place For Children: In many societies, it is common to see both parents working to earn an income. This means children may need a safe place to be where they are cared for by a trusted adult.

In this case, usually, the school performs the job. Children go to school during the day and spend time learning. The school usually takes care of their immediate needs, such as food and shelter. Once they finish, parents who get off work may then drop by and pick up the children.

Repositories Of Knowledge: Some say universities are the true repositories of knowledge. However, universities cannot exist in every single human settlement. You can only find universities in large cities or townships.

For many smaller communities, the school is where the library is and the teachers with the expertise are. It may be the only place they can access a large array of knowledge they can learn from.

The Internet may have changed this. But schools may still be where they can access a live expert, their teachers.

Uniformed Educational Experience: One of the biggest issues, when societies do not have school is that learning is not a consistent experience. Children of nobilities spend time learning how to read, write, count, and develop thinking skills, while children of peasants learn to toil in the field.

Such an uneven educational experience perpetuates social class and removes societal upward mobility.

School helps to address such issues by ensuring all children get as equal of an educational experience as possible. Schools ensure children learn from the same curriculum, and in some countries, wear even the same clothes to school.

Develop National Character: Schools are where many children learn about the community they are in. They learn about their country, society, place under the sun, and rights and privileges as citizens.

This develops a stronger sense of national character in children and helps them become more a citizen of their country. They also learn to develop a patriotic spirit and protect their country.

What Makes Schools Different From Other Types of Learning?

Schools are different from other types of learning in that it is formalized, uniform, and structured. Learning is conducted in a set location, and teachers teach from a formalized set of content. Schools also may contain rules that regulate the behavior of students and teachers.

Location: informal learning tends to be conducted without any set location. Children may learn how to use a hoe, milk a cow, cut onions, or operate a machine at home, at the workshop, or in the kitchen.

However, schools usually have a physical location. It may exist as a building or a large complex of buildings to facilitate teaching and learning. Such may be due to the difficulties in accessing expertise. There may only be an algebra teacher in the whole town, meaning students need to go to school to learn from the teacher.

However, such distinction is being blurred as online classes become more popular, meaning students access school and formal learning experiences on the interwebs.

Content: Informal learning tends to be done without a set structure, and children learn more practical living skills from their parents or elders.

Schools teach highly structured content and may be uniform across the community or country. The set of content is called a curriculum and may be taught to children using textbooks or other uniformed content.

Aside from teaching practical living skills, schools also may teach more conceptual and theoretical knowledge and information, such as critical thinking.

Teacher: Non-school-based learning tends to be done informally by teachers who may not be certified with the skills. A typical informal learning experience may include an elder or parent teaching the children certain skills or knowledge. Such an approach may work for certain skills and knowledge but may not work for all.

As such, schools tend to feature trained teachers specializing in a particular field of skills and knowledge. For example, you may see a science teacher that specializes in physics. School teachers are formally trained and may be more competent in teaching more specialized subjects.

Rules: Schools also differ from the everyday learning experience in that more set rules regulate the behavior of everyone in the school. This is because school tends to be the first place many children learn to obey rules to become citizens who obey laws in the future.

Students learn to obey and perhaps appreciate rules such as dressing well, being on time, speaking politely, and many more. Parents may enforce these rules at home during informal learning, but schools also tend to be stricter.

Who Invented School?

Modern school systems were invented by Horace Mann (1796 – 1859). Horace Mann was an American educational reformer who strongly advocated abolishing slavery.

Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts. Son of a poor farmer, Horace barely attended school. He credited his learning experience to the Franklin Public Library, the first public library in the United States at the time.

At the age of twenty, Horace was able to enroll himself at Brown University. He graduated in three years as a valedictorian. Horace later read law and became a lawyer. In 1827, he was elected into the Massachusetts legislature.

Horace Mann became secretary of education in Massachusetts before being elected into the United States House of Representatives (1848 – 1853).

Horace has been well remembered for championing the concept that education should be universal, non-sectarian, and free. He also emphasized that education should be about developing civic virtue, character, and social skills, rather than just religious manners.

To him, a universal public education system is the best way to turn wild, unruly American children into disciplined, respectful, and informed citizens of the United States of America. Universal education would also serve as a platform for social mobility, allowing children to escape their parents’ social roles.

Horace Mann’s vision of universal public education won much support across the house, especially from modernizers who supported his plans to build public schools. His school system was eventually adopted by most US states.

Some of the concepts Horace Mann championed for public school systems still remain today, such as:

  • Encouraging females to take up the teaching profession
  • Secular, non-religious education
  • The teaching of whole words instead of alphabet letters
  • Teachers should be trained formally before they can teach.
  • Schools should be open and accessible to children of all backgrounds.

However, schools existed much earlier before Horace Mann. Most early human civilizations have a system of educating their young.

The earliest concept of a school was probably developed by the rulers Yao and Shun in ancient China from 2400 to 2300 BC. A formal school system was developed during the Xia dynasty (2076-1600 BC)

Ancient Egypt may also lay claim to being the first inventor of schools. The earliest proven example of a school could be traced back to the middle kingdom period, during the reign of Mentuhotep II (2061 – 2010 BC). It was believed that his treasurer, Kheti, may have established schools to teach cuneiform writing.

Similar to ancient Egypt, the ancient Mesopotamian civilization also created schools to teach writing. It was believed that as cuneiform writing becomes more and more complex, a systemized way to teach it is needed.

As such, temples started schools to formally teach boys to become scribes. These schools are called Eduba and may have been established as early as 2000 BC. Eventually, these boys become literate in the civilization, such as priests or government officials.

Who Invented Examinations?

Henry Fischel, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Indiana, invented the modern concept of an examination. However, academic examinations may be credited to Imperial China, who invented them to select officers for its civil service. The civil examination system was established during the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 AD).

Horace Mann may have invented school, but he did not invent examinations. You may credit Henry Fischel for inventing modern examinations for good or for bad.

Henry Fischel was a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Indiana. As a young man, he was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, but he survived the war.

Henry Fischel invented the examination as a way to test his students, as he noticed students were not taking their studies seriously. These students likely believed that they would pass to the next class.

This motivated Henry to develop a way to test and see if his and his colleagues’ effort in teaching these students were a waste of time.

However, examination as a concept may have existed way earlier before Henry Fischel’s assessment systems. In imperial China, a yearly examination was held every year to select the candidates to enter the civil service of the emperor.

The examination may come in multiple forms and ways. Still, it was formalized and set in stone during the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618). The system remained for the subsequent dynasties until the end of Imperial China in 1911.

Who Invented Homework?

The modern concept of homework was invented by an Italian named Roberto Nevilis in 1905. He believed that homework helps students to learn to be efficient and develop initiative and independence. However, concepts similar to homework were mentioned in ancient Rome in the first century AD.

Roberto Nevilis is an Italian teacher who proposed the concept of homework. To him, homework provides students with the opportunity to:

To Work And Learn In Individual Pace: Roberto Nevilis likely understood that students learn and pick up skills at a different pace. This means homework may be a good opportunity for the student to work and learn at an individual pace.

To Adjust To Best Learning Time: Students are individuals and may have a preferred time to work. Some may learn well at night, while some are more of a morning person. Homework gives students the freedom to decide when to engage in learning.

Work Independently: Homework allows students to work and learn at the pace and speed they find challenging. This means high-performing students can work on more materials faster without being bored out waiting for slower students.

Roberto Nevilis also believes that homework may be a way to instill independence, responsibility, and discipline.

Students may likely have to be more proactive while completing homework, as they do not have a teacher. This means students learn to research, extract information, and process it to complete their homework.

Who Invented University?

The inventor of the university may depend on your definition of a university. It may be a group of Catholic monks who founded the University of Bologna in 1088. It can also be Fatima Al-Fihri, who founded the mosque that became the University of Al-Karaouine. Plato may also be credited as the founder of the university.

Unlike schools, it may be slightly harder to determine who is the inventor of the university. This is because the university can be defined differently based on how wide you throw the net.

Suppose you regard the university as a European concept and a higher education institution that issues degrees. In that case, you may consider the Catholic monks who founded the University of Bologna as the inventor of the university. Established in 1088, the university issued degrees for theological and also secular studies.

Suppose you see university as a European invention focusing on learning and research. In that case, you may say that Plato is the inventor of the university.

Plato founded the Platonic academy in 387 BC in Athens, Greece. The academy teaches mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and politics. One of the most celebrated students from the academy is Aristotle, who studied here for twenty years.

Suppose that you think universities may be institutions of higher learning that may have traditions outside of medieval Europe. If that is the case, then you may be looking at Fatima al-Fihri as the inventor of the university.

Fatima al-Fihri founded a mosque in medieval Morocco in 859 AD, eventually becoming the University of Al-Karaouine. The university is still operational and issues degrees for theological and secular fields.

You May Be Interested In: Who Founded University (And When?) 

Is It Legal To Not Go To School?

Education is compulsory in the United States, meaning it is illegal for children to not attend school. Children of school must attend recognized public or private schools, with exceptions like homeschooling. Children must remain in school until at least 16.

Compulsory education law was enacted as early as 1647 in Massachusetts while it was still a British colony. However, the law was revised and strengthened in 1852.

The 1852 law requires every city and town to offer primary school and teach grammar and basic mathematics. If there are parents who refuse to send their children to school, they are fined and, in some cases, lose guardianship rights to their children. These children may then be placed under state or other guardianship.

The law was eventually adopted by all the states in the US. Mississippi was the last state to pass compulsory education laws in 1917.

Many reasons contributed to such a law being passed and accepted by many. First is that many states understand that private, church-sponsored education common at that time may not be the best way to establish an American identity.

The United States experienced a large migration wave in the second half of the 19th century. Many American lawmakers at the time believed that the compulsory school system may be a great way to assimilate these immigrant children into society.

Finally, the compulsory schooling law is also set to protect children from exploitation. During the 19th century, child labor was rampant, as children were easy to control, and were willing to work for very low pay, sometimes just for food and shelter. This resulted in many adult men being unable to find work.