If the proper study of mankind be man there is no more practical application of that study than that which is concerned with the education of the young.
To this important and indeed paramount matter the ancient Egyptians devoted the greatest attention. Most of what is known of the methods and training they adopted is derived from records of the XVIIIth Dynasty. But it is probable that these were the outcome of long experience and tradition and that education, as then practised, had already been in vogue for long centuries.
Schools or colleges were attached to many of the temples of Egypt. In these education was imparted by scribes and priests but -and this has a curiously modern sound -there were also training colleges for future officials attached to the principal departments of state such as the Public Granaries, the treasury and the administration of crown lands. The era of the specialist is therefore not a new phenomenon.
Many ancient counterparts of the modern copybook have been found during the excavation of Egyptian antiquities. They consist of pot sherds, pieces of limestone and similar materials. On these the teacher has written an exercise and it is copied below by the scholars of long ago. Papyrus, a valuable material was only used by those who had acquired some proficiency in the art of writing.
Poetry, history, fables and the reading of fiction were all part of the educational curriculum of ancient Egypt and in the training schools attached to government departments specialised tuition was given in mathematics, accountancy, geometry and surveying.
The principle of specialised education was carried even further when the student was of royal blood. Tutors attached to the royal palaces trained the future rulers in the arts of government and princes from outlying parts of the great empire were brought to the court for education in order that they might grow up in an Egyptian atmosphere.
The form of training briefly outlined above probably continued with little or no modifcation until the arrival of the Greeks who brought with them their ideas and ideals, learning, philosophy and art. --It was then that the Ptolemies made Alexandria the intellectual metropolis of the world. They amassed the famous Library with its 700,000 manuscripts. Their loss when, 46 years before the christian era, the Library was burnt down was, and still is an irreparable loss to the culture of the human race. Less in its magnitude but no less irreparable was the destruction in A.D. 389 of the temple of Serapis with its 100,000 manuscripts.
During that intellectual heyday of her history Alexandria was the resort of the most gifted artists and scientists of the time. Most of the Greek inheritance which, even today lies at the basis of general culture came to us through the Alexandrians who assembled and increased the treasures of ancient learning, copied them and transmitted them to the West. It was in Alexandria that Plotinus, Jamblichus, Porphyry and Hypatia meditated and wrote in the last great philosophical school to carry on the traditions of Plato.
The famous Septuagint of the Bible was a vast undertaking which absorbed the lives of several generations of scholars. It is therefore not entirely fanciful to suggest that the beams from Alexandria's intellectual lighthouse stilI shine on the modern world.
The centre of Egypt's learning was to move, under Arab rule, to Cairo where it remains to this day. -There the famous university of Al-Azhar was founded in A.D. 970. Its curriculum which remained unchanged for centuries was based on theology, the exposition of the Koran, the traditions of the Prophet. It provided thorough training in the complexities of the Arab language and syntax, rhetoric, versification, logic and Mohammedan jurisprudence. Lectures were also given on Algebra (the word itself is derived from the Arabic "al-gabr") and on astronomy.
Tuition at Al-Azhar was, and is, free of all charge to the student. More, it is accompanied in most cases by a grant of money to pay for food and lodging. Nor was any time limit set to the student. For most of them the course of study lasted 12 or 14 years but cases were not unknown of a student growing grey within the precincts of the ancient university.
A l-Azhar has of late years made great additions to its curriculun. It still remains the intellectual centre of Islam; it retains its position of authority in all matters concerning the Moslem theology and the Arabic language but its students are equipped with modern knowledge and by modern methods. The renaissance of Al-Azhar and the fact that it was achieved without sacrifice and without destroying the principles 'of its teaching is one of the outstanding events of King Fuad's reign. Private teaching was also in honour under Arab and Mameluke. Lane, that incomparable observer, tells of the respect paid to men of learning in the latter years of the 18th century. ..A sheykh who had studied in the Azhar, if he had only two boys, sons of a moderately rich fellah, to educate, lived in luxury: his two pupils served him, cleaned his house, prepared his food, and, though they partook of it with him, were his menial attendants at every time but that of eating: they followed him whenever he went out, carried his shoes on his entering a mosque and in every case treated him with the honour due to a prince."
Lane tells too of the many large libraries which then existed in Cairo. Some of these were private libraries and there was much competition among them to obtain rare and valuable books.
To these must be added not only the 36,000 students of the Egyptian Universities but the thousands of students receiving their education in private schools. 1,015,117 pupils were received tuition therein in 1945. King Fuad's University in Cairo and King Faruk's University in Alexandria count not less than 20,000 students. Further more, the State has initiated a new scheme of education with the "Popular University" in Cairo and its branches all over the main centres of the country.
In education as in most great undertakings it is in a sense true that
nothing has been done as long as anything remains to be done. From that
point of view a tremendous task still lies before the Egyptian government.
The proportion of literacy both male and female is increasing very rapidly
but with, as aim, the entire disappearance of illiteracy