All empires in the Fertile Crescent used Mesopotamian education as a foundation for their nobility. The Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia were the first to establish schools.
The development of writing in the 4th millennium B.C. helped rulers and priests understand the need of teaching scribes. There were rudimentary pictograms, but throughout time, the writing evolved into cuneiform symbols on clay. Stylus tips with triangle-shaped ends were the source of the wedge forms; they were employed as the pen’s tip. The Sumerians started writing down everything they observed once writing was invented, including commercial records, inventories, observations of everyday life, religious songs, poetry, tales, royal orders, and temple records.
Literacy was central to Mesopotamian education. Although this might be stated about any civilization in general, it was especially true because of the difficulty of writing. An advanced level of cuneiform writing was developed in the 3rd millennium. Learning the cuneiform script and other scribe-related skills required a total of 12 years. As a result, religious institutions began to build schools with the purpose of training young men to become scribes and priests. Secular education eventually overtook the scribal schools that were initially affiliated with religious institutions. Established scribes founded schools and imposed high tuition fees.
The high expense of Mesopotamian education meant that only males from privileged households were able to attend. Nobility, clergy, and wealthy businessmen sent their children to school every day from dawn to sunset. There were very few Sumerians who could read or write in cuneiform since it was so difficult to master the script.
Typically, boys began school at the age of seven or eight. It took a lot of effort to learn the scribal art. Girls were not taught to read or write unless they were the daughters of a monarch or were preparing to become priestesses. Former priests and scribes were the primary teachers, and they disciplined their students harshly if they made a mistake. Students who talked out of turn, spoke without permission, dressed poorly, or stood up and departed without permission were disciplined. Obedience as much as hard work was required.
Reading, writing, arithmetic, and history were all taught to the boys by their teachers. Students had to acquire not just reading and numeracy, but also a broad range of disciplines, including geography, zoology, botany, astronomy, engineering, medicine, and architecture. To become a scribe, children had to study hard during the era when schools were only open to the rich and famous.
Learning cuneiform was made easier by practice on clay tablets. The tablet would be used by a teacher to write a short sentence. The pupil then had to duplicate the statement over and over again until he got it perfect. A teacher’s helper or a “big brother” assisted younger pupils with their assignments. As they practiced and memorized hundreds of sets of cuneiform signs again and over, their ability to read and write them became more and more apparent. A student’s attempt, typically corrected by an instructor, was discovered on several clay tablets. A new scribe may become a priest with more training, or he could serve as a scribe for the military, palace, temple, or a variety of other businesses.