Education and Learning in ancient Egypt

Learning in ancient Egypt was delivered in pretty much the same forms we know today; learning from the family, a school education, apprenticeships and learning on the job. Perhaps one of the main differences is that not all avenues were open for everyone.

In modern western societies the world of the child and the adult does not mix in the same sense as it did in ancient Egypt. We have formal education until we are sixteen, when we get a job and provide for ourselves this is usably when we are considered an adult. So education and employment are a big indicator for our society of age and even maturity. This was the same for the ancient Egyptians’s, however, learning was solely for employment purposes, unlike ourselves who sometimes learn for pleasure, and would have started and ended a lot earlier than our own education. Practical skills and social skills would have been developed in the home, much like in our own pre-school years, however for most lower class girls this in house “education” was as far as it would go. With men out working and women in the house, we can be sure that the demand for help around the home was great. If we picture large households, perhaps even multigenerational, without any of the modern comforts we are so used to, we can assume that those children who were old enough would have earned their keep by helping out around the house.Girls from ordinary families only received minimal education, instead they were instructed by their mothers on the management of a household, ready for marriage and a household of their own. Among the elite classes, girls also learned to sing, dance and play musical instruments.  However, for boys, learning could have come in a practical form, such as an apprenticeship in a trade they would later work in or education in a scribal school. The latter, was usually reserved for the elite classes.

At the King’s palace, the princes and princesses learnt the elements of writing, grammar, style, literature and mathematics. We know princesses partook in these lessons because a princess known from excavations at Abusir is portrayed with a writing tablet in hand, we know also that Senenmut, the Vizier to Hatshepsut, taught her daughter Nefrure. We perhaps have to apply the latter evidence tentatively, as after all Hatshepsut was a female who would have wanted her own daughters to be raised the same as any boy. Yet, presumably Hateshepsut was a well educated woman herself.

Literature from the Roman period, elucidates interesting information about the training of weavers and spinning girls. They seem to have entered in to a lengthy, and unpaid apprenticeship, funded by their father’s.

Weavers from the tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan via MetMusem

 Farmers children, both male and female, would have entered the fields at a young age, and this was probably as far as their “learning” went. Boys were used in the army as grooms and batsmen. We even have fragmentary evidence of boys working in a butchers and with fishermen, probably learning the trade from their own father’s. It seems customary in ancient Egypt, for son’s to take on the trade of their father. Indeed, it is well documented at Deir el-Medina, the somewhat isolated community of New Kingdom tomb builders. It is true also of scribes, who schooled their own children in Egyptian language.

I hope this has given you a little to think about for ancient Egyptian education and learning.

All the best,

Ankh_Nfr

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