In the span of a few centuries, Rome went from an informal system of education to a specialized system of schools inspired by Greek methods of education. Roman education practices have made great and lasting contributions to the field of education as we know it.
Mt Lyon Institute of Tiffin University
Southern New Hampshire University
Early Education in the Republic
From 750 BCE to the middle of the third century BCE, we find little evidence of anything more than basic education. Children primarily learned from their parents, who taught them the skills necessary for living in the early republic, namely agricultural, domestic and military skills. Most important, however, was the education in moral and civil responsibilities. The first schools in Rome were established by the middle of the fourth century BCE. These schools were called 'ludi',(means play). Like modern play schools, these mostly provided a platform for basic socialization and rudimentary education of young Roman children. An ex-slave named Spurius Carvilius is credited with opening the first fee-paying school and thereby forging a teaching profession in ancient Rome. Roman educational system gradually found its comprehensive form at the height of the Roman Republic, and then later in the Roman Empire. Formal schools were established, which served students who paid for their education. These schools were open to both boys and girls.
Following various military conquests in the Greek East, Romans adapted a number of Greek educational precepts to their own fledgling system. At the Elementary level, Roman students were taught in similar fashion to Greek students, sometimes by Greek slaves who had a penchant for education. Roman students that wished to pursue the highest levels of education went to Greece to study philosophy, as the Roman system developed to teach speech, law, and gravitas.
Roman students progressed through schools just as students today might go from elementary school to middle school, then to high school, and finally college. Progression depended more on ability than age with great emphasis being placed upon a student's ingenioum or inborn "gift" for learning.
We should recognize important contrasts to formal education as we know it today. In the modern world, a student generally pursues higher levels of education to gain the skills and certifications necessary to work in a more prestigious field. In contrast, only the Roman elite would expect a complete formal education. Higher education in Rome was more of a status symbol than a practical concern.
Absence of literature
Roman system lacked education in literature because Romans spent most of their time studying military art. Romans devoted the rest of their time to agriculture. The concern of Rome was that of survival, whether through defense or dominion. It is not until the appearance of Ennius (239-169 BCE), the father of Roman poetry, that any sort of national literature surfaces.
Music and Athletics
While the Romans adopted many aspects of Greek education, two areas in particular were viewed as trifle: music and athletics. To the Greeks, the ability to play an instrument was the mark of a civilized and educated man. The Romans, however, did not share this view.
Athletics, to the Greeks, was the means to obtaining a healthy and beautiful body, which was an end in itself. The Romans, did not share this opinion either, believing that athletics was only the means to maintaining good soldiers. This illustrates that Romans were more practical minded in terms of what they taught their children.