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4000-Year-Old Homework From Egyptian Student Discovered With Corrections in Red

Andrei Tapalaga
A student’s writing board from the Middle Kingdom period, circa 1981–1802 BCE. The red marks are those of a teacher correcting their studentThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

We are expecting future generations to be more innovative in order to save this planet from its doomed future, but how are we supposed to do so when we are using the same educational system that has been used in Ancient Egypt? Some may say that we have come a long way, but they are only lying. Social systems have not been updated but adapted to technological changes. Humanity has been reading off the walls of caves, from papyrus, books, and now from screens, but they are still doing the same action.

4000-year-old writing board by an Egyptian student

The gessoed board that you see above has been trending online lately, although it is not a recent discovery. It has been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for almost 100 years since it had been gifted to the museum by Edward S. Harkness in 1928. Gessoed boards were used by students to practice their penmanship since 3,000 BCE. Their distinct alphabet was made of hieroglyphics with about 1,000 distinct characters representing sounds and concepts.

This specific board has also been presented in William C. Hayes’ book “The Scepter of Egypt” where he writes that the exercise scribbled on the board is the work of a student named Iny-su of Sekhsekh. The text is a letter to his brother Peh-ny-su where he comments as if his brother was a wealthy authority figure. The marks in red represent the corrections made by the teacher based on spelling and grammar. Egyptologists (including William C. Hayes) believe that this board dates back between 1981 and 1802 BCE.

Such exercises were usually given to students that were prepared to work for the government. You may be surprised, but the government of Ancient Egypt was extremely organized by recording everything by writing it down. This lead to a large number of texts that needed to be written and fast, therefore great penmanship was really valued. The Greeks and Egyptians during the Ancient period really understood the importance of education and developed the system that we use even to this day.

Students are given a certain topic which they are being taught the basics. Once they grasped the basics, they are given homework to do their own independent study. After some time they take an exam to test their knowledge on that certain subject. This is how they did it 4,000 years ago and it is exactly how most countries still do it. It could be argued that this is one of the oldest social systems which hasn’t been changed.

Just like in Ancient Egypt, kids were given homework and it would be corrected based on criteria. Those criteria set by the educational board are what stop creativity.

Hybrid learning has been the latest attempt at changing our educational system, but all it did is force it to adapt to the digital era. The same exams are taken now on a computer, making it a bit easier to cheat. It could be argued that hybrid learning had actually pushed back the evolution of the educational system by removing the practicality aspect.

A study conducted in 2012 by Mark Huxham, Fiona Campbell, and Jenny Westwood from Edinburgh Napier University had looked at the time of assessments students preferred (Oral versus Written). The results showed that most students preferred oral assessments based on their attitudes and performance because they found them to be more practical in establishing a professional identity.

We need to give students more freedom towards choosing their own curriculum from a young age that focuses more on building a practical future. Rather than spending years and thousands of dollars trying to figure out what they want to do in life, would it not be easier to have them reach a consensus from a young age?

The true difference between a student from Ancient Egypt dating 2,000 BCE and a student in our present time is that one works on a rock and the other on a laptop. The similarity is that they both most probably are learning something that they will never use in their life and which does not allow them do develop their creative abilities.

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