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When dominies ruled the world

"Is this going to be another session in which the Scots are shown to have had all the answers?" wondered an academic from south of the border during last weekend's conference in Aberdeen on Scotland's impact on education.

Sheldon Rothblatt from California University, a leading American educational historian, explained: "The Scots have a model of education which will export whereas the English have not except in the creating of exam systems and devising an honours level for university degrees."

The democratic emphasis in Scottish institutions and the intention of universities to be inclusive rather than in search of an elite had appealed to countries like his own. Speakers at the conference, organised by Aberdeen University's history department, noted that even universities south of the border, from London in the 1820s to Keele after the Second World War, had looked to Scottish models rather than to Oxford and Cambridge.

Robert Bell, from the Open University, described as "a manifestation of the entrepreneurial spirit" a little known spur to women's education inspired in St Andrews. From the 1880s a philosophy professor set up and ran 300 centres across the world which certificated women's university studies.

The vocational approach to education in Scotland and the belief that school and university offered the road to self-improvement had their appeal abroad, too. Dr Bell recalled the 19th-century claim that "Scottish universities teach men how to earn Pounds 1,000 a year while Oxford and Cambridge only teach them how to spend Pounds 1,000 a year."

Even changes to the design of school buildings had their origin in Scotland. Roy Lowe, professor of education at Swansea, said that a royal commission on physical training in Scotland in 1903 had uncovered poorer levels of fitness among young people who had grown up in the polluted cities than those from the countryside. Scottish doctors dominated the first international conference on school hygiene at Nuremberg in 1907.

The record of exporting innovation and enterprise was not always positive. Andrew Ross, senior lecturer at New College, Edinburgh, said that the creation of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the intellectual home of apartheid. When the Dutch community wanted to create a theological college at Stellenbosch, it looked to New College in Edinburgh and not to the Netherlands where Protestant theology was thought too liberal.

Yet the widely praised model for multiracial education at Lovedale, which had 1,000 students in 1890 and included a teacher training college as well as a school, was created on the initiative of missionaries from Glasgow.

For settlers in New Zealand, Scottish education offered a democratic "antidote" to the stratified system imported from England, with its poor record in developing elementary schools for the masses.

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