In Ancient India the ideal of life was spiritualistic. Educational aim was determined by the conception of life. Thus the aim of education was self-realization or the realization of Brahma or the Absolute.
In ancient Sparta education was not individualistic but socialistic. Each man was born not for himself, but for the state. The state itself was a school. The immediate aim of this state-controlled system of education was to train the youths in military barracks away from home, to develop a hardy mind in a hardy body, to produce courageous soldiers. Individual liberty was thus not allowed. Education was primarily physical.
In Athens, the individual occupied the pivotal position in the education field. Athenian education aimed at harmonious development of personality physical, intellectual, moral and aesthetic. It secured harmony between the individual and the state, between physical and mental development, between thought and action. Its immediate aim was to develop a beautiful mind in a beautiful body. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the Greek idealists, discarded extremely individualistic aim of education. Socrates emphasized on the acquisition of universal and eternal knowledge or truth. Plato advocated harmonious development of all the powers of the individual and equated personal realization with social solidarity. Aristotle championed the ideal of harmony between the individual and the society, between intellect and character and theory and practice.
The ancient Romans had no interest in the acquisition of purely theoretical knowledge. Their outlook was materialistic. Their highest aim of life was the attainment of material success. The aim of Roman education was, therefore, to produce a worthy citizen of the Roman state, able to enjoy the rights and perform the duties of a citizen.
During the middle ages, education was wholly a priestly affair. Mysticism, monasticism, chivalry and scholasticism dominated life in every field. Education was absolutely formal in character and religious in outlook.
With the passage of time this liberal humanistic education degenerated into an artificial and formal system. Against this artificial education the Realistic movement started under the leadership of Bacon and Comenius. According to them, ignorance was at the root of all evils. So they pleaded spread of universal and integrated knowledge. The child’s individuality, his powers and interests were given supreme importance. Due to religious, social, psychological and pedagogical reasons, a new theory of education, known as theory of mental or formal discipline came into vogue. John Locke was the historical representative of this new doctrine. According to him, the aim of education should be to produce a sound mind in a sound body. The aim of education would be to discipline all the faculties such as memory, imagination, perception, thinking etc.
A true individualistic ideal of education came into existence in the 18th century. J.J. Rousseau revolted against the existing artificial and demoralized system of education. He not only championed the cause of the common people but also the cause of the child in the field of education. Thus naturalism appeared in education. Rousseau’s concept of negative education emphasized education according to nature. The child was regarded as the important and the central factor in the field of education. The aim of education should be therefore, spontaneous natural self-development of the child’s nature in close contact with nature. Kant was greatly influenced by the individualistic concept of education and defined education as the process by which man becomes man through his voluntary efforts.
Pestalozzi introduced the psychological tendency in education and with it the child-centric movement in education received a new momentum and fillip. According to him, education was the process of the spontaneous unfolding of latent powers of the individual towards perfection. Herbart shouldered this task and he developed a systematic psychology of the methods of teaching. Froebel, the German idealist, regarded education as the spontaneous development of a joyful, creative self- activity.
From the above survey of the educational ideals it is evident that the aims and functions of education have been variously defined in different ages by different educators. Hence, we can conclude by saying that aims of education are not fixed and static but these are subject to constant change and dynamic.