Plato’s Thoughts on Education- Main Features

Plato's Thoughts on Education

It is not a lie when people say that the current foundations of our education system can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Greek philosophers were on a constant quest for wisdom. They tried to find the logic behind the existence of things. It is their constant quest for wisdom that made them contribute innumerable work in almost every field. Most parts of the west got inspired and were still inspired by the Greek philosophers and tried to adapt their theories. Plato was one such philosopher whose work played a significant role in shaping the western world. What was so significant about Plato’s philosophy that we find it relevant even to the present date. Today’s topic- Plato’s Thoughts on Education.

Plato’s Thoughts on Education 

Plato is known for his contribution to the field of education. Though there is no specific information on the type of education he received, he went on to formulate theories in the field of education that were now ruling the current world. Following were Plato’s thoughts on education. 

  • In his opinion, education serves the purpose of providing justice to an individual both individually and socially. Individual justice meant the development of abilities by an individual. Going by this, justice, according to the Greek philosopher, was regarded as excellence, which is considered a virtue. 
  • His educational principles regarded virtue as the essence of the universe and went ahead to reflect it in his educational doctrine. 
  • Plato regarded education as a key to reform one’s soul and move away from the unhealthy ways of life towards the light. He described the function of education as one that brings out the latent talent within the soul and directs it to suitable objects.
  • He strongly condemned the idea of paying to get educated. According to him, paying for education is far worse than buying drinks and meat, considered a heinous crime.
  • He supported state-sponsored education and believed that the state should educate every individual to progress in their respective lives. He thought that education would lead to the permanent stability of the state. 
  • His theory of platonic education discouraged individualism. Instead, it predominantly emphasized the promotion of collective good and the establishment of rule by the efficient.  
  • In addition to this, he believed that laws were entirely unnecessary if people’s characters were good. In the ideal state of Plato, education was given the top priority. 
  • He believed that education was more than just acquiring facts throughout one’s childhood and adulthood and went ahead to propose a complex adult education system.

Plato’s Education Scheme

Plato was the first ancient Greek philosopher who went on to modify the existing education system in Athens. He even established a university and propagated the idea of every individual getting educated. In his opinion, it is only through education that the justice of the state can be maintained. He was convinced that ignorance is a vice, and only through education can an individual transform into a virtuous being. 

According to him, the fundamental aim of education is to assess the native capacities of an individual to assign him to a specific social class.

Stages in Education

Plato’s education system can be broadly classified into two stages based on age and class differences: Elementary and Higher education. 

Elementary Education 

This, for the youth and military class, involves the training of one’s character by molding their emotions. In the end, this aims at achieving discipline and self-control. It further has three stages based on age differences:

  • First Stage- Before one turns 6, they were imparted good manners and good taste. This stage begins with music training. In the end, the child was able to differentiate between love and hate, form such opinions on everyday things, and should be able to learn some simple religious truths.
  • Second Stage- For ages 6 to 18 years, one is to learn music and gymnastics. It was thought of as training their soul and body, imparting both physical and mental agility. Poetry, literature, singing, and other finer arts made up the curriculum of music. Diet, bodily exercise, and medicine were involved in gymnastics. 
  • Third Stage- Once one attains 18, the education was made more of general studies on music, gymnastics, and basics of science. Also, they were taught the subjects of mathematics and history. Plato thought that these complex subjects should not be forced onto the child. Instead, they should be smoothed and beautified with songs.  

Higher Education

Higher Education is for the middle-aged and ruling classes. It involves training one’s ability to reason and understand by taking studies in science and philosophy. It has three main features based on the age difference.

  • First great elimination test- On attaining the age of 20, they were tested for all the education they received-theoretical and practical. Failures were tasked with the economic work like business people, factory workers, clerks, and farmers. Passing this test would allow one to further their studies for ten more years in which the training involves the body and mind. They were trained in scientific knowledge and others to become the future guardians or rulers of the state who would be wise. Different classes had different virtues. E.g., warrior class- courage, the ruling class- wisdom. 
  • Second test- This test was taken at the age of 30. Failures were to become the auxiliaries, executive aides, and military officers of the state. Those who pass would continue their education for five more years. They were to be trained in the subjects of Mathematics and attain the knowledge of pure ideas that constitute the highest reality. 
  • Practical education after 35- After reaching the age of 35, they occupy the critical positions of the state. They were further trained for 15 more years in the practical experiences of the everyday problems of administration. The education would not be stopped there. Instead, it continues to time until they want to stop.

Main Features of The Platonic Education System

The following were the main features of Plato’s education system. It is these features that inspired the west and made them adopt the education system proposed by Plato. 

  • State-sponsored education- Plato strongly believed in the state controlling the education system. He wanted every individual to receive an education. In his opinion, education is a means through which the ruler can foster selfless devotion amongst the individuals towards their duties.   
  • Children’s education- According to Plato, the uneducated populations were of no good and were considered a liability to the state. To prevent this situation, he insisted on making education compulsory for all individuals. He did not consider giving parents a choice to decide on their child’s education. 
  • Equality of sexes- Plato believed in the equality of both sexes. He went ahead with the belief that both men and women should be imparted the same type of education and was far beyond his time by favoring women’s education in his educational schemes. He had no problem with women holding public offices like men. 
  • Education for all Plato’s education system did not leave behind the artisan and peasant classes. Though there was not any explicit mention of him supporting this opinion, it is made clear from one of his statements where he mentioned that the men of copper could be transformed into men of silver and gold if they possessed the required attributes. 
  • Censorship- Plato was never in favor of literature and always pushed for them being banned. He regarded the literature as immoral and felt that it could corrupt the population. 
  • Overall development of an individual- People from ancient greek believed that a sound mind could only reside in a sound body. So, Plato’s education system pushed for the overall development of an individual. This overall development included the physical and moral transformation of an individual. 

Plato’s Thoughts on Curriculum

Plato’s idea of education aims to attain truth that is not limited or narrowed down. He prioritized the development of soul, body, and mind. As part of this, he categorized the curriculum into three parts- 

  • One that aimed at training the soul- Training in gymnastics was supplemented by musical training to achieve balance in education. Music was regarded as one that assisted in the development of the soul. He believed that a child’s curriculum should be free from all kinds of literature and musical epics that would promote cowardice, selfishness, weakness, etc. 
  • One that aimed at physical development- Plato gave utmost importance to physical development in his educational curriculum. This development is not just achieved by rigorous training and exercises. Instead, it required the individuals to regulate and follow a particular diet. The educator has to look to it that the individual is attending to his food. Educators did the work of modern-day dieticians, guiding an individual to stick to a particular diet depending upon his body weakness. The sole aim of this program was to create strong and physically able individuals, growing out of their weaknesses.
  • One that aimed at the training of the mind- Though overall physical development of the body was given top priority; this was only seen as a means to attain mental development. To sharpen the mind and prevent any defects, Plato recommended teaching arithmetic in the start, followed by geometry and algebra. Apart from mathematics, people were also taught astronomy.  

Plato’s Thoughts on Literature And Music

As mentioned earlier, Plato had little to no interest in literature. Being a moralist, he believed that literature promoted the growth of evil characters and was not keen on adding it to the curriculum. 

His opinion on music is opposite to that of his thoughts on literature. He spoke highly of making music a part of the curriculum in the earliest stage of education. Musical training was part of the early school curriculum as it was believed to have provided balance in education. Music was considered the science of harmony. 


Plato devoted his entire life to reforming the pre-existing education system in Greece. It is his monumental work that inspired and shaped the present world education system. 

Plato’s Thoughts on Education- Main Features

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