Plato’s view on education

According to Plato “education consists of giving to the body and the soul all the perfection of which they are susceptible”. Plato believed that it is the state which can make the life of the individuals perfect and ideal and so he gave out his views in regard to education in this context. When Athenias were defeated by Spartans, Plato assigned this victory to nice military as well as other types of education of the people of Sparta. Inspired by these ideas, he wrote out ‘Republic’ which contains his ideas in regard to education. He has envisaged an ideal state where there should be perfect administration of justice. In such state the citizens shall belong to three classes a) soldiers b) administrators and c) business men. Plato does not think that it is necessary to educate the business men and their children should be educated. But he does feel that the children of the other two classes of people must be educated.

Advocate of compulsory education for boys as well as girls

Over 1000 years ago Plato envisaged about compulsory and universal education. He was quite progressive in this regard and advocated, not only education for the boys but for girls as well. He has said, “You must not suppose that what I have been saying applied to man only and not to women as far as their natures can go”.

Aims of Education

Plato believed in an education which provides perfection not only to the body but to the soul as well. Education should aim at the achievement of the absolutes of beauty, goodness and truth.

According to Plato the following shall be the aims of education

  • Inculcating the idea of good citizenship and virtues


  • Development of the body as well as soul


  • Vision of truth


  • Inculcate the feeling of appreciations for beauty


  • Inculcate the feeling of good citizenship and virtue


Functions of Education

Plato was a great idealist. He always considered the end as higher than the means. He liked to proceed from the whole to the part. The first purpose of education is to secure the unity of the state. We have already seen that Plato has attached greater importance to the state than to the individual. Those days Athens was on the decline. There was no control over individuals. All were centred towards selfish ends. [shc_shortcode class=”shc_mybox”]

In order to make the state strong, Plato wanted that the state should exercise strict control over all. He desired that everyone should sacrifice their self-interest for the good of the state. Plato, while raising his voice against individualism accepted individual as the basis for securing the unity of the state. He argued each one should sacrifice his self-interest for the cause of the state. All the citizens should accept the point that their interest is the same and that is to protect and ensure the strength of the state. Through his scheme of education Plato wanted that each one should have the virtues of temperature, courage and military ability. Along with these virtues, one should have the knowledge of state administration. Besides, an individual should have a rational power to recognize the real truth.

The second function of education should be to develop aesthetic sensibility in an individual. This means that the education must enable one to love the good, the truth and the beautiful. An individual, as a result of education, should be able to place the ideal above the actual, the eternal above the temporal, and the abiding above the transient. A young child is naturally a creature of various appetites. Through education he should become a person with great interest in ideal reality.

Plato regarded rationality as the essence of the universe. This conclusion on the part of Plato was due to his years of reflective thinking. Plato believed that reason was present in the soul of the child. He has recommended that it is a special function of education to awaken the rational faculty in the child. This may be regarded as the third function of education.

The fourth function of education is to help children to live in harmony with others. Plato has accepted the school as the greatest humanising and socialising agency.

Plato has written “True education will have the greatest tendency to civilize and harmonise (individuals) in their relations with others.”

Plato and Curriculum

Every man who thinks about education has to give out his views in regard to content material of the education. Plato has done the same.

  1. Music and physical training: during infancy or early years of childhood, Plato has suggested that music and physical training must be taught. He was of the view that education should begin with music and then should come the physical training. This will lead to, harmonious development of the body as well as soul.
    • Teaching mathematics and geometry: Plato also prescribed for the teaching mathematics and geometry for early education. He believes that the teaching of these subjects leads to exactness in the children. He also suggested timely examination in order to test the knowledge acquired by the children.
    • Curriculum for higher education:- mathematics, geometry, astronomy, mathematical music, philosophy, etc for the education of higher classes. After philosophy, it is the mathematics that he considers most important.
    • Philosophy:- he gave a supreme importance to the study of philosophy. He believed that it is the philosophy that brings to mind the truth in all its forms.


The course of study

Plato has recommended courses of study for various stages of education. They are as follows:

Infancy stage

This is the period from birth to the first three years of age. The child will be well nourished in this period and he will experience as little pleasure and pain as possible. During this period he is a creature of appetite and not of reason. Hence special attention should be paid to bodily growth and sensory life. No fear should be generated in the child.

Nursery stage

This is from three to six years of age. Plato has observed thus, “The most important part of education, is right training in the nursery”. Fairy tales, simple amusements, play, myths and nursery rhymes will be the major areas of studies. Plato has said, “At three, four, five and even six years the childish nature will require sports: now is the time to get rid of self- will in him, punishing him, but not so as to disgrace him”.

The elementary school stage

The elementary school will admit children of six years of age. Boys and girls will be taught separately. Both will live in state hostels. Plato was very well aware of the unruly character of boys. The courses of studies recommended by Plato for the elementary school are religion, writing, numbers, singing, geometry, dancing, poetry, manners and play.

The middle school stage

It is between thirteen and sixteen years of age. This was the general Athenian practice. But Plato wanted the subjects to be taught at the elementary school should be continued at the middle school stage. No effort should be made to attain high literary efficiency.

Gymnastics and the military stage

The period of this stage will be between 16 to 20 years of age. During this period, gymnastics has to be accompanied by military training. When a young man is hardened by gymnastic exercises he is to be given full training in arms and military life for about two years or so. The military training will be quite rigorous. So there will be no scope for intellectual training at this stage. Under the military training he has suggested archery, use of shield, horse-riding, use of weapons, using heavy armour in the fighting, encampment and movement of armies.

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Sciences school stage

Before the age of twenty, various sciences were introduced to children only in general way. But when the youth has reached the age of twenty, Plato recognised the necessity of letting him understand the inter-relationship between various facts. So he has impressed upon the necessity of helping youth to understand the need for correlating all their thinking. So Plato has emphasised the systematization of the various sciences at the school stage which will be co-ordination of reason with habits and understanding of the inter-relationships between physical sciences.

Dialectic school stage

The period of this school was to be between 30 to 35 years of age. Philosophy, sociology, education, law, theory of knowledge and science of government. This course was meant for those who were selected for becoming higher officers.

Service to state or practical life stage

This period was to be between 35 to 50 years of age. The mature men and women who were selected for service of the state were to be on active duty during this period.

Philosopher’s stage

At the age of fifty, the higher officers engaged in active service of the state were to be retired and were urged to devote their full attention to the study of true being, i.e higher philosophy.

Role of Educator

In Plato’s plan of education, the educator is considered to have the greatest importance. He is like the torch bearer who leads a man, lying in a dark cave, out of the darkness in to the bright light of the outside world. His tasks are to bring the educand out of the darkness of the cave in to the light of the day. He is thus the guide.

Method of teaching

Plato has suggested only one method of teaching and that is presentation of the subject material in the most interesting manner. While prescribing this, he has suggested that the natural faculties and interest of the children must be taken into consideration. Play was also recommended as a method of teaching by Plato as well. In his book entitled ‘Laws’ he has emphasised the importance of play.

Plato also gives importance to imitation. Through imitation the child will acquire the behaviour of the people among whom he has to live. Hence, keeping in mind the status of the child, he should be made to live among people from whom he can learn good habits and avoid bad ones.

Education of women

Plato considered women suitable for all types of occupation meant for men. He believed that educated mothers can rear up good citizens and, therefore, he has suggested that they should also be given physical training, taught music and given the training of battle fields.

Education of slaves

The ancient Greece, there was a large number of slaves. Plato regarded them as the lower category and did not accept them as citizens of the state. The slaves were not considered as suitable for any state responsibility. So they were not assigned any state duty. Their main occupation was limited to domestic affairs in the homes of citizens. Under this situation, Plato could not be liberal with their education and has advised that slaves should follow the occupation of their families and should limit themselves to domestic affairs alone.

Limitations of Plato

Although Plato has prescribed an elaborate scheme of education, yet there are few short comings which make his education lopsided.

  • Plato laid great stress on the education of the soldiers as well as philosophers or administrators but does not lay down any scheme for the education of the artisans and working men after their elementary education.
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    • Plato limits creativity to poetry only, and did not choose to apply it to education
    • Plato emphasises the full development of personality, but he deprives the individual of his freedom.
    • Plato wants that after mastery of philosophy, the philosophers should be made responsible for carrying out the administration of the state. But he has not explained how this is possible. Thus we find a lack of co-ordination between knowledge of philosophy and ideal citizenship.
    • At several places Plato has not chosen to spell out the measures that should be adopted for implementing his principles. It appears that he himself did not have full faith in the validity of his principles.
    • Plato’s ideas are not based on variety and individual differences. He believes in providing one education to all, while it is a fact that there are individual differences and the education should vary according to them. Psychologically speaking, an education, devoid of variety and not based on variation of interests and faculties, is not very scientific. Such an education will be conservative and may not prove to be very useful.
    • Plato has completely ignored family in his pattern of education. This goes against nature. The development and growth of the child in the early years, take place in family only. Nurseries, how well equipped they may be, cannot provide to the child the atmosphere that is in the family. There are certain natural relationships which do affect the happiness and pleasure of the child. Love and affection can find there outlet only in the family and so early education can be properly attended to only in the family. Here Plato has neglected a very pertinent factor.

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