Q. The Sh’ma tells parents to teach their children. So who invented schools?
In Biblical times schools did exist, but not for the masses. The introduction of formal elementary schools was almost fortuitous, to cater for children who had no parents or whose parents were unable to teach them; Talmudic sayings praise those who teach other people’s children.
By the early 1st century BCE, schooling had become so established that Shimon ben Shetach ruled that all children should go to school. Now came the creation of a teaching profession, “for otherwise the Torah would be forgotten”. For this Yehoshua ben Gamala or Yehoshua ben Perachya was responsible.
In his history of Jewish elementary education Eliezer Ebner gives three reasons for this development: the example of Greek and Roman schools; the growing complexity of Jewish knowledge; and the reorganisation of Jewish life under the Pharisees.