With the world going through a collective rough phase, trudging out of the ruins might seem hard for many. Adapting to the ‘new’ normal have come to the fore, of which schools and universities make up for a large share of it. However, some educational institutions have survived previous pandemics, wars, authoritarian regimes and economic depressions—and continue to operate even today. Take a look at some of the world’s oldest schools and universities—that still exist—mapped from every country! By Bayar Jain
A massive project was undertaken by Online Schools Report—a data-sharing platform for online programmes, especially in the United States of America—reveals how schools and universities of the bygone era stood the test of time, and continue to revel in their glory even today. The continent-specific illustrative maps created following the methodical research aim to highlight how education continues to be the cornerstone for any future.
In order to arrive at the findings, a team first consulted existing online lists. Next, a thorough fact-checking was undertaken to ensure accuracy of every entry, post which it was mapped. In doing so, it was found that China’s Shishi High School—a primary school—is the oldest existing educational institute, dating back to 141 BC. The King’s School Canterbury, England from 597 AD stands second, while Tunisia’s Université Zitouna, dating to 737 AD follows. In India, the oldest school—St George’s Anglo Indian Higher Senior Secondary School, Chennai—dates to 1715.
Another interesting finding of the project is that most of the world’s oldest schools are divided between Europe and Africa, wherein the latter has four universities aged more than 1,000 years. On the other hand, Europe houses 19 schools that are more than five-centuries old.
Taken continent-wise, North American schools and universities are relatively young, the oldest surviving of which dates to 1538, states the project. In the United States of America, this tag is credited to the Boston Latin School from 1635, where the classes were once led by a teacher and assistant at the tutor’s home. Notably, five of the 56 people to sign the country’s Declaration of Independence were pupils of this ancient school.
The study also finds that in Africa, the oldest school is based out of Fes in Morocco. Named the University of al-Qarawiyyin, the Guinness World Records also accredits the school with the ‘oldest school’ tag, since it has been in continuous operation since 859. On the flip side, the world’s oldest university can be credited to Université Zitouna in Tunis, although the phrase ‘university’ wasn’t in use. Instead, Italy’s University of Bologna (1088) is the first to officially use the term, Online Schools Report notes. Then, scholars and teachers used universitas, a Latin term to distinguish themselves. When the school opened, Catholics considered scientific knowledge to be a gift of God that could not be ‘sold.’ Instead, students paid teachers a donation or colectio.
The study finds that the world’s second-longest surviving institution hails from England. A century after the Roman Empire’s Fall, Augustine of Canterbury established The King’s School in 597 and continues to stand tall even today.
As per the findings, the National University of San Marcos in Peru (1551) wins the title of South America’s oldest school. Originally known as Universidad de Lima, the institution was founded to meet the demand for education from both monks and laypeople. Bolivia’s University of San Francisco Xavier— founded on March 27, 1624—taught Scholastic Theology, Moral Theology, Philosophy, Latin, and the indigenous Aymara language notes the study.
In Central Asia and the Middle East, Mustansiriyah University is adjudged as Baghdad’s ‘great survivor’, results found. The university and its architecture—believed to have been completed between 1227 and 1234—have survived the rise and fall of empires, regime changes, and drastic urban modernisation to make it the oldest school in the region. Later in 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II founded Istanbul University, in turn bringing together the madrasas of two local mosques.
China’s stone-built Shishi High School—dating to the Han dynasty—is the world’s oldest school. The project finds that it was built 140 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and continues to exist on the same site, despite being ravaged and rebuilt multiple times.