September 27th 1761
Practical learning hits PerthDuring the 18th Century ideas of education changed and a movement grew up to teach subjects which would be of more obvious use to the people.
From a memorial presented to the Town Council of Perth. “In times not long past, all learning was made to consist in the grammatical knowledge of dead languages while what had an immediate reference to life and practice was despised. But providence has cast our lot in happier times and men of the greatest abilities have employed their skill in making the sciences contribute not only to the improvement of the physician, lawyer and divine but to the improvement of the merchant, mechanic and farmer in their respective arts. Must it not then be of importance to put it into the power of persons in these stations of life, to reap that advantage science is capable to afford them.”
This struck a chord with the Town Council and the outcome was that in the next year an Academy was set up in Perth - the first of its kind in Scotland.
The syllabus was both practical and ambitious. For instance, in the first year there was to be a “short view of natural history in its different parts - nature and property of the elements, and vegetable animal and mineral economy.”
There was also to be “an accurate instruction in the arithmetic of integers, with the use and application of vulgar and decimal fractions.” This was to be followed by work in “plain trigonometry, practical geometry, algebra, spherical trigonometry, navigation, the practical part of conic sections with the doctrine of projectiles.” and “the general principles and most useful problems in astronomy.” Almost as an afterthought, it is mentioned that “an hour is to be spent on the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the study of the English language.”
It is only in the third year of study that it is suggested that “a short and practical system of logic should be taught that the young gentleman may be instructed in the nature of composition and in the proper method of studying and reasoning.” And finally, “the course shall be concluded with a short and distinct account of the principles of religion and duty.”
There could hardly be a more extreme reaction to the system of classical education which went before. For the first time, the mode of instruction was to be in English and no foreign languages, even modern foreign languages, were to be taught. Later, such subjects as fine writing, drawing, painting and chemistry were added to the curriculum.
These new ideas of practical education proved extremely popular and Perth’s pioneering work was soon copied in many other towns in Scotland.