"We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks" - Woodrow Wilson
For much of the 18th century, Prussia was one of the best countries in Europe. They had the best food, the best language, the best culture, and overall regarded themselves as the best of everything. In 1806, they were pwned by the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte.
This was a severe blow to the Prussian image. How on Earth could they have been beaten by the uncouth French? Were Napoleon's combat tactics superior? The answer is "Yes", but Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his Address to the German Nation of 1806 blamed the fall of Prussia on the fragmentation of the German people into small states, which he blamed on the manipulations of foreign powers. In order for Prussia to stand strong, all German speakers would have to be united.
One of the ways the Prussians set out to attain this goal was by a massive reform of the state education system. Thanks to Fredrick II, Prussia had had a mass education system since 1763. By 1819, this had been completely overhauled, just in time for the Industrial Revolution.
Under the old system, education was book-centric, with the teacher acting as a guide to help the children learn on their own. Under the new, innovative system, the teacher was placed at the centre of the children's education. It was now the teacher who decided what they would learn and how they would learn it. This served to foster intellectual dependence, as children were dependent on an authority figure to dispense knowledge and provide their lives with meaning.
In addition, the increased importance of the teacher instilled emotional dependence, as they decided what the children were allowed to do and say, as well as such things as when they would be allowed to use the bathroom. These forces came together to produce a country of highly disciplined, ordered workers and soldiers eager to take orders from superiors instead of thinking and learning for themselves. As a result, Prussia came to dominate Europe politically and militarily as it annexed all the other German-speaking states except Austria, thus forming Germany.
Other countries, seeing how effective this system was in strengthening Prussia/Germany, adopted similar systems. Education systems based on the Prussian model appeared in America in 1837 in Massachusetts, in China in 1862, and Japan and Britain in 1870, from which the system spread to Ireland, Australia, India, and Pakistan. Russia adopted the system after the Communist uprisings.
And thus we arrive at the situation today, where the education system is designed to encourage rote memorization, regurgitation of facts without any true understanding, and emphasis on pleasing our superiors and meeting arbitrary goals, such as the Leaving Certificate.
One thing worth noting is that in universities and institutes of technology, an approach to learning effective in schools tends to utterly fail. If you want to properly learn at such an institution, you have to research and study by yourself and find new and interesting information, and also present it in a manner that shows independent thought. People who attend grind schools and gain 600 points in the Leaving Cert are the most likely to fail and drop out of university, because they're so used to being spoon-fed that they have no idea how to truly learn. For those of us fortunate enough to have retain some spark of curiosity through school, such an experience is a true eye-opener.
Still, things aren't perfect. As big business becomes ever more dominant in today's world, even university education is slipping into the indoctrination described in this and oldmaneinstein's writeups. To tell the truth, the idea of getting a job in which I work under my own initiative scares me a bit. IS that because of indoctrination, or do I just suck? Hard to say.