If we look back even just a couple of hundred years, we would find that educational opportunity was strictly limited to an elite class of people, while the vast mass were unable to read or write, and had very little, if any, opportunity to develop their intellectual faculties. This elite class also consisted primarily of men. With the rise of science and the establishment of a strong mental presence in humanity, we find that virtually concurrently the idea of a broad-based educational system arose, and, systematically, education was extended to include women and others who had formerly been oppressed as manual laborers or slaves. Today we see, almost everywhere in the world, the aspiration for an education active and inspiring people in all walks of life and from all classes of society. This change represents the establishment of the mental culture of humanity as a fixed principle across the entire race, and it was supported and encouraged with the rise of science and the experience of the wonderful opportunities that appeared to arise from the practice of scientific inquiry and discipline.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The ideal of general education, at least to the extent of some information of the mind and the training of capacity, owes to it (n.b. science), if not its birth, at least much of its practical possibility. It has propagated itself everywhere with an irresistible force and driven the desire for increasing knowledge into the mentality of three continents. It has made general education the indispensable condition of national strength and efficiency and therefore imposed the desire of it not only on every free people, but on every nation that desires to be free and to survive, so that the universalisation of knowledge and intellectual activity in the human race is now only a question of Time; for it is only certain political and economic obstacles that stand in its way and these the thought and tendencies of the age are already labouring to overcome. And, in sum, Science has already enlarged for good the intellectual horizons of the race and raised, sharpened and intensified powerfully the general intellectual capacity of mankind.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pg. 77