Before Rousseau’s time, the aim of education was either spiritual or social or vocational, Efforts were made to mould the child into the artificial forms of conduct, satisfactory to the judgment of adults in society.
The child was trained to speak, think, and act as a miniature adult without any consideration of his natural instincts and interests. Rousseau revolted against this wrong concept of education.
He believed that education was a life-long process, which began from birth and ended only with the end of life. It was development from within and not an imposition from without.
So Rousseau’s aim of education was the attainment of fullest natural growth of the individual leading to balanced, harmonious, useful and natural life. The real aim of education is to help the child to live his life.
He says, “To live is not merely to breathe. It is to act, to make us of our organs, senses, our faculties and of all those parts of ourselves, which give us the feeling of our existence.”
This general aim of education was split up by Rousseau, according to the nature, at different stages of human development.
(i) In infancy i.e. from birth to the age of five years, the aim of education is to develop a well-regulated freedom. For realization of this aim, he recommends purely physical education in an atmosphere of perfect liberty.
(ii) In childhood i.e. between the age of five and twelve, the main aim of education is to provide the child with the strength which he needs for the attainment of well- regulated freedom.
So at this stage also no formal education is recommended, but the continuance of the same physical care and natural education, Rousseau’s advice for this period is, “Exercise the body, the organs, the senses and powers and keep the soul lying fallow, as long as you can.”
(iii) In boyhood or pre-adolescent period i. e., from twelve years to fifteen years, the aim of education is “to acquire such knowledge which may satisfy the wants of the child and must be functionally useful”. This is the period for intellectual education-the period of instruction, labor and study.
(iv) In adolescent period i.e. from 15 to 20 years, the aim of education is the training of heart, to make the child loving and tender-hearted so that he may live peacefully in social relationship. In this period religious, moral and social education is recommended.
In the previous periods, the child has already developed physically and intellectually. He must now grow emotionally, aesthetically, socially and morally. The sex instinct, which is sufficiently developed by this time, is to be sublimated by re-directing it to the love of some noble idea and by keeping the young person occupied in work and activity.