Daxue / Great Learning
The concept means different things in different contexts. In terms of institutions of learning, it refers to the institution of highest learning established by the state, which is different from local schools. When it comes to content of learning, it refers to what adults should learn, namely, general rules and principles on governance and human relationship, which are different from that of xiaoxue (小学 Little Learning), namely, learning of words and specific rites or skills. In terms of objective, great learning aims to help students develop sound personality and moral integrity and thus make them qualified for exercising governance.
The educational system in ancient times consisted of small schools for each clan in a village, higher level schools for every 500 households, even higher level schools for every 12, 500 households and institutions of higher learning at the capital of a ducal state. Students were enrolled every year, and examinations were held every other year. During the first year, students learned how to punctuate classics and studied them, and they developed motivation through learning. By the third year, students should immerse themselves in learning and develop fraternity with fellow students. During the fifth year, students should gain comprehensive knowledge and hold their teachers in reverence. In the seventh year, students should learn enough to form independent judgment and they should make true friends, which was called secondary attainment. In the ninth year, they should gain a keen sense of what connects different things, have self-confidence, and be independent in thinking without going against what they’ve learned. This was called great attainment. A scholar trained this way could educate others and improve social mores, and thus enjoyed the respect of people both near and afar. This is what Great Learning should achieve. (The Book of Rites)
Great Learning aims to foster moral integrity, forge close ties with the people and attain consummate virtue in both words and deeds. (The Book of Rites)