Until about 200 years ago, education was mostly about survival.
The average person learned how to feed and shelter themself and not get eaten by bears. Enter the Industrial Revolution, starting around 1800, and the focus of modern education shifted from survival to work. Society became more mechanized; jobs moved from farm to factory; people migrated from country to city. New skills were needed to participate in the new labor force, and thus was born modern education. In a few short decades, we evolved from one-room schoolhouses to a trillion-dollar federally mandated education system. The results have been astonishing. Literacy rates have risen from barely 10% in the early 1800s to near 90%. College attendance has risen from less than 10% of adults to almost 60%, and this doesn’t even take into account students seeking education through apprenticeships and other forms of on-the-job training.