During the Later Vedic period, women were denied access to the Upanayana ceremony, which then denied them access to learning. There was an emphasis on the institution of sacrifice and this led to the growth of large amounts of literature related to sacrifice. The first millennium CE saw the disintegration of tribal units and chieftains were overthrown. In this situation of hopelessness emerges asceticism as a means for salvation from worldly life which was now preached by the Upanishads.
In eastern parts of India, there was the rise of free speculation and the emergence of humanitarian and theistic movements, which in turn led to new centers of spiritual leadership – the ascetics and wanderers (Sramanas or Parivrayakas) who rejected the authority of the Vedas and of Vedic priests. They criticized blood sacrifices which became a part of Brahminic ritual and gave importance to the practice of ahimsa or non-injury of living beings.
After Mahavir became a Kevalin (omniscient), a Jina (conqueror), and Mahavir (a great hero), he now became part of the sect called Nirgranthas, which came to be referred to as Jainas (following of Jina). Mahavir was a religious teacher for three decades.
Buddha borrowed and adapted from the popular beliefs of the region. The Buddhist system of education was conducted through Buddhist monasteries (viharas). The center of the Buddhist system of learning revolved around the Order (Sangh) of monks (bhikkus); later Buddha permitted the entry of women as nuns (bhikkhunis). Religious instruction was imparted in the viharas and like the Brahmanical system of education, there was a special relationship between the learner and teacher; the student had to live with the teacher (Upajjhaya or Acharya) and serve him.
Just as Vedic culture centred on sacrifices, Buddhist education and learning revolved around monasteries. Education in the Sangham period was a widespread social activity. It was a secular factor and not the privilege of any one community. Works on grammar, poetry, mathematics, astronomy, and fine arts (music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture), and architecture were the specializations.
The decline of Buddhist Viharas resulted in the decline of an organized system of education.