Why do nations succeed/fail in educating their people?

Denis Cogneau and Alexander Moradi do a Acemoglu/Robinson model on education. They show how colonial education institutions planted then continue to impact education outcomes in current times as well.

And once again, it is in British colonies where we see favorable impact:

Britain and France followed two very distinct approaches to education in their African colonies (Garner and Schafer 2006).

  • The British were interested in containing the costs of their colonies and enlisted the help of mission societies to provide education on their behalf cheaply. Missions had considerable freedom in how they ran schools, recruited teachers, taught religion, and adjusted teaching contents to local conditions. Overall, the educational system was decentralised. Furthermore, the first grades of primary schools instruction was in the local vernacular, with English as a subject.
  • French ideology aimed at assimilation; to turn Africans into Frenchmen, education was considered key. Schools could not operate without government permission, they had to employ government-certified teachers and follow a government curriculum, and French was the only language of instruction. The 1905 Law on the Separation between the State and the Churches limited the activities of mission schools, and the state became the main and expensive provider of education.

When newly independent countries took control of schools, they kept essential features of the educational systems. According to this conventional story, the mixed and flexible British system was more apt at increasing enrolment, and literacy.

A cursory look at aggregate figures supports this story. When African countries gained independence, former British colonies had higher school enrolment rates on average than former French colonies (Benavot and Riddle 1988, Brown 2000). A significant educational gap has persisted since then. In 2000, former British colonies enrolled 70% of their school-age population in primary schools, 15% more than former French colonies (Garnier and Schafer 2006). Additionally, former British colonies prompted a larger number of school children to complete schooling, with fewer repeated years (Mingat and Suchaut 2000).

But then it is not about British identity alone. Basically it was geog conditions which led to certain choices:

Attributing educational outcomes to the identity of colonisers may be grossly misleading because Britain and France colonised very different territories.

  • The British had a primarily commercial approach to colonisation; acquisitions were often driven by private companies – the flag followed the trade.
  • The French case was the opposite: the state decided to build an empire reaching from Algeria to Senegal and the Congo through military conquest.

Overall, Britain tended to acquire territories with a higher potential for trade and commerce in which demand for education was higher and growing faster than in the poorer areas that the French took over. Thus, educational models or institutions ’created by’ and specific to one coloniser may not be the cause of educational differences. Instead, geography might be the important determinant. For instance, one can observe that within West Africa, education tends to decrease as one moves further away from urbanised coastal areas.

So they pick up an experiment:

To get at this question we rely on a border discontinuity between a French and a neighbouring British territory (Cogneau and Moradi 2014). While the choice of colony was not random, the exact location of the border – up to some distance – was. In the partitioning process colonisers drew borders without accurate knowledge of the terrain, disregarding local circumstances and cutting through homogeneous geographic, cultural and ethnic entities. Thus, the drawing of borders provides a situation of a quasi-ideal natural experiment, where, by historical accident, individuals with otherwise identical background found themselves randomly divided into two groups: one subjected to French policies and another ruled by Britain.

Using a new micro level data set of more than 14,000 recruits to the Gold Coast Regiment and to the French army (Tirailleurs Sénégalais) born on either side of the French-British border, we estimated discontinuities in signature literacy, Christianity and nutritional status (heights) from the time of partition to modern times. We complemented the data set with recent survey data.

We looked at former French-ruled Togo and Burkina Faso and British-ruled Ghana (Figure 1). The case of Togo is particularly interesting, because it was colonised first by Germany and then after its defeat in World War I, split into two occupation zones that were then administered as if they were colonial possessions.

The British side did better at education..

Being born close to a school increased the likelihood of becoming literate. We also found a strong discontinuity in the number of schools, and in the reliance of mission versus government schools (Figure 2). Hence, British colonisation resulted in higher literacy rates, mainly because of a heavy reliance on missionary societies. This was a feasible policy in many of the territories that Britain colonised.

We do not conclude that countries are locked in by their past. It depends on whether governments lifted restrictions and expanded school supply. This happened in Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire as early as the 1950s (see the online appendix for Cogneau and Moradi 2014, Cogneau et al. 2014, Dupraz 2013).

Would a Burkina Faso, that was counterfactually colonised by Britain, have achieved higher literacy rates? Probably not.

Nice bit..

One Response to “Why do nations succeed/fail in educating their people?”

  1. Joel Lionel Fernandes Says:

    Reblogged this on Joel Lionel Fernandes and commented:
    Worth Reading

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