Published by EH.Net (March 2020)

David Mitch and Gabriele Cappelli, editors, Globalization and the Rise of Mass Education. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. xx + 338 pp. $140 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-3-030-25416-2.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Yannick Dupraz, Department of Economics, University of Warwick.

When a global pandemic is not forcing school closures, the majority of the world’s children now go to school. In 2018, the global net primary enrollment rate was estimated at 90.5% (World Bank 2020). In the last two centuries, the rise of mass education occurred at different dates in different countries of the world, connected through trade, colonization, migration, and the circulation of ideas. Globalization and the Rise of Mass Education brings together a diverse team of scholars (economists, historians and educationists) to give a fresh, global perspective on the expansion of schooling. The book offers accurate accounts of the state of research in the history and economics of education. It is also stimulating for anyone trying to take some distance and think about future research agendas. Like many edited volumes, the book suffers perhaps from a lack of unity. I was also a bit disappointed by the lack of comparative data.

Globalization and the Rise of Mass Education is not a global history of the rise of mass education, but a history of the links between mass education and globalization. The introduction outlines the relationship between globalization and education, taking perhaps too literal a definition of globalization: “the integration of labor, goods and capital markets” (p. 3). This is the classical economist definition of globalization, but the book has, with a few exceptions, little to say on the relationship between education and trade or capital flows. It has, however, a lot to say on the role of colonization, religious missions, and cultural influences broadly speaking. Therefore, the book does in fact take globalization in a much broader sense, as the existence of interactions between countries, irrelevant of the presence of market integration.

The book is divided in four parts. The first is concerned with the role of religious missions in the expansion of schooling. Both contributors make an excellent job of summarizing the recent literature on the subject: Felix Meier zu Selhausen covers the African continent, and Felipe Valencia Caicedo covers Latin America and Asia. Both insist on the historical importance of religious missions in providing education. Valencia Caicedo’s contribution also insists on the persistent economic and cultural legacy of religious missions in Latin America and Asia. Meier zu Selhausen’s main message is that, in Africa, the success of the missions’ education enterprise depended crucially on local characteristics (local demand for education and local supply of African teachers), a message that might be important for the literature assessing the long-term impact of missions on present day outcomes. One thing perhaps missing from these chapters is a discussion of whether, how and why religious schools ended up losing their importance. Meier zu Selhausen writes “while mission schools were responsible for the initial rise in mass education, most educational progress was achieved by the modern African state” (p. 28). I wonder to what extent the same could be said of Latin America.

The second part of the book is entitled “Colonial Legacies, Local Elites and Schooling.” In a first chapter, Sun Go and Ki-Joo Park give a comparative account of the rise of primary education in South Korea and Taiwan during the Japanese colonization. This is particularly interesting considering the rapid growth of these two countries after independence, often attributed to their relatively high level of human capital. The authors used primary sources to produce new internationally comparable estimates of enrollment, class size, and education expenditure, in the spirit of Lindert’s (2004) chapter on the rise of mass public schooling in Western countries. In a second chapter, Irina España-Eljaiek studies school development in Colombia during the first globalization. It is one of the only chapters to directly tackle the question of race and inequality in the provision of education: according to España-Eljaiek, racism explains why the increase in primary education following the export boom during the first globalization was not equally shared. Interestingly, the vision of religious missions emerging from this chapter is very different from the vision emerging from part I: “the Catholic missions were expensive, limited the subnational autonomy and had little impact on education” (p. 138).

The third part is concerned with international migration. The first two chapters ask the same question: was migration during the first globalization responsible for a brain drain or a brain gain in the sending country? The answer is important for anyone concerned about the consequences of emigration for developing countries. The first chapter, written by Matteo Gomellini and Cormac Ó Gráda, studies Italy and Ireland, while the second chapter, written by Johannes Westberg, studies Sweden. Emigration could be responsible for a fall in average human capital if emigrants were positively selected on education, while it could be responsible for a human capital increase if emigration increased the perceived returns to education, or if remittances from migrants increased the income available for spending on education. Though both chapters are very nuanced in their conclusions, they find little evidence for a brain drain and some evidence for a brain gain. Particularly striking is Westberg’s example of the potential for technology transfers because of the migration and re-migration of technical engineers from Sweden to the U.S.: 40% of the graduates from technical institutes between 1880 and 1919 emigrated to the U.S. 70% of these re-migrated, and played a major role in the development of Swedish industry (p. 208-209). Finally, a last chapter by Bruno Gabriel Witzel de Souza studies the impact of migration on human capital in the receiving country, by carefully reconstructing, using a wealth of archival material, the history of German schools in Brazil

The fourth part is concerned with how different ideas about education and school systems travelled around the world and shaped the expansion of education in various places. Nancy Beadie studies the exportation of the American education system to the colonial territories of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. According to her, the logic behind the federal support for education expansion after the Civil War was then exported to the colonies. Pei Gao studies the emergence of Western-inspired modern education in China between the end of the nineteenth century and 1949. The implementation of a national education system was decentralized and depended a lot on local political elites. This is reminiscent of the history of the emergence of mass education in Western Europe and the U.S. (Lindert 2004). The chapter brings together data on public and private school supply and enrollment rates. The final chapter by David Mitch studies Iran, a too often overlooked country. It is concerned with how Iran achieved nearly universal literacy in the space of few decades, with surprising continuity between the Pahlavi dynasty and the Islamic regime. Both the Shah and the Ayatollah used education as a policy lever to achieve political goals.

My only concern with this much needed volume is that it perhaps lacks a unifying question. Each chapter stands on its own and there is little discussion between the different chapters. I had the feeling that the book was hesitating between two forms: 1) a history of how globalization (transfers of ideas, migration of people, missionary expansion and colonization) mattered for the expansion of mass education, and 2) a global, comparative history of education systems. In the end, I think what the book wants to be is 1), which means there is still room for writing 2), perhaps with the same contributors. I was also a bit disappointed by the lack of comparative data. Though individual chapters display new data, there was no attempt to harmonize and bring together these data to present a global quantitative vision of the rise of mass education in the last two centuries.


Peter Lindert, Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

World Bank. 2020. World Development Indicators.


Yannick Dupraz is a teaching fellow at the University of Warwick. His research interests are development economics and the economic history of Africa. A recent publication of his “French and British Colonial Legacies in Education: Evidence from the Partition of Cameroon,” Journal of Economic History 79(3).

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