Article | Explorations in Economic History | April 2012

Big BRICs, Weak Foundations: The Beginning of Public Elementary Education in Brazil, Russia, India, and China

by Latika Chaudhary, Aldo Musacchio, Steven Nafziger and Se Yan

Abstract

Our paper provides a comparative perspective on the development of public primary education in four of the largest developing economies circa 1910: Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC). These four countries encompassed more than 50% of the world's population in 1910, but remarkably few of their citizens attended any school by the early 20th century. We present new, comparable data on school inputs and outputs for BRIC drawn from contemporary surveys and government documents. Recent studies emphasize the importance of political decentralization and relatively broad political voice for the early spread of public primary education in developed economies. We identify the former and the lack of the latter to be important in the context of BRIC, but we also outline how other factors such as factor endowments, colonialism, serfdom, and, especially, the characteristics of the political and economic elite help explain the low achievement levels of these four countries and the incredible amount of heterogeneity within each of them.

Keywords: Perspective; Growth and Development; Middle School Education; Developing Countries and Economies; Data and Data Sets; Geographic Location; Public Administration Industry; Brazil; Russia; India; China;

Citation:

Chaudhary, Latika, Aldo Musacchio, Steven Nafziger, and Se Yan. "Big BRICs, Weak Foundations: The Beginning of Public Elementary Education in Brazil, Russia, India, and China." Explorations in Economic History 49, no. 2 (April 2012): 221–240.