School Types: Public Education

Figure 1.--The first free public schools were founded in Germany (Prussia) and America during the 18th century. Here Protestantism was a factor. It is no accident that these two countries were proplelled to poor backwaters to world leaders. The same occured in Japan which was the first Asian country to establish a public school system in Asia. Here we see 'In the village school', by an anonymous German artist of the Dusseldorf School depicting a boy entering the village public school.


Public education is state (meaning government in general) provision of tuition-free schools for the entire population. The British use the term "public" differently.

Government Level

Countries vary as to what level of government is respobsible for public education. In America it is a state (provincial) responsibility. In most other countries it is the respomnsibility of the national (federal/central) government. Herman schools after unification were the responsibility of each state (landen). France in contrast developed a highly centralized public school systm.


Public schools are normally divided into primary and secondary schools. Some countries hve middle schools to easr the transition from primary to secondary schools.


Many poor countries are only able to finance primary schools and have very limited secondary system.

Compulsory Attendance

Just because a country founded a public school system does not mean that all children attended. For a range of reasons, a varying number of children did not. An important next step was compulsory attendance laws. As public schools developed, laws were past requiring children to attend school to a certain age. Public education is a realitively modern concept.


The history of publication varies widely from country to country. Europe entered the modern age generally seen as the 16th century without state/public schools. Most children at the time were not educated and lillteracy was widespread.

Sponsoring Organization

Some monarchs showed an interest in promoting education, but few people saw education as a governent responsibility. It was still largely the province of the Catholic Church which did not see widespread education as advisable. The Church discouraged the public from reading the Bible, realizing that it would lead to all kinds of different interpreations. This is one reason why the Catholic Church attempted to restrict translations of the Bible into national languages.


Attitudes toward wide-spread education were to change with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther and the Protestants did not think that the individual meeded to seek God through priests, rather they felt the individual needed to read and study the Bible. To do so of course the individual needed to be literate. And thus we see schooling being promoted in Protestant northern Europe while education Catholic southern Europe languished. Here two factors were at play. The Church and ruling aristocracy were concerned about the consequences of educating the masses. And the Inquisition sought to restrict more advanced scholarship.


The first public schools came from northrn Europe where Protestabts wanted their children educated, in part so they could read the Bible. We see the first public schools in northern Germny. Prussia was a leader, in part an effort to compete with richer countries suronding the country. Over time, more countries beginning with the United States established public schools. This began during the colonial era, although they were not free unit the United States emerged from the Revolution. Each state founded its own school system. Eventually public schools became European wide. Even so, large numbers of children in Catholic southern Europe did not attend schools becuse of poverty. Public secondary schools were rather limited in Europe until after World War II. Public schools were a largely Europen and Noth American phenomenon until modern times. Latin American schools were poorly funded and not available to many children. They wee virtually non exisrent yntil after World War II. The exception was Japan which after the Meiji Resoration founded a Europen style public school system (1870s). Japan brutally built an empire. As brutal as the Japanese were, two of the finest Asian public schools are former Japanese colonies (South Korea and Taiwan). Public schools were founded in the British Dominions (Australia and New Zealand) and the Philippines after the United States it from Spain. African countries began founding public schools after World war II and the Decolinization process. The situation in North Africa and the Middle East is complicated. France began founding public achools in North Africa at the same time as in metropolitance France, but they were used as an instrument to Frenchify the indeginous population and thus often resisted by the local. In Middle East public schools were not founded until after World War II. A major issue for religious and cultural reasons became the education of girls.


An issue in public education is selctivity. In public school, should special attention be given to academically talented children. European soblic education systems often had special schools for academically talented children. In England there were academically selective gtammar schools which children wh pased a test could attend. Over time this was felt to be unfair and most of the secondary schools were tund into comprehensives. Many American public school systems separated children into multiple tracks based on performamce and the the results of intelligence tests (1930s).


These schools in different countries have had a variety of uniforms and dress codes. Some of these schools had destinctive uniforms. Many schools, especially state schools, have not had uniforms--although this trend has begun to change in some countries.


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Created: 7:49 PM 1/26/2018
Last updated: 7:50 PM 1/26/2018