When did free public education begin?

janusdviveidis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
2,002
Lithuania
I am also not sure what initial poster means exactly by free public education. One of early examples was Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Country was reasonably tolerant to different religions, so when Protestant ideas begun to spread both Catholics and Protestants were trying to win "Hearts and minds" by building free schools. This effort was expanded to all people including peasants. In 1773 Commonwealth was first country in Europe that created something like Ministry of education. This was also connected with religious upheavals. A lot of schools including universities were owned by Jesuits, when order was disbanded all its property was transferred for maintaining their schools by the state. This might have had huge impact, but Commonwealth was destroyed shortly after and this reform didn't have time to bear fruit.
 
Feb 2018
242
US
The Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan. However it also did not survive the turmoil after the fall of the dynasty.
 
Dec 2017
312
Regnum Teutonicum
I am not 100 % sure if it is, what you are asking for, but the first region in the world with compulsory education and compulsory schooling was the duchy of Pfalz-Zweibrücken (Palatinate-Zweibruecken) in 1592. It was for both, girls and boys. I do not know if they were free, but I cannot imagine the poorest during this time being able to afford to pay for this, so it had to be free for them.
 
Nov 2013
724
Texas
Male literacy in the antebellum South (for the free population) was amazingly low.

It was equivalent, or just a bit better than, to levels in the "backwater" regions of Europe.

I am not surprised in th least that southern literacy rates seem to have trailed the North; though I did not expect it to trail this much. I would like statistics on literacy rates on a "backwater" part of Europe though. Nevertheless the artical concludes: ....." I realize none of this is necessarily conclusive but it is generally accepted that literacy rates in the United States were quite high before compulsory schooling was mandated starting in the 1840's. ......"

In 1860, According to this rather questionable reference:

Literacy Rates in Early America


Literacy Rates

    • Northern Whites - 96.9%
  1. Southern Whites - 56.4%
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
I am not surprised in th least that southern literacy rates seem to have trailed the North; though I did not expect it to trail this much. I would like statistics on literacy rates on a "backwater" part of Europe though. Nevertheless the artical concludes: ....." I realize none of this is necessarily conclusive but it is generally accepted that literacy rates in the United States were quite high before compulsory schooling was mandated starting in the 1840's. ......"

In 1860, According to this rather questionable reference:

Literacy Rates in Early America


Literacy Rates

    • Northern Whites - 96.9%
  1. Southern Whites - 56.4%
Perhaps this is also for religious reasons? Radical protestants have always liked to read - and these were more prominent in the North then the South, from what I've gathered...
 
Last edited:
Nov 2013
724
Texas
Perhaps this is also for religious reasons? Radical protestants have always liked to read - and these were more prominent in the North then the South, from what I've gathered...
There is a possibility, that the statistics are off, or somehow unreliable. I do suspect that the notion of an illiterate south (or at least, as illiterate as the figures suggest) has bee challenged before .

According Horace Mann (I think he was discussing the context of slave states; I'll have to get back on this.....then again there were northern slaves states as well....)):


"One tenth of the free whites over 20 years of age are unable to read and write........"

In this quote; I am guessing Horace Mann is arguing that slave states are poorly educated; yet suggests a much higher literacy rate than 56 percent of white freeman.

(granted I might have to contextualise this quote a bit more.........)

Here is another essay "The Literate South":

The Literate South: Reading Before Emancipation
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
As for the question of literacy and "free public education" in the world more generally... it depends on how far you go with "free public education", but in Sweden the peasantry were very encouraged to be able to read (Luther's Der Kleine Katechismus was in practially every home from a century after the reformation onwards). I think it was the same in many protestant countries, especially in Germany as @Isleifson points out. So at least after the Great Nordic War in the early 1700s the vast majority of the Swedish and Finnish population could read. Writing is another matter. There are probably some statistics somewhere on this, my guess is we've had more than 95% literacy from the early 1700s onwards. It was not free public education in the modern sense, but there were "schoolmasters" in many parishes, and a kind of primitive examination system overseen by the Church. Here is an interesting article I found after five seconds of Googling. The second Chapter "The History of Literacy in Sweden" is of special interest.




P.S.

What do people know of Charlemagne's campaigns to get people to read and write? They were quite ambitious, and from what I've understood (although I'm sure this was not universally true) they were not limited to people from the noble classes - although arguably a clear cut stratified nobility had not come into being yet, of course...
 
  • Like
Reactions: Isleifson