When did free public education begin?


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
The Swedish literacy phenomenon was kicked off by the new Church Law of 1683. It was a pretty massive reform, and one of its most portentous aspects was that by decree all the subjects of his Swedish Majesty were by law required to be able to prove that they could sufficiently read the Bible and the Catechism. Failure to do so could imply prevention from receiving a proper Christian burial. Apparently there were court cases where elderly people know to have been illiterate could not be buried until credible witnesses had come forward to vouch for the orthodox Lutheran religiosity (as per the Declaration of Augsburg).

The parishes set up schools and saw to teaching arrangements. Typically the bellringer was also tasked with being schoolmaster.

But the end result was that the Swedish commoner sometime before the beginning of the 18th c. was in fact able to read. Literacy however isn't necessarily a digital on-off gambit, and if using more exacting standards of literacy, it's also obvious that this ability to read wasn't necessarily matched by any similar ability to write.

Then again, all HM's subject, regardless of language, were covered by the same injunction. So there would be not just Swedish speaking literate peasants, but also Finnish, Estonian and even Sami speaking ones. (It has been calculated that in the period 1593-1717 in Sweden's northernmost province, the proper Lapland, not less than 17% of the parish priests were the sons of reindeer herding Sami.)
May 2019
Depends what you define as "education" I guess. In the Pacific-Northwest before colonisation, children received free education from their elders about a range of topics from religion to survival to good manners...