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On Thursday, May 5, Leonard Wantchekon joined Markus’ Academy for a lecture on Externalities of Colonial Schools in Africa. Wantchekon is the James Madison Professor of Political Economy and Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Watch the full presentation below. You can also watch all Markus’ Academy webinars on the Princeton BCF YouTube channel.

[0:00] Introductory Remarks
[9:20] Research Goals
[23:42] Research Methods
[38:03] Findings for the second generation
[47:29] Findings for the third generation|
[57:05] Implications for these countries going forward

Executive Summary

  • [0:00] Introductory Remarks. GDP growth is not uniform worldwide, and growth in other areas of the world like South Korea have been stimulated by exports, which has not happened in countries like Côte d’Ivoire. Population growth is extremely fast in Sub-Saharan Africa, which could lead to migration pressures or social unrest, meaning that there needs to be increased growth; this could come from avenues such as education, technology, and other new institutions.
  • [9:20] Research Goals: Development is largely driven by human capital, but we need to uncover what are the driving mechanisms of persistence and social mobility. Education literature primarily focuses on supply, but the formation of demand is a key factor in educational systems. The goal of this project was to uncover mechanisms of social mobility and the persistence of education investments using micro evidence from colonial schools in Benin and Nigeria. Specifically, examining the effects of colonial schools on social mobility over generations could explain some patterns in development. Education led to a large and persistent shift away from subsistence agriculture. An overlapping-generations model of human capital predicts education worsening inequality, due to persistence in income and education across generations. Yet, inequality is mitigated by network effects, better labor markets, rich educated to poor uneducated capital transfer, and political participation.
  • [23:42] Research Methods. By examining those who lived close to a school without actually attending, this research aims to see the broader influence of social norms around education on future outcomes of success. In this way, the research can separate which children went to school (T1) based on archival research, those who were around (7 km proximity) schools but did not attend (T2), and those who did not have schools around them to attend, living within 7-20 km of the school (control group). For every first-generation subject, they looked at descendents, nephews and nieces, and followed similar procedures for looking at the families of second-generation subjects. They were able to interview members of each generation to find these results.
  • [38:03] Findings for the second generation. Better outcomes for the T2 group than the control group, closing the income and education gap on the T1 group. T2 second generation had much better living standards and social networks than the control group. Similar results hold for the nieces and nephews because of the support structures that support familial success beyond one’s children. Backwards sampling was used in this project, but fears of selection bias are not warranted because culturally it is the norm to have some members of every family staying in the villages. The implications for this generation is that they can see how education can lead to success, and will foster these ideas and motivations in their own children.
  • [47:29] Findings for the third generation. The grandchildren of the uneducated near schools did better than the grandchildren of the educated, because of positive attitudes (self-reliance, positive life outlook, better work ethic). Looking at the social mobility between the second generation and third generation is very telling: those in the bottom two income brackets in generation 2 are in higher income brackets in generation 3 more often if they are from a T2 family than a T1 family. For example, if a grandparent is uneducated living close to a school, the outcomes will generally be better for the grandchildren than if the grandparent went to the school. This suggests that parental aspiration plays a larger role than income in future generational outcomes.
  • [57:05] Implications for these countries going forward. These papers show implications for social mobility, as well as a need to focus on educational demand, and how important human capital is as a key driver of development. Now, there are ongoing projects in Nigeria to see the effects in schools that is not all boys, as well as looking at descendents of  freed former slaves from Brazil who returned to West Africa in early 19th Century.  There is also an ongoing project on the cross-border spillovers  (from Nigeria to Benin) of Free primary Education program in Western Nigeria (1955)  We need to have better investment in higher education and research, because this will lead to greater aspirations going forward and help improve the overall quality of  African education systems