Even in the recent past, the colonial legacy has had a large negative impact on education in the former colonies of both Spain and France, according to a major new study out this week from the University of Bath. By contrast, Britain's colonial education has not adversely affected schooling in its former colonies, the study found.
The research, published in the prestigious journal Kyklos, reports that, in Spain's former colonies, the negative impact has been particularly large.
"In these countries, during the 1972-2012 period the colonial legacy has reduced the secondary school enrolment rate by 17 percentage points", explained lead researcher Dr Horst Feldmann from the University of Bath's Department of Economics.
"In the former French colonies, the reduction has been 10 percentage points.
"Additionally, in both groups of countries adults have attained 1.6 fewer years of schooling over the same period.
"The detrimental effects on females have been even larger, both in former Spanish and former French colonies", said Dr Feldmann.
The study, which statistically controls for other determinants of schooling, is the first to cover a large number of ex-colonies.
"Particularly, it is the first to cover former colonies of Spain", explained Dr Feldmann.
It includes 17 former Spanish colonies, 23 former French colonies and 36 former British colonies.
Dr Feldmann said: "The results for the former Spanish colonies are especially remarkable, given that Spain's colonial rule ended almost two centuries ago.
"The reason for the negative effects is that many characteristics of Spanish colonial education have persisted long after independence. Specifically, Spanish remained the sole, or at least the dominant language of instruction, and educational provision in rural areas as well as for girls and the poor has remained very limited," explained Dr Feldmann.
"The large persistent effects in former French colonies are remarkable too, as most of these countries became independent more than 50 years ago. Here, most features limiting education have persisted after independence as well.
"These include a high degree of centralisation and government control, a very limited scope for non-governmental organisations to provide education, a neglect of local conditions and parents' preferences, and the selectivity and elitist nature of the system, which disadvantaged girls in particular. Also, most teaching continued to be in French.
"In Britain's former colonies, many features of its colonial education have persisted too, but these have been mostly benign. Thus it is unsurprising that we did not find negative effects here", said Dr Feldmann.
"In these countries, there has long been a high degree of autonomy of schools and teachers, educational provision has been relatively well adapted to parents' preferences and local practices, voluntary organisations have been subsidised and granted a wide scope to engage and compete, and the education of girls has been established early on. Furthermore, instruction has always been in the local vernacular in the first grades, enabling practically all native children to enter school."