Article on development of school system published in prestigious journal

How did the education system develop? Why did some countries choose to secularise schools completely, while others gave state support to private religious schools? Johannes Lindvall has conducted a survey of how Western schooling developed and had his article published in the world’s most prestigious political science journal.

Johannes Lindvall

Johannes Lindvall.

American Political Science Review is to political scientists what Science and Nature are to researchers in science and medicine. It publishes only the very best research articles. The study of the development of the school system that Johannes Lindvall, Professor of Political Science, has carried out with colleague Ben Ansell from Oxford became the first article by a Swedish researcher to be published in the journal since the 1990s.

“There is a huge amount of literature on the development of the welfare state, but few political scientists have conducted comparative studies of how the education system developed”, says Johannes Lindvall, as a partial explanation as to why their article made the cut. “There has been a lack of research in political science on the development of schooling. We know how important the school system is to the welfare state and for countries’ economic development, but despite this the subject has been neglected.”

Nowadays, education is a weapon in the political debate and this was also the case at the turn of the last century, which is the period addressed in Professor Lindvall’s article.

The researchers chose to focus on the period 1870–1939, the years when most Western countries designed their school systems. They selected 27 countries in Europe, North America and Eastern Asia and classified them according to three parameters: the degree of centralised control, whether schools were secular or confessional, and in what cases private schools received state funding.

One thing that surprised the researchers was that two completely different ideologies both led to a centralised education system. One of these was countries with liberals and social democrats in power, i.e. two democratic ideologies. They wanted to move away from conservative values by breaking away from the old village and parish schools, which were often governed by priests, and replace these with centrally controlled schools. However, on the other hand fascist dictatorships also aspired to centralised control.

“In both cases, the idea was to break away from the old and increase control over schools, but it happened for completely different reasons”, says Johannes Lindvall.

Another clear finding of the study was that countries with religious minorities chose to give state funding to private religious schools.

“State funds were used to subdue incipient religious conflicts”, says Johannes Lindvall, citing the example of the Dutch education system. Universal schooling only took off once disagreements between Protestants, Catholics and secularists had been solved by subsidising private religious schools.

Johannes Lindvall sees certain similarities with today’s school capitation allowance, though he points out that the allowance is a way to satisfy the demands of the middle classes for greater choice within the welfare state.

Since Professor Lindvall’s article was published in American Political Science Review, a further two articles by Swedish political scientists have appeared in the journal (as well as Lund philosopher Marcus Agnafors). He sees it as a sign that political science in Sweden is changing and gaining a more international character:

“Researchers from other European countries have been better at publishing their work in international journals”, he says. “Now, publishing articles has become more important here as well, and that way we can better show the potential of Swedish political science research.”

Ulrika Oredsson