French and British Colonial Legacies in Education: A Natural Experiment in Cameroon

Type Journal Article - Paris: Paris School of Economics
Title French and British Colonial Legacies in Education: A Natural Experiment in Cameroon
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Does colonial history matter for development? In Sub-Saharan Africa,
economists have argued that the British colonial legacy was more growth-inducing
than others, especially through its effect on education. This paper uses the division
of German Kamerun between the British and the French after WWI as a natural
experiment to identify the causal effect of colonizer identity on education. Using
exhaustive geolocated census data, I estimate a border discontinuity for various cohorts
over the 20th century: the British effect on education is positive for individuals of
school age in the 1920s and 1930s; it quickly fades away in the late colonial period and
eventually becomes negative, favoring the French side. In the most recent cohorts,
I find no border discontinuity in primary education, but I do find a positive British
effect in secondary school completion — likely explained by a higher rate of grade
repetition in the francophone system. I also find a strong, positive British effect on
the percentage of Christians for all cohorts. I argue that my results are best explained
by supply factors: before WWII, the British colonial government provided incentives
for missions to supply formal education and allowed local governments to open public
schools, but the British effect was quickly smoothed away by an increase in French
education investments in the late colonial period. Though the divergence in human
capital did not persist, its effect on religion was highly persistent.

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