Up until a mere 200 years ago it was employers, not governments, who took first responsibility for children’s education. Indeed, the more enlightened employers in this country were already founding new grammar schools and municipal universities in those years — the latter because the only universities this country had then, Oxford and Cambridge, were little more than theological colleges and were not teaching anywhere near enough engineering and science.
Governments in this country and Europe took over education in the 19th century because they were becoming increasingly nervous. As factory workers passed through the sweated labour conditions of the early years of the century, they started making demands. They were gaining just enough wage surplus (at least among a disciplined minority) to have aspirations for the higher status goods that, hitherto, were enjoyed only by the aristocracy and the upper middle class. They wanted more earnings, naturally, but also more parliamentary representation.
In short, the working populations of most northern European countries and Britain were seething, and government politicians were frequently afraid to go to sleep at night. There were revolution all round Europe in 1848 and we came close too on several occasions. Governments — and by this time with a growing number of semi-politicians or civil servants has somehow to get their populations under control.
This is very easily done if you can get hold of children at an early enough age when they are eager to learn and their minds are still pliable. Up until puberty children will believe almost anything they’re taught by adults because becoming adult is the one thing they want more than anything else. And, of course, once the successful European countries had instituted state education for all children by the turn of the last century then all other government were bound to follow as a mark of cultural necessity.
In future years when the world economic system gets closer to its fundamental state of ‘least effort’ — and the cost of governments become minimal — then education will return to businesses and employers who will need far more vocationally trained specialisations than ever before.