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Compulsory education refers to a period of education that is required of persons, imposed by the rule of law.

Antiquity to Medieval Era[edit]

Although Plato's The Republic is credited with having popularized the concept of compulsory education in Western intellectual thought, every parent in Judea since ancient times was required to teach their children at least informally. Over the centuries, as cities, towns and villages developed, a class of teachers called Rabbis evolved. According to the Talmud (tractate Bava Bathra 21a), which praises the sage Joshua ben Gamla with the institution of formal Jewish education in the 1st century AD, Ben Gamla instituted schools in every town and made formal education compulsory from the age of 6 or 7.[1]

The Aztec Triple Alliance, which ruled from 1428 to 1521 in what is now central Mexico, is considered to be the first state to implement a system of universal compulsory education.[2][3]

Early Modern Era[edit]

The Reformation prompted the establishment of compulsory education for boys and girls. Most important was Martin Luther's text 'An die Ratsherren aller Städte deutschen Landes,' (1524) with the call for establishing schools.[4] Especially the Protestant South-West of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation with cities like Strassburg became pioneers in educational questions. Under the influence of Strasbourg in 1592 the German Duchy Pfalz-Zweibrücken became the first territory of the world with compulsory education for girls and boys.[5] The South German Duchy Wuerttemberg installed a compulsory education already in 1559, but for boys only.[6]

In Scotland the Education Act of 1496 had obliged the children of noblemen and freeholders to attend school, but the School Establishment Act of 1616 commanded every parish with the means to establish a school paid for by parishioners. The Parliament of Scotland confirmed this with the Education Act of 1633 and created a local land-based tax to provide the required funding. The required majority support of parishioners, however, provided a tax evasion loophole which heralded the Education Act of 1646. The turmoil of the age meant that in 1661 there was a temporary reversion to the less compulsory 1633 position. However, in 1696 a new Act re-established the compulsory provision of a school in every parish with a system of fines, sequestration, and direct government implementation as a means of enforcement where required.

During the Reformation in 1524, Martin Luther advocated compulsory schooling so that all parishioners would be able to read the Bible themselves, and Palatinate-Zweibrücken passed accordant legislation in 1592, followed by Strasbourg—then a free city of the Holy Roman Empire— in 1598.

Prussia implemented a modern compulsory system in 1763 which was widely recognised and copied. It was introduced by decree of Frederick the Great in 1763-5[7] and was later expanded in the 19th century. This provided a working model for other states to copy; the clearest example of direct copying is probably Japan in the period of the Meiji Restoration.[8] Prussia introduced this model of education so as to produce more obedient soldiers and serfs[citation needed].

In Austria, Hungary and in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown (Czech lands), mandatory primary education was introduced by Empress Maria Theresa in 1774.[7]

Modern Era[edit]

United States[edit]

Compulsory school attendance based on the Prussian model gradually spread to other countries, reaching the American Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1852, and spreading to other states until, in 1918, Mississippi was the last state to enact a compulsory attendance law.[9] Massachusetts had originally enacted the first compulsory education law in the American colonies in 1647. In 1852, the Massachusetts General Court passed a law requiring every town to create and operate a grammar school. Fines were imposed on parents who did not send their children to school and the government took the power to take children away from their parents and apprentice them to others if government officials decided that the parents were "unfit to have the children educated properly".[10]

Compulsory education was not part of early American society;[citation needed] which relied instead on church-run private schools that mostly charged fees for tuition.[citation needed] The spread of compulsory attendance in the Massachusetts tradition throughout America, especially for Native Americans, has been credited to General Richard Henry Pratt.[11] Pratt used techniques developed on Native Americans in a prisoner of war camp in Fort Marion, Augustine, Florida, to force demographic minorities across America into government schools.[11] His prototype was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.


One of the last areas in Europe to adopt a compulsory system was England and Wales, where the Elementary Education Act of 1870 paved the way by establishing school boards to set up schools in any places that did not have adequate provision. Attendance was made compulsory until age 10 in 1880.

Variation in countries[edit]

Some kind of education is compulsory to all people in most countries, but different localities vary in how many years or grades of education they require. Due to population growth and the proliferation of compulsory education, UNESCO calculated in 2006 that over the subsequent 30 years more people would receive formal education than in all prior human history.[12] It is possible in many countries for parents to provide education for children by homeschooling, although this is often monitored for adherence to national standards.

Country Age Range Notes
Australia 5-15/17 Upper age limit varies among states. Waived if pursuing full-time employment or full-time education
Belgium 6-18
Canada 6-16 Except Ontario and New Brunswick: 6-18. Some provinces have exemptions at 14
China 6-15 Except Hong Kong: 12 years of compulsory education
Egypt 6-14
Finland approx 7-15 Beginning age is negotiable ± 1 year. Ends after graduation from comprehensive school, or at least 9 years.
France 6-16
Germany 6-16 Varies slightly between states[13][14]
Haiti 6-11 The Haitian Constitution mandates that education be free of charge. However, even public schools charge substantial fees. 80% of children to go to private schools.
Hungary 6-16
India 6-14 The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in August 2009, made education free and compulsory for children between 6 and 14.
Indonesia grades 1-9
Italy 6-16
Jamaica 5-16 Parents could faces charges of Child Neglect, if they prevent their children from going to school without valid reasons. Not enforced.
Malaysia 6-12[15]
Mexico Schooling is required through upper secondary school (Preparatoria).[16]
Morocco 6-15
Poland 7-18 Polish law distinguishes between compulsory school (obowiązek szkolny) and compulsory education (obowiązek nauki).
Russia 7-18 Student may leave after age 15 with the approval of a parent and the local authority.[17]
Slovenia 6-15
Singapore 6-14
Syria 6-15 Typical ages for 9 years of compulsory education from grade 1 to grade 9.
Taiwan 7-15 Typical ages for 9 years of compulsory education. 12-year compulsory education starting from 2014.
United Kingdom 5-17 Will rise to 18 in 2015.[18]
United States about 6-17 Varies by state. Beginning age varies 5-8, ending age varies 15-18.[19] Some states allow early leave with parental approval.
Zimbabwe 6-16 Typical ages for 11 years of compulsory education.


Compulsory education has been criticized on various grounds:

  • The belief that it encroaches on the rights of children[20]
  • The belief that it encroaches on the rights of parents[21]
  • The belief that, historically, compulsory education is not guided by altruism[22]
  • The belief that it implicitly teaches authoritarianism[23]
  • The belief that the variety of children's individual growth cannot be supported within an imposed structure[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wikipedia: Jewish education#Primary schooling
  2. ^ Jacques Soustelle (11 November 2002). Daily life of the Aztecs: on the eve of the Spanish Conquest. Courier Dover Publications. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-486-42485-9. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Wikipedia: Aztec#Education
  4. ^ http://books.google.de/books?id=LmOsRpe0nC0C&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=%27An+die+Ratsherren+aller+St%C3%A4dte+deutschen+Landes,&source=bl&ots=Cbol9QTBZu&sig=NoTvTICsLBMYPYMisSmAphXiMDA&hl=de&sa=X&ei=sfJPU6j_I4LAtQb16oGAAw&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%27An%20die%20Ratsherren%20aller%20St%C3%A4dte%20deutschen%20Landes%2C&f=false
  5. ^ Emil Sehling (ed.), Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrhunderts. Vol 18: Rheinland-Pfalz I. Tübingen 2006, p. 406.
  6. ^ "Große Kirchenordnung", 1559, Oliver Geister, Die Ordnung der Schule. Zur Grundlegung einer Kritik am verwalteten Unterricht. Münster 2006, p. 145.
  7. ^ a b James van Horn Melton. "Absolutism and the Eighteenth-Century Origins of Compulsory Schooling in Prussia and Austria". p. xiv.
  8. ^ Wikipedia: Education in Japan
  9. ^ "History of Education". ExtremeIntellect.com. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  10. ^ Rothbard, Murray Rothbard. "The Puritans 'Purify': Theocracy in Massachusetts". Conceived in Liberty. Arlington House Publishers. 
  11. ^ a b Witte, Daniel E. and Paul T. Mero. "Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice, 2008 BYU Law Review 377" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  12. ^ Schools Kill Creativity. TED Talks, 2006, Monterey, CA, USA.
  13. ^ "Schulpflicht" (in German). Retrieved October 2, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Where home schooling is illegal". BBC News. March 22, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Pelaksanaan pendidikan wajib di peringkat rendah 2003". 
  16. ^ "''Calderón firma decreto de preparatoria obligatoria'' Laura Casillas". Azteca Noticias. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  17. ^ Federal law of Russia "On education", article 19.6
  18. ^ "Education leaving age". Politics.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  19. ^ Age range for compulsory school attendance and special education services, and policies on year-round schools and kindergarten programs.. Retrieved November 28, 2009.
  20. ^ John Holt
  21. ^ Branden, N. (1963). Public Education, Should Education be Compulsory and Tax Supported, as it is Today? Chapter 5, Common Fallacies About Capitalism, Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 89.
  22. ^ Murray Rothbard
  23. ^ Hidden curriculum
  24. ^ Herbert Read, The Education of Free Men (London: Freedom Press, 1944), pp. 27 — 28.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_education — Please support Wikipedia.
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