Htet Thiha Zaw

Repression and (Re)Education: A Theory of Institutional Change in Colonial Education

Why did colonial states expand their involvement in educating their indigenous populations? Observed across colonial Southeast Asia, this phenomenon's characteristic feature is not explained by existing research: a policy change from the early support for indigenous providers to their later replacement by secular and missionary schools. To illustrate this, I conceptualize colonial education as a commitment problem, where the government, despite economic benefits from education, faces the risk of anti-colonial resistance from the educated population. I propose that, under low anti-colonial resistance, the government relies on indigenous providers to reap economic benefits, and under high anti-colonial resistance is low, it replaces them for more control over ideological content. I expect a gradual shift in education's dominant purpose, from training bureaucrats to building a national identity. The theory merges existing research on education's role as an economic good and an ideological good, showing the dynamics of its role in shaping colonial education.