Formal education is a relatively recent institution in the history of mankind, dating back a mere two centuries. The recognition that education relates to a country’s development is even more recent, dating back just a few decades. Non-formal education of course existed since time immemorial in the form of philosopher–student or master–apprentice relationships, and some European universities date back to the thirteenth century. But organized schooling where children of a certain age were obliged to attend school started as late as the nineteenth century in England.
The link between education and economic development was identified by the so-called “Human Capital School” originating at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s (Schultz 1961a; Becker 1964). According to early versions of human capital theory, expenditure on education is an investment with many similarities to investment in machines. National resources are used while the student is in school, in the form of direct outlays to education and forgone labor earnings. But later in life more-educated workers contribute more to national output than less-educated workers. The discounted difference between the cost and benefit flows related to education can lead to estimates of the profitability of investment in human capital.