All over the world, nations have spent much of the last 20 years scrambling to increase and improve access to basic education. Globally, the number of people without access to a basic education has fallen significantly in the years since the goals of Education For All (EFA) were announced in 2000 at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, and extended at Incheon, South Korea, in 2016. This is ostensibly very good news. While universal access to a basic education is certainly a worthy goal, one can raise significant questions about the orientation of these efforts and the manner in which they are being pursued. For example, very little attention seems to have been paid to what the schools are or will be like, or to how the nations and people they must serve may be different from those for whom they were designed. To understand the inevitable problems that flow from this potential mismatch, it is useful to examine education in nations that have achieved more or less universal access to basic education. Many of the educational, social, economic, and social justice disparities that plague those nations are today understood as natural effects of the educational infrastructures in operation. Examination of recent empirical research and practice that attends to the importance of social and cultural factors in education may allow nations that are currently building or scaling up access to head off some predictable and difficult problems before they become endemic and calcified on a national scale. Nations who seize the opportunity to build asset-based and culturally responsive pedagogies into their educational systems early on may, in time, provide the rest of the world with much needed leadership on these issues.