Discover the History of Mission Schools Established in South Africa

Mission Schools Established in South Africa

Dive into the fascinating world of mission schools established in South Africa and unravel the enthralling tapestry of their history, influence, and challenges. Witness how these schools forged a unique educational landscape, blending spiritual aspirations with academic endeavors. Engross yourself in this captivating tale, unearth the often-overlooked complexities, and discover the profound impact of these institutions on the very fabric of South African society. So, let’s embark on this riveting journey together, delving deep into the realm of mission schools and their indelible mark on history.

Mission Schools Established in South Africa

Mission schools, established by various religious denominations in South Africa, have played a crucial role in shaping the country’s education system. These institutions not only provided formal education, but also served as a catalyst for religious conversion, cultural assimilation, and sometimes advocacy of colonialism and apartheid.

Understanding the history and impact of mission schools in South Africa is essential to appreciate their multifaceted contributions to the country’s development, as well as the challenges faced by the education system today.


Arrival of missionaries in South Africa

Missionaries started arriving in South Africa in the late 18th century, representing various Christian denominations such as the Moravians, the Methodists, and the Anglicans. Their primary purpose was to evangelize and convert the local population.

Each church played a unique role in establishing mission schools, catering to different communities and providing varying levels of education. While the Moravian Church focused on basic literacy and vocational training, the Anglican and Methodist churches offered more advanced education, including teacher training and higher studies.

The development of mission schools in South Africa can be broadly categorized into three phases: early establishment (1799-1860), expansion (1860-1910), and consolidation (1910-1950). Each phase witnessed significant changes in the objectives, policies, and impact of these institutions.

Aims and Objectives of Mission Schools

Conversion to Christianity

A primary aim of mission schools was to convert the indigenous population to Christianity, as missionaries believed that education was a means to disseminate religious teachings and values.

Change in morality and standards of behavior

Mission schools also sought to change the moral and behavioral standards of the local population, encouraging them to adopt Western values and practices. This was achieved through a strict code of conduct and the inculcation of Christian virtues.

Covert and overt reasons for establishing mission schools

While the overt reasons for establishing mission schools were religious conversion and moral transformation, the covert reasons included the promotion of colonialism and the subjugation of indigenous cultures.

Different perspectives on mission school objectives

Opinions on mission school objectives varied significantly, with some individuals lauding them as agents of progress, while others criticized them for perpetuating colonialism, cultural imperialism, and racial inequality.

Activities and Curriculum in Mission Schools

Overview of activities in various mission schools

Mission schools offered diverse activities, ranging from basic literacy programs to advanced academic courses. They also organized religious services, music lessons, and sports events.

Focus on education and church activities

The curriculum in mission schools primarily focused on education and church activities, with an emphasis on the inculcation of Christian values and Western cultural norms.

Criticisms of the mission school system

The mission school system faced criticisms for its Eurocentric curriculum, propagation of colonialism, and the marginalization of indigenous knowledge and cultures.

Impact of Mission Schools on South African Society

Influence on education and religion

Mission schools significantly influenced education and religion in South Africa, introducing formal schooling and shaping the Christian landscape.

Advocacy of colonialism and apartheid

Mission schools were often criticized for advocating colonialism and apartheid, as they propagated Western values and ideals, contributing to the subjugation of the indigenous population.

Challenges faced by the South African education system

The legacy of mission schools created challenges for the South African education system, including racial inequality, a Eurocentric curriculum, and a lack of access to quality education for all races.

Efforts to create equal academic opportunities for all races

Post-apartheid South Africa has made concerted efforts to dismantle the legacy of mission schools by creating equal academic opportunities for all races. This has involved the implementation of policies aimed at redressing historical imbalances, promoting indigenous knowledge, and fostering a more inclusive educational system.

Case Study: Adams College

Background and establishment of Adams College

Adams College, established in 1853 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was one of the most prominent mission schools in South Africa. It aimed to provide quality education to Africans, focusing on higher education and teacher training.

Features of the college and its curriculum

The college’s curriculum included a mix of academic subjects, religious teachings, and vocational training. It emphasized the development of critical thinking and leadership skills, setting it apart from other mission schools of the time.

Closure of Adams College and its implications

Adams College was closed in 1956 by the apartheid government due to its progressive stance on racial equality and its opposition to the Bantu Education Act. The closure highlighted the oppressive nature of the apartheid regime and the challenges faced by institutions advocating for social justice and equality.


Q1: Who discovered South Africa first?

A1: The text does not provide information on who discovered South Africa first. However, it is widely accepted that Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to reach South Africa in 1488.

Q2: How many missions are there in South Africa?

A2: The text does not provide a specific number of missions in South Africa. Missionary presence varied throughout history, so an exact number is difficult to provide.

Q3: What were the aims of missionary education in South Africa?

A3: The text does not explicitly state the aims of missionary education in South Africa. However, in general, missionary education aimed to spread Christianity, provide basic education, and often sought to assimilate indigenous populations into European culture and values.

Q4: Where did the missionaries come from in South Africa?

A4: The text does not specify the origins of the missionaries in South Africa. Historically, missionaries in South Africa have come from various European countries, including the Netherlands, Britain, and Germany.

Q5: In which South African town was the first mission school for Africans set up?

A5: The text does not provide the name of the South African town where the first mission school for Africans was established. However, mission schools were set up in various locations throughout the country during the 19th century.


The legacy of mission schools in South Africa is a complex and multifaceted one. They played a significant role in introducing formal education, spreading Christianity, and shaping cultural values. However, they also contributed to the perpetuation of colonialism, racial inequality, and cultural subjugation.

The history of mission schools in South Africa offers valuable lessons for modern education. As we strive to create inclusive, equitable, and culturally relevant education systems, it is essential to acknowledge and address the historical legacies that continue to shape our societies. By learning from the past, we can work towards a future where education truly empowers and uplifts all individuals, regardless of their race, culture, or social background.