The Good and Bad of Mission Schools in Africa (RELS 348)

The effects of colonialism can be seen all over the world, and the complexities of negative and positive impacts are vast. After reading Samuel G. Freedman’s article “Mission Schools Opened World to Africans, but Left an Ambiguous Legacy,” The New York Times, December 27, 2013, it became apparent to me that although there were many negative effects, such as assimilation, there were also positive effects that came out of colonization.

In the article, Samuel G. Freedman focuses on Nelson Mandela’s experience in one of the mission schools set up in Africa, as recounted in Mandela’s autobiography. Samuel G. Freedman best describes the struggle with the mission schools as a “contested crossroads. It was apart of colonialism, yet it educated students who opposed colonialism”[1]. What became very apparent to me was that even though many of these mission schools tried to assimilate the native African people into Western culture, it also was the only opportunity Africans had for an education. This education is what trained many influential black African people, and it promoted a sense of equality among the different races.

If colonization had never happened and the mission schools had never been created, some of the greatest leaders of the past century never would have gained the education they did, and would have had far smaller, if any, sphere of influence. It was through colonialism that the world was eventually able to here the ideas of an oppressed group of people, as many of these individuals were able to hold onto their beliefs and views of the world.   This does not take away the hurt, but it was not all bad; the mission schools led to a new group of people being educated, which gave them influence and power in a world where they previously had none.

On the other hand, one factor that contributed to how the mission schools were hurtful is that the colonial powers felt the need to push their culture and beliefs onto the native people of the land they are taking over. There was no interest in getting to know the people and their way of life. This was also seen in Vietnam in the case of the reporters who came to cover the War. As Uwe Siemon-Netto recounts, “Most correspondents were isolated from the Vietnamese by ignorance of their language and culture”[2]. I think many times the colonial power, or any country of more power and wealth, feels it their duty to show people a “better” way of life, but they have no interest in learning from the native peoples of these lands. There is no belief that the colonial power needs to grow or learn anything.

This is where it becomes hurtful and dangerous, because even though they may be bringing education, new technologies, and new ideas, there is often bitterness from the native people, as Freedman discusses in the article. Since they know they are not respected or heard as individuals, there is anger. Yet often, as seen with Nelson Mandela, people do not revolt completely because they know there are things, like education, that they would not receive with out the colonial powers being in place. It is a cycle that feels like two steps forward, one step back, creating very slow progress, however progress was being made.


[1] Samuel G. Freedman, Mission Schools Opened World to Africans, but Left an Ambiguous Legacy (The New York Times, 2013)

[2] Uwe Siemon-Netto, Triumph of the Absurd (USA: Uwe Siemon-Netto, 2014), 113.


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