About MicSem About MicSem

Schools in Micronesia Prior to American Administration

By Francis X. Hezel, SJ


Education is a term that can be construed as broadly as one chooses, and so some might see education in Micronesia as originating with the arrival of the first human settlers in the islands. There can be no such mistake about schools, however, for schools are unambiguously Western cultural imports, despite the enormous importance that they have assumed for Micronesia today. Yet, in the course of the three centuries since schools were introduced to the islands, this institution has taken as deep root in Micronesian soil as the churches that first carried it there. This article is merely an attempt to chronicle in a cursory fashion the school as it was introduced and developed in Micronesia from the earliest years of Spanish colonization through Japanese rule to the eve of the American administration in the Trust Territory.

Early Spanish Schools in the Marianas

The first school in Micronesia -- for that matter, in all of Oceania -- was founded less than a year after the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries in the Marianas. In February 1669, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, built with a gift of 10,000 pesos and supported by a yearly subsidy of 3,000 pesos from the Spanish crown, opened its doors to Chamorro children. The school which the Jesuits saw as the "wellspring of their mission" had humble origins; the missionaries enticed small boys to school with candy and holy cards and taught them little more than simple prayers at first.1 The original school building was destroyed in a typhoon two years later, but it was rebuilt in 1674 within the fortified walls of the presidio in Agana and another school, Escuela de las Niñas, was added for girls.2

Although small schools for the very young soon sprang up near the Jesuit residence in every major town on Guam, the backbone of the educational system remained the colegio and, to a lesser degree, the girls school in Agana. ln the 1720s the colegio had fifty boarding students and an equal number of day students, most of them full-blooded Chamorros rather than mestizos. The students, who were mostly between seven and ten years old, wore uniforms of white linen pants and blue vests with a sash around their waist, attended mass and rosary each day, and played a conspicuous part in religious ceremonies in the community. The boys spent two hours a day studying liturgical responses and chants, religious doctrine, and penmanship -- much of this in Spanish. For the rest of the day they took care of the farm animals and the gardens and learned a variety of skills such as bookbinding, tailoring and embroidery. But the heart of the curriculum, at least for those who had the requisite talent, was music; a select choral group spent a good part of the day practicing the sung masses for Sundays and holydays, while others played the violin, flute or harp in accompaniment.3

The Jesuit educational efforts in the Marianas incorporated three different approaches. The Colegio de San Juan de Letrán and the Escuela de las Niñas were first-rank institutions that offered boys and girls the opportunity to learn the essentials of their faith and its liturgical celebration in music, while acquiring some useful trade skills. There were also the village parish schools in which young boys and girls were taught a little religion and some Spanish, but with none of the frills that the two schools in Agana offered. Finally, for the instruction of adults there were the large ranches that the Jesuits ran, not only to furnish their own food but to offer villagers the opportunity to learn blacksmithing, agricultural methods, animal husbandry and other things that might improve their standard of living.4

At the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Marianas in 1769, the Augustinian Recoletos who assumed pastoral responsibility for the mission did not show the same interest in the schools that their predecessors had. The colegio was moved from its former building to a new site near the main rectory in Agana where it became still another administrative chore for a priest who was already the pastor of Agana and the vicar of the Marianas mission. The colegio then began a slow demise through the early nineteenth century as the enrollment dropped to thirty students and the subsidy was cut to 1000 pesos a year.5

Meanwhile, the government established its first two free schools to boost the sagging educational program in the colony. The curriculum of these schools was reading, writing and arithmetic, together with some music instruction.6 More free schools were opened as time went on, and by 1833 Governor Villalobos tried to close down the colegio altogether on the grounds that its subsidy could be put to better use as salaries for teachers in the village free schools. Furthermore, the governor argued, students were being spoiled by spending five or six years at a school where they were eating better than they would at home. The students' learning was breeding arrogance, he maintained, for many of its alumni had to be punished for causing trouble in the community. In brief, the governor was in favor of government-financed local schools, the forerunners of our public schools, that could offer education to greater numbers of young people, particularly those in outlying areas.7

These village free schools were generally ramshackle one-room buildings constructed of bamboo and roofed with thatch, a great contrast with the ample stone and masonry halls of the colegio and the girls school. Teachers were usually Spanish-speaking locals who were recruited wherever they could be found and paid from the special government fund for lepers (evidently the only fund available). A Filipino prisoner who had been convicted of murder and exiled to the Marianas taught Carolinian children for thirteen years in one such school on Saipan.8 When Governor Pablo Perez toured these schools on a visit to the northern islands and examined the students, he found them attentive and eager to learn, but "like parrots that talk without understanding what they say."9 The governor judged that the school for all its limitations, was truly helping the Carolinians to become civilized -- "which means," one commentator wryly noted, "that they were willing to work for Spaniards."10 By 1886 there were seventeen such schools in the islands.

Meanwhile, the Colegio de San Juan and its sister school entered upon a period of resurgence from mid-century on. The colegio's original subsidy of 3000 pesos was restored and its enrollment soared to nearly 500, while the Escuela de las Niñas educated about 150 girls. The curricula in both schools had taken a strong academic turn since the previous century: students were still learning sung masses and forming ensembles of violin and flute, but they were devoting most of their time to the 4 R's (reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion) and taking such additional courses as Spanish grammar, geography and "rudiments of good manners".11 The schools survived as the Marianas' most prestigious institutions of learning until the American takeover of Guam at the end of the century. With a life-span of more than two centuries, the colegio became the longest-lived educational institution ever founded in Micronesia.

Protestant Mission Schools in the Carolines and Marshalls

The Protestant missionaries introduced the first schools into the Caroline and Marshall Islands, just as the Catholic missionaries hat in the Marianas. Within a few months of the founding of the American Board missions on Ponape and Kosrae in late 1852, the American pastors opened their first day schools. These schools were in actual fact informal sessions conducted on the veranda of the missionary's home or in a nearby meeting house whenever a group of islanders could be gathered, and they served as a point of contact between the missionaries and the local people. The students were largely adults, often chiefs and other influential persons in the community, and they were instructed in basic English, geography, singing, or whatever else was thought to hold any interest for them.12

After a while, groups of more or less steady pupils were formed and class was held on a regular and more formal basis. Albert Sturges, one of the missionaries on Ponape, offered daily classes that were attended by two dozen people, including the Nahnken of Kiti. His colleague on Ponape, Luther Gulick, staged a year-end exhibition at which the eleven pupils of his own school, all dressed in clothes that they themselves had made, displayed their skills in reading, writing, spelling, and speaking English as well as in singing English songs.13 On Kosrae, Benjamin Snow conducted a school for forty-five pupils, most of them young boys and girls, with four hours of instruction daily on reading and writing English. At first the students showed enormous enthusiasm for their studies, and Snow reported that they would leave the class to practice tracing their letters with sticks on the beach.14 As time went on, however, their enthusiasm waned and the students turned to other pursuits -- often enough for the more mature girls this meant visiting the whaleships that were lying at anchor. Much the same was true of all the early mission schools; and when the "ardor for learning subsided," as a pastor on Ebon put it, there was nothing to do but close the school for a while.15 Hence, the typical early mission school was alternately opened and closed several times in the course of its first two or three years. The results of these early schools were far from encouraging; Gulick judged that none of his students was very successful in learning English, and he soon resorted to giving them "some oral knowledge on religious and other topics."16 In time, the American missionaries learned what Snow was forced to conclude after shutting down his school yet again for five months in 1855: "We shall never do much in English, I fear."17

Invariably the mission school changed its form after the first two or three years when the missionary had become conversant in the local language. At this point the school ceased to be merely a vehicle for gaining access to the people and winning some influence over them; it became a tool for helping the islanders to acquire literacy in their own language. Singing, needlework and other things were taught at times, but the central concern was instructing students how to read and write the vernacular. After all, the bible that the missionaries were already beginning to translate into the local languages could only be read by someone who was literate. Thus, the Protestant mission school in its second stage was an attempt to provide those skills that were needed before the people could become dedicated readers of the Word of God.18

At the mission school in Madolenihmw, Mrs. Gulick ran classes in Ponapean for her nine or ten students for two hours a day, while her husband translated scripture, wrote primers for the use of the pupils, and attended to his other church duties. In the evenings, Gulick turned out copies of his instructional and devotional materials on a small, ancient handpress that had been donated to the mission.19 On Ebon, the mission headquarters in the Marshalls, the switchover to instruction in the vernacular resulted in the rapid publication of a mound of materials that included a 44-page primer. By 1861, ten thousand pages had been printed on the mission press, a handful of people could already read, and one of the missionaries admitted to finding "an aptitude for learning which we little thought existed beneath those dark skins, and in those still darker minds."20 When a Hawaiian missionary helper himself a licensed teacher, took over the running of the school on Ebon in 1861, its enrolment doubled and two more schools were opened on other islands within a year. Pupils at the Ebon school thronged around the mission quarters busily writing on their slates long after formal classes were over, and burst into the print shop at the sign of a press run to grab the new broadsheets and read them before the ink was dry on the paper.21

Nowhere were these schools more successful than in the Marshalls. The Hawaiian and native Marshallese preachers who soon replaced the American missionaries founded schools on each new island to which they carried the gospel -- seven in all by 1875. Each of these schools had as their principal object the development of Marshallese literate in their own language, and the number of readers in each place was counted as carefully as church members. BY 1866, there were over 300 students in four separate classes on Ebon alone, and some of these were able to recite the entire gospel of Mark by memory.22 Within a few years Marshallese themselves were serving as pastors and teachers in most of the islands of the archipelago.

The mission school also became a regular fixture in the Mortlocks and Truk, as Ponapean teachers carried Christianity to these hitherto unevangelized island groups during the 1870s and 1880s. By 1886, when most of the major islands in the Mortlocks and Truk had a pastor installed, there were thirteen schools and 979 students in the area.23 With the entire eastern half of Micronesia then introduced to Christianity, the American Board could boast of a network of 37 mission day schools serving 2,500 pupils altogether.24

As the need for native teachers and pastors became more evident, the mission education system entered into its third and final stage. Emphasis shifted in this stage from the moral and intellectual enlightenment of the congregation at large to "fitting young men for teaching and preaching the Gospel" that is, training those few who would exercise leadership in the church.25 The largest of the mission schools, that on Ebon, gradually took on this function in the late 1860s as the need for educated Marshallese to serve as missionaries to their own people increased. The Marshall Islands Training School, as it came to be called, was moved to Kosrae in 1879 because of the greater abundance of land and other resources. The twenty or thirty young men attending the school went through a four year program very much resembling that of an American high school. The teachers were all American mission personnel and instruction, at least in these earlier training schools, was largely in English. A similar school was begun on Ponape for promising young men from the eastern Carolines, and another was founded on Truk in 1886 for the central Carolines. Soon the need for similar schools for girls was recognized so that pastors and teachers would have good, educated wives to assist them. Accordingly, girls schools were established on Ponape in 1882, on Kosrae in 1886, and in Truk in 1889. Enrollments averaged about 20-25 at the girls schools and possibly 40-70 at the training schools.26 The young adults attending the schools, almost all of whom were boarders, dressed in western clothes and ate with knife and fork, for they were to set the high standards of personnel behavior that their compatriots would seek to emulate. They were to be the exemplars of the new religious and secular ideals for the next generation.

Schools during Spanish and German Rule

The Catholic Church finally entered the educational scene in the Carolines when Spanish colonial rule was inaugurated there, in 1886 on Yap and a year later on Ponape. Indeed, the new government left all educational work to the Capuchin missionaries who accompanied the first Spanish civil authorities. As the Catholic priests founded their new mission stations, they also opened schools that provided young people with instruction in the Spanish language and religion, and sometimes also with a smattering of agriculture or carpentry as well.27 Work proceeded slowly due to resistance to the new religious beliefs on Yap and open insurrection on Ponape: in 1890 there were only two Catholic schools with a total of ten students in the Carolines.28 The following year the Capuchins extended their missionary work to Palau where they were encouraged at finding the children very eager to learn and surprisingly faithful in their attendance. In Yap, however, school enrollment remained poor until the Spanish governor compelled parents to send their children to the mission schools under pain of penal labor for any who failed to comply with this ordinance. At once the priests began a boarding school at one of their mission stations for more talented pupils. By 1898, the year before Spanish rule in the islands ended, there were six day schools and one boarding school, with some 540 students in Yap alone. With the establishment of German rule the following year, however, compulsory education ended and enrollment in Yap dropped to a mere nine students.29

Even during the first few years of German administration in the Carolines, it was evident that Spanish missionaries would be severely limited in their effectiveness, particularly as the German government initiated its attempts to maximize German influence on the islanders. Between 1903 and 1907 German Capuchins replaced their Spanish co-religious throughout the mission field and altered their schools in accordance with the government's Germanization policy. In the mission boarding schools German language instruction was especially intensive, and all teaching was done in that language.30The Catholic schools generally offered a three-year program to boys and girls, with especially talented students being sent to the Government school on Saipan to continue their education. Schools were quite evidently coming into their own during this time, for the ibedul in Palau built at his own expense a school for his village's high-ranking children.31 Even in Yap, the-island group least receptive to education, school enrollment by the end of German rule was back up to 473 -- almost what it had reached in 1899 -- without government-enforced compulsory attendance.32 German Capuchins introduced Franciscan nuns from Germany in 1907 to teach in their girls schools while the priests and brothers held classes for boys. At the heart of the curriculum was the study of the German language, a project that was subsidized by the German government to the amount of 4000 marks a year.33 The hope of German authorities, it seems, was to rid the islands of the pidgin English that was threatening to become the universal means of communication between those who spoke different local languages. In 1914 the mission was operating twenty schools, including one in the Mortlock that was only recently reached by the Catholic priests. Over 1200 pupils were enrolled in these schools.34

Since the German government preferred to subsidize German language instruction rather than undertake its own school system, direct government involvement in education was virtually nil. Only in Palau and the Marianas was any formal education provided by the government. In Palau the government initiated a program to instruct local policeman in the German language and arithmetic. This program, begun in 1902, offered two hours of class a day to twenty or thirty men and could be called the first government-run school in the Carolines.35

In the Marianas, on the other hand, the government assumed almost total responsibility for the education of the young. The educational heritage of Spain in the northern Marianas furnished little to build upon -- "dirty school buildings and native teachers incapable of teaching anything," according to one German36 -- and the Spanish missionaries would not accede to the government's request to stay and open Catholic schools. As a result, the government was compelled to open two schools of its own on Saipan and another on Rota, with a total enrollment of over 300 pupils, and education was made compulsory for all between the ages of six and thirteen. In the early years, classes were taught in Chamorro by local government-paid teachers, although the German language was increasingly emphasized and courses in this subject were taught by the District Officer himself.37

In time, the German administration made an attempt to upgrade the schools on Saipan, consolidate them into a simple system, and utilize them for the higher education of Micronesians in other parts of the territory. In the government-run educational complex on Saipan there was an elementary school with six grades (and separate sections for Chamorro and Carolinian students because of the difference in ability), and an intermediate school with two additional grades. The elementary school curriculum, which was varied and broadly humanistic, reminiscent of the Colegio de San Juan in the mid-nineteenth century, included singing and violin playing, natural history and geography, drawing, physical training and handicraft making, aside from the inevitable German. There were two master teachers, both of whom were Germans, assisted by several Chamorros and Carolinians. The elementary school offered a far richer program than the mission schools in the Carolines could, much as the colegio had in comparison with the old parish schools. The intermediate school furnished training in vocational areas such as farming, boatbuilding, and native crafts. Exceptional students who completed both elementary and intermediate schooling were sent off to the German naval base at Tsingtao in preparation to teach or to keep financial records, or for training in carpentry, blacksmithing or other trades.38

Meanwhile, shortly before the turn of the century, Catholic missionaries made their first incursion into the Marshall Islands, a group that had for decades been strongly Protestant. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, who had earlier established a base in the Gilberts and surveyed prospects in the Marshalls throughout the 1890s, finally opened a mission on Jaluit in 1899. The boarding school that was soon afterwards founded there had a small and exclusive clientele: the children of Europeans, half-castes, and some of the high chiefs. The curriculum was no less unabashedly elitist, for it offered intensive education in German and the usual other subjects, all given in the German language.39 The twenty or so young children who greeted a visiting ecclesiastical dignitary in 1902 surprised him by welcoming him in his own language and carrying on a lengthy conversation with him in German. Later in the day the school children sang the high mass for the feast of the Assumption while young outsiders watched the spectacle with their noses pressed against the chapel windows.40

The kind of education that the Sacred Heart missionaries offered in their school on Jaluit became all the more popular when the government implemented its Germanization policy after 1906. Pupils came from distant islands -- as far away as the Gilberts and the eastern Carolines -- to attend the school, and it was not long before new schools were opened on other atolls in the Marshalls. A school on Likieb, principally for half-caste children, was founded in 1902, and another was begun on Arno in 1910 in addition to the schools that had existed on Nauru for some years. The Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart were summoned into the Marshalls in 1902 to help staff the expanding school system, which by 1914 included eleven schools on five different islands serving some 200 children. The schools remained very small, as they would have had to be in order to achieve the ambitious goals they set for themselves. These were full eight-grade elementary schools, with class for five hours a day, in which oral and written German was taught along with bible history, mathematics and singing. In addition, older boys learned navigation and business math, while girls took courses in home economics and fine handwork.41

When the German administration was dismissed after the Japanese takeover of the islands in late 1914, the German-bred school system was disbanded with it, of course. Japanese authorities allowed the Catholic religious to keep their schools open for a year or so, but as of December 1915 all German missionaries were forbidden to teach school and the courses permitted were limited to religion, singing and needlework. Finally, in 1919, the last of the German Catholic missionaries were expelled from the Marshalls and the Carolines, and their whole school system came to an abrupt halt. The German Liebenzell missionaries, who had arrived in 1906 at the request of the American Board to replace its personnel in the Carolines, were also sent home.

With the departure of the missionaries, of course, the extensive school systems ceased to function everywhere except in the Marshalls where the Protestant mission schools had been in the hands of local teachers for years. By 1914 the Protestant schools served about 2100 children (1500 in the Marshalls and over 600 in the eastern Carolines), and the Catholic schools in the Carolines and Marshalls educated another 1500.42 If we add to the number of children in mission schools another 300 attending the government schools in Saipan, it appears that about 4000, from a total population of approximately 40,000, were in school during the later years of German rule. Most of these young Micronesian were attending village schools with only three grades, but a small percentage had the opportunity for up to eight years of study and a chance to acquire a fair mastery of German as well as learn a trade. This was a considerable achievement for an administration that was staffed by only two dozen officials and that itself played such a small role in education.

Education under the Japanese Mandate

Barely a year after the Japanese Government expelled the last German missionaries, it initiated negotiations with Protestant and Catholic groups for the assignment of new missionaries to its mandated islands. The Japanese valued Christian missions for the civilizing influence that these had on the islanders, and wanted them to continue. Nevertheless, the Japanese government had no intention of relinquishing its educational responsibilities to the missions as the German government had done. From the day the Japanese assumed control of the islands they set up their own schools, for Japanese authorities saw in education an unparalleled means of fostering the development of the islanders. For a time the schools were makeshift operations in which naval officers and officials from Nanyo Boeki Kaisha, one of the major businesses in the islands, taught a pôtpourri of Japanese language, math and singing with whatever materials they could gather. In December 1915, however, the government established a public education system, the first ever to be founded in Micronesia, with a school in each of the six administrative divisions. Over the next few years, certain changes were made in the school system for Micronesians, and as the number of immigrants in the islands rapidly increased, a parallel system was established for Japanese children.43

The Japanese-run public schools, called kogakko, offered three years of elementary education for Micronesians, with a supplementary program of two additional years for more advanced students. Any islanders between the ages of eight and thirteen were encouraged to enroll in the elementary schools. Japanese teachers, assisted by local instructors, taught a uniform curriculum that was determined by the Bureau of Education. Half of the instructional time in the elementary schools -- twelve out of 24 hours a week -- was spent on the Japanese language, with additional courses in arithmetic, singing, drawing.44 Some vocational training was called for in the curriculum, but this amounted to little more than manual labor in the vegetable garden and around the school grounds.45 Clearly the educational program put great stress on the language of the colonial power, as the school program under the Germans had, since language was thought to have moral value as well as practical usefulness for Micronesians. The supplementary two years, which were offered to some students on more populated islands, had a more varied curriculum. Japanese language, both spoken and written, continued to dominate the curriculum, with eleven of 30 hours given to it, but more class time was devoted to vocational education: agriculture, housekeeping, and handicraft-making.46

The purpose of the education system, as stated in an official Japanese ordinance, was "the bestowal on children of moral education as well as of such knowledge and capabilities as are indispensable to the advancement and improvement of their lives."47 The vehicle of Micronesian students' "moral education" was to be not a course in ethics, but a knowledge of the Japanese language, for the Japanese language, besides being a means of communication was understood to be an expression of a wholly different value system. As students learned the Japanese language, they could be expected to become rapidly more "civilized" and increasingly concerned with making use of opportunities to elevate their standard of living. In the long run, the enlightenment of Micronesians through education could not help but make them more loyal to the Japanese Emperor and more economically productive members of the Empire. These educational goals were similar to those endorsed by Germany during its short rule in the islands, and not much different from those of any colonial government anywhere else in the world.

Lofty educational goals were one thing, but the operation of the schools on a day-to-day basis was quite another. In the first place, there were no texts designed for Micronesians and the textbooks that were used were ill suited to the level of the Micronesian student. Classes were large, often with eighty or more students in a single class. As for teaching methods and discipline, a high-placed Palauan who attended one of these schools has this to say:

Vernacular was completely eliminated from the curriculum. Students were punished if they spoke their native tongue. Most subjects were taught by rote-memorizing. Group reading was a common way of teaching reading. Corporal punishment was the usual way of discipline and school children were slapped or hit on the head with the fist or bamboo if they misbehaved.48

Yet Micronesian students attended these schools in ever greater numbers as years went on. A great part of the explanation for this rests, then as now, with the obvious fact that a knowledge of the language of the ruling power was a very important asset, especially if one wanted to advance socially and economically. The typical Micronesian graduate from the public school may not, after five years of education, have been able to read a Japanese newspaper, as one author asserts, but he could understand directions in Japanese, hold an ordinary conversation, and possibly qualify for one of the many salaried positions that were opening up for Micronesians with the economic boom of the late 1920s and 1930s.49

Opportunities for education beyond the five grades of public school were extremely limited for the Micronesian. The most attractive of the few that existed was the carpentry school -- or "Woodworkers Apprentice Training School," as it was formally called -- which was founded in Palau in 1926. This select school admitted only ten or fifteen pupils a year from throughout Micronesia and offered a two-year program, sometimes extended to three years, in woodworking and related skills. Each year it graduated about ten young men, more than half of whom eventually obtained jobs with the Japanese administration in the islands. In addition to the carpentry school, there were other post-elementary training programs available for Micronesians after 1926, most of them in-service programs with a duration of six months to a year. One of the most notable was the agriculture training program conducted at the agriculture stations on Ponape, Saipan and Palau; by 1932 about 120 Micronesians had gone through the year-long training. In addition, there were programs in sanitation and hygiene, post office work, handicraft training, and blacksmithing.50

The public school system grew from the original six schools opened in 1915 to seventeen schools with a total of 2,500 pupils by 1922.51 Thereafter its growth was much more modest: by 1937 there were 24 schools with over 3000 students. It is estimated that over fifty percent of the school-age population actually attended school in the middle 1930s. In all, there were nearly 9000 Micronesians who had finished the first three years of schooling, with about 3530 of them also completing the additional two years.52 By the outbreak of World War II, roughly twenty percent of the population had received some formal education under the Japanese administration.

Mission schools, which fared less well under the Japanese than under the Germans, began a long process of rebuilding during the 1920s. The Catholic schools had vanished even before the last of the German priests was exiled, and the Protestant training schools that were once the backbone of their educational structure had also been closed. With the resumption of missionary activity in the early 1920s, Micronesia was apportioned to Liebenzell, which had been invited to take up its former work in Palau and part of Truk, and the Japanese Protestant missionary organization known as DendoDan. A training school was re-established in Truk, this time on Tol, while a girls school was founded on Udot.53 Two additional schools were eventually opened in Truk, two on Ponape, and another on Jaluit. Catholic schools were set up in Truk, Palau and Saipan but the ones on Saipan were the most significant and accounted for about 85 percent of the total Catholic students. In 1922 there were 400 students in all mission schools; ten years later there were 1180; and by 1937 the total was 1535.54

The figures alone, however, can be misleading. Some of the mission schools, especially the Catholic ones on Palau and Saipan, functioned not more than a few hours a week, and then only to give religious instruction after the public school was finished for the day. While the rest of the mission schools were full-time, their program was heavily slanted towards bible study and religion -- much more so than in previous decades. Most of their pupils had already attended the government public schools and had enrolled in the mission schools to get the religious instruction that public schools would not provide.55 In short, the mission schools during this era served mainly as a supplement to the education given by the public system. This was a radical departure from the former pattern of education in Micronesia, one that prevailed from Sanvitores' time through German rule, in which the mission schools bore nearly the entire burden of education. This development heralded the ascendancy of the public school, which would reach its height in the American administration following the Second World War.


As diverse as the forms of the school have been throughout Micronesia's colonial past, there are at least a few generalizations that the story of schooling in the islands yields. The first and most obvious of these is the key role of the missions, Catholic and Protestant alike, in the development and maintenance of early school systems in Micronesia. With very few exceptions -- notably the early free schools in the Marianas and the German public school in Saipan -- all schools were mission-run until 1915, the year in which the Japanese administration established the first public school system. The early mission schools were clearly established as means of propagating a religious message, although the curriculum always included other subjects besides religious doctrine and bible study. Educational strategies of those who ran mission schools reflected the usual dilemma of whether to concentrate limited resources to educate a small elite, or to utilize the resources so as to attempt to offer a little education for everyone. The response of the missions to this dilemma varied with the historical circumstances and the missions' own stage of maturity.

The last century has seen much discontinuity in educational policy in Micronesia and a large turnover of personnel, both administrative and missionary, due to the frequent changes in foreign control of the islands. Nonetheless, a surprisingly high percentage of Micronesians were offered an education, generally for three or four years, throughout these politically turbulent times. From the educational boom in the Marshalls initiated by Protestant missionaries in the 1870s through the final years of the Japanese mandate in the 1940s, roughly half of the population of school age were actually in school. This percentage compares very favorably with other colonial areas during the same period.

Finally, there are a few observations that can be made on the content of the curricula in Micronesian schools. The item of central importance on the curriculum was almost always the language of the colonial power, and there were usually more than sufficient inducements for local people to wish to learn this language. The major exception to this was the 19th century Protestant schools in their second phase, when they stressed literacy in the vernacular in order to make it possible for their students to read the bible. The rest of the curriculum was typically a mélange of courses that included basic skills like arithmetic along with all manner of other subjects. Two items of special interest that recur constantly on these curricula are singing and vocational arts. Music, although also taught in European and American schools of an earlier day, was recognized as a subject that would evoke interest among Micronesians and be put to use by them. Much the same could be said for the vocational arts -- especially agriculture and carpentry -- that so often appeared prominently on the instructional program.

Perhaps most important of all is the fact that schools became an indispensable part of Micronesian life throughout these years, and school began to be recognized by Micronesians as an invaluable means of achieving status and other more tangible rewards.


1. Luis de Ibañez y Garcia, Historia de las Islas Marianas Carolinas Palaos (Granada 1886), 34-5.

2. Laurel Heath, "Education for Confusion: A Study of Education in the Mariana Islands 1668-1941," Journal of Pacific History X (1975), 25.

3. Larry A. Lawcock, "Luckier Than Ben Franklin: Guam's Schoolboys in 1727," Guam Recorder VII (1977), 12-8.

4. Paul Carano and Pedro Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam (Tokyo 1964)

5. Heath, op. cit., 25-6. Cites Laura Thompson, Guam and Its People (Princeton 1947), 217; and Francisco Olive y Garcia, Islas Marianas (Manila 1887), 79-83.

6. H. Ling Roth, Crozet's Voyage to Tasmania, New Zealand, the Ladrone Islands, and the Philippines in the Years 1771-1772 (London 1891), 92.

7. William E. Safford, "The Mariana Islands." (unpublished notes compiled from documents in the archives at Agana and from early voyages found in the libraries of San Francisco, 1901), 179-80.

8. Safford, op cit, 451-3.

9. Safford, op cit, 269.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibañez y Garcia, op cit, 121-2.

12. Francis X. Hezel, The First Taint of Civilization (Honolulu 1983), 151.

13. Missionary Herald, January 1855, 27.

14. Missionary Herald, February 1854, 43.

15. Missionary Herald, May 1860, 132.

16. Missionary Herald, August 1855,

17. Snow to Treat, January 1856, Letters and Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, II, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University, Houghton Library.

18. Hezel, op cit, 151-2.

19. Doane to Anderson, September 1855, ABCFM Papers, I.

20. Missionary Herald, February 1861, 54-7.

21. Missionary Herald, June 1861, 165.

22. The Friend, January 1966, 1-4.

23. C.H. Wetmore, Report of Visit to the Mission of the Marshall and Caroline Islands (Honolulu 1886, 13.

24. Theodora C. Bliss, Micronesia: Fifty Years in the Island World (Boston 1906), 108.

25. Bliss, op cit, 98.

26. Bliss, op cit, 105-8, 160.

27. Analecta Ordinis Minoris Cappuchinorum (Analecta OM Cap), III (1887), 367.

28. Analecta OM Cap, VI (1890), 216-7.

29. Deutsches Reich Kolonialamt, Jahresbericht über die Entwicklung der deutschen Schutzgebiete in Afrika und der Südsee, 1899-1900 (Berlin 1901), 1003

30. Callistus Lopinot, Die Karolinenmission der spanischen und deutschen Kapuziner: 1886-1919 (Rome 1964), 7-9.

31. Donald Shuster, "Islands of Change in Palau: Church, School, and Elected Government" 1891-1981," PhD thesis, University of Hawaii (Honolulu 1982), 150.

32. United States Department of the Navy, Civil Affairs Handbook -- West Caroline Islands (Washington 1944), 30.

33. Robert McKinney, "Micronesia under German Rule, 1885-1914," MA thesis, Stanford (Stanford 1947), 125.

34. Lopinot, op cit, 16-9.

35. McKinney, op cit, 83-4.

36. German Administration in the Marianas: Selections from Deutsche Kolonialzeitung, 1900-1914, MARC Working Papers No. 28 (Guam 1981), 18.

37. McKinney, op cit , 127.

38. McKinney, op cit, 127; Shuster, op cit, 151.

39. McKinney, op cit, 56; Deutsches Reich Kolonialamt, Jahresbericht Uber die Entwicklung der deutschen Schutzgebiete in Afrika und der Südsee, 1902-1903 (Berlin 1904), 366.

40. Annales des Missionnaires de Sacre-Coeur (Annales MSC) (1905), 265-6.

41. McKinney, op cit, 56, 126.

42. Bliss, op cit, 166; Deutsches Reich Kolonialamt, Die deutschen Schutzgebiete in Afrika und der Südsee, 1911-1912 (Berlin 1913), 159; Analecta OM Cap, XXVIII (1912), 80-1; Lopinot, op cit, 16-9, 28-9.

43. David Purce11, "Japanese Expansion in the South Pacific, 1890-1935," PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia 1967), 229-36; Tadao Yanaihara, Pacific Islands under Japanese Mandate (London 1940), 241; Donald Shuster, "Schooling in Micronesia during Japanese Mandate Rule," Educational Perspectives XVIII, 2 (1979), 20-1.

44. Yanaihara, op cit, 241-2; Purcell, op cit, 230-1.

45. John Fischer, "The Japanese Schools for the Natives of Truk, Caroline Islands," Human Organization, XX (1961), 85.

46. Japanese Government, Annual Report to the League of Nations on the Administration of the South Sea Islands under Japanese Mandate for 1932 (Tokyo 1932), 70-2.

47. Japanese Government Annual Report to the League of Nations ... for 1925 (Tokyo 1925), Article I, South Seas Bureau Ordinance No. 32, 1/4/1922.

48. David Ramarui, "Education in Micronesia," Micronesian Reporter, XIV, 1 (1977), 10.

49. Fischer, op cit, 85-7.

50. Purcell, op cit, 231-33; Yanaihara, op cit, 245.

51. Japanese Government, Annual Report to the League of Nations for 1922 (Tokyo 1922), 9.

52. Yanaihara, op cit, 241.

53. Anna Zimmerman, Sixty Years: Liebenzell Mission (Wuertemberg, nd), 29-30.

54. Japanese Government, Annual Report for 1922, 54-5; Annual Report for 1937, 63.

55. Yanaihara, op cit, 241-2.

Pacific Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 1984: 95-111.



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