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date: 02 October 2023

Education in Mozambique in the 19th and 20th Centurieslocked

Education in Mozambique in the 19th and 20th Centurieslocked

  • Antoinette ErranteAntoinette ErranteThe Ohio State University
  •  and Jessica JorgeJessica JorgeThe Ohio State University


By the time António de Oliveira Salazar pressed for mass schooling to “make Portugal rise again” in the late 1930s, a variety of educational and socialization contexts existed in a loose and often contentious manner in Mozambique. Indigenous educational practices of African societies across the territory prepared the next generation to take their place within their communities. As Arabs established a commercial presence along Mozambique’s northern coast from the 9th century onward, Arabic literacy and adoption of the Arabic alphabet for written representation of Indigenous languages gave rise to a growing network of Qur’anic schools. In the 19th century, Protestant, Catholic, and lay mission schools as well as government schools joined these sites of learning.

Europe’s “scramble for Africa” intensified Portugal’s interest in “Portugalizing” colonial educational endeavors and marginalizing sites of learning it deemed a threat to this project. By 1930, Portugal established a dual educational system in Mozambique that supported the legal distinction it created between Portuguese and “assimilated” Africans (official schools, or escolas oficiais) and “Indigenous” Africans (rudimentary schools, or escolas rudimentares). In 1933, under the regime he christened the Estado Novo (New State), Salazar institutionalized the role of schools in his imperialist ambitions by applying the Carneiro-Pacheco educational reforms of 1936–1940 throughout the Portuguese colonial empire. The dual educational system as well as the legal distinction between “Portuguese” and “Indigenous” were designed to funnel most Africans into forced labor schemes from which the regime profited.

In 1940, the Estado Novo signed the Missionary Accord, which placed exclusive responsibility for rudimentary education with the Catholic Church in an effort to curb Indigenous, Protestant, and Islamic educational activities that the regime considered “denationalizing.” While the accord hampered expansion of Protestant schools, Portugal’s weak administrative capacities and support of Catholic missions as well as Mozambicans’ association of Catholicism with compulsory labor practices enabled Indigenous educational practices, Protestant missions, and Qur’anic schools to continue to exert influence.

By the early 1960s, groups pressing for decolonization coalesced around the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO, or Frente de Libertação de Moçambique). As FRELIMO liberated zones in the northern and central parts of the country, it established primary schools and literacy campaigns in an effort to create the cultural, social, and political transformation that liberated the “New Man” (Homem Novo) from a colonial mentality as well as what FRELIMO perceived to be obscurantist Indigenous and religious cultural traditions. FRELIMO established secondary schools and training centers in Tanzania to support the education of the very brightest.

FRELIMO generalized the educational model used in the liberated zones after Mozambique won its independence in 1975. While in the early years the country expanded the school network and raised literacy rates from 2 to 40 percent, the country’s educational legacy proved challenging. With the Portuguese exodus, the country lost 95 percent of its skilled workforce. The government’s attempts to rapidly train a teaching force sacrificed quality, and teachers did not have the training to impart the Marxist-Leninist pedagogy that FRELIMO had envisioned. Internal disputes and tensions as well as destabilization campaigns mounted by neighboring White minority governments, which gave rise to RENAMO (Resistencia Nacional de Mozambique), further eroded FRELIMO’s postrevolutionary gains.

In 1992, FRELIMO and RENAMO signed peace accords and moved toward a multiparty democracy. Since then, the education sector has focused on postwar reconstruction and democratization, improved teacher training, and improved retention rates for girls, the latter reflecting some of the ongoing conflicts between Indigenous educational practices and values, and mass schooling.


  • Southern Africa

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