Literacy at South African Mission Stations
Measures of education quality – primarily, years of schooling or literacy rates – are widely used to ascertain the contribution of human capital formation to long-run economic growth and development. This paper, using a census of 4,678 mission station residents, documents for the first time literacy and numeracy rates of non-white citizens in nineteenth-century South Africa. The 1849 census allows for an investigation into how the mission stations influenced the growth of literacy in the Cape Colony. We find that age, gender, duration of residence, whether the individual arrived at the station after the emancipation of slaves or was born there and, importantly, which missionary society was operating the station, matter for literacy performance. The results offer new insights into the comparative performance of missionary societies in South Africa and contribute to the debate about the role of missionary societies in the development of a colonial society.
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