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New Caledonia stood out as a unique colony in the French Empire because of its highly exceptional policy of confining the colonial population in the second half of the nineteenth century. This article explores the origins of the school, the institution that was the most visible and best-developed site of colonial practice. The objectives of schooling in New Caledonia were never clear under the Third Republic: the Kanaks were perceived as an obstacle to colonization, and their population was in precipitous decline. In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in the empire, education for the "inferior people" was seen as necessary and evolved through a dialectic between philanthropy and the strategic, political, and economic interests of the Mère-Patrie. New Caledonia's schools were emblematic of this mix between altruism and utilitarianism, bearing in mind, of course, that for the colonizers, it was not evident that utility should serve the interest of the Kanaks. The difficulties confronted by France, notably those concerning the formation of an indigenous elite, offer insight into the limitations of the colonial project in its entirety.