A lack of professional training in Residential school teachers was noted as early as the 1890s and had not significantly improved by the early 1960s. Many of the missionary organizations who oversaw appointments of teaching candidates considered 'missionary spirit' or religious enthusiasm more important than academic preparation. In the 1940s the Department of Indian Affairs was aware that religion took precedence over academic studies for most teachers in the residential school system. By the 1950s many of the most dedicated teachers emphasized their religious teachings over academic studies. Students from both the Cowessess and Thunderchild Residential Schools who attended in the 1950s report that religious instruction was the primary focus of these schools as opposed to education in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Former student Cedric Duncan observed, "Seemed like they just wanted us to learn about praying and all that stuff quite a bit." A common experience for students who attempted to go on to other institutions was an under preparation for future education and academic ventures as a result of their failed education in Residential schools. A Saulteax man discovered after attending St. Philip's in the 1950s when "both at Marieval residential school and at St Joseph's college he found himself poorly trained for the academic program, and in the latter case he was so embarrassed by his educational deficiencies that he dropped out at fifteen."
The emphasis on religious, as opposed to academic instruction, is reflective of the assumption that Indigenous peoples were morally deficient and needed to be 'saved' by moralistic white citizens/missionaries. As such, governments deemed that theological indoctrination would be of greater effect in removing the cultural identity and knowledge of Indigenous children, as it would correct 'moral failings' of Indigenous cultures and philosophies. It was also indicative of widespread assumption that Indigenous children lacked the intellectual capacity to learn and therefore did not deserve adequate education. This perception is firmly entrenched in the modern Canadian education system and impacts the assistance, resources, and treatment received by Indigenous children in classrooms. This continues to be an obstacle in the acquisition of post-secondary education.
Religious Instruction Valued Over Academic Preparation