On his way back from his first travels to the interior of the Gambia, Mungo Park describes a ‘schoolmaster’ who entertained him in the Mandingo country while his principal host was on a slave purchasing expedition. The school of this master consisted of seventeen boys who ‘always had their lessons by the light of a large fire before daybreak and again late in the evening’ and who ‘were employed in planting corn, bringing firewood, and in other servile offices, through the day’ (Park, 1799: 313–14). Such rural institutions combining elementary Islamic education and farm production must then have existed in the coastal areas of West Africa for at least two centuries, and spread to other parts of Africa as a result of Islamic expansion. They were agents of proselytization and further Islamization. Consequently Quranic schools are often discussed primarily in their relation to Islamic history. In the present day, however, they continue in some areas as viable alternatives to western-style schools and as units of agricultural production. This paper, which stems from research I conducted in the southern part of central Upper Volta on household farms and wealth stratification, underscores the dual function of these farm schools.