The educational legacy of Dutch colonial rule in the Netherlands Indies has been widely regarded as disappointing. This paper probes further into the underlying causes of the poor Dutch legacy. It is argued that the spread of popular education was not only hampered by a lack of financial commitment by the colonial state, but also by notable inequalities in the allocation of funds for education and a major reluctance to support initiatives in investment in private education, which may be interpreted as a consequence of the Dutch metropolitan commitment to secular rule in an overwhelmingly Islamic society.