Still on the education Africa needs to move forward

A new wave of re-awakening is blowing across Africa about how a home-grown education curriculum would be the game- changer for the continent’s growth instead of the erstwhile western-style education; IDACHABA SUNNY writes.

It is believed that in Africa, almost everything, ranging from lifestyle, type of government, education etc, are borrowed from the West as against what is now known in many forums as local or indigenous contents. 

How far this pro-West, copied lifestyle has helped to advance the continent has remained a subject of discussion whenever the opportunity presented itself. This is what is generally referred to as neo-colonialism by many today.

One of the areas where the desirability or otherwise of these western values remains a subject of discussion is in the education sector. Analysts are of the opinion that long after the independence status of African countries, the educational curricula of many countries are still tilted towards what was inherited from the West as against the peculiar needs of the continent.

This concern came alive recently in Abuja during the pre-convocation lecture delivered by Prof. Elifas Tozo Bisabda, the vice-chancellor of the National Open University of Tanzania at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). The lecture with the theme: ‘Is Western Education Still Relevant for Africa’ brought to the fore why development has remained stunted on the continent.

How Africa was conquered

According to Prof. Bisanda whose lecture was supported with visual images of how African destiny was truncated deliberately by the West, he said before the colonisation of Africa in the latter part of the 18th Century, most communities on the continent were well sustained through agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry and artisan skills. He said in every community, there were experts in metal smelting, blacksmiths who forged and made tools, potters, wood carvers, beekeepers, stone masons and many other skilled professionals.

“Our fathers could make canoes and boats for fishing and water transport, but when the colonists came here, they did everything they could to kill our indigenous skills.”

Speaking with specific examples, he said, “I am told from history that in Uganda, the colonialists cut off the thumbs of all blacksmiths so that they could not forge or cast tools as the thumb was the main actor in the process of blowing air into the furnace. Today, more than 60 years after independence, Uganda which had developed metal casting to make iron, steel and bronze to a very high level before colonisation cannot produce the simplest of metal alloys, neither bronze, brass or steel. I believe it is the same story in Nigeria and many other African countries.”

Buttressing his argument on Lord Macaulay’s treatise written in 1885, a member of the British Parliament said, “I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa but have not seen one person who is a beggar and a thief. Such wealth I have seen on the continent, such moral values and people of such calibre is rare anywhere. I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation. I propose we replace her old and ancient education system and her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they would lose their self esteem, culture and become what we want, a truly dominated nation.”

Prof. Bisanda said that was how the Europeans developed a strategy to make the continent dependent on them in economic, social, spiritual and cultural ways. To the learned professor, it is a clear indication that the Europeans deliberately destroyed Africa’s educational system in order to rule the continent and cause a disruption in the culture of their colonies.

“Therefore, to strengthen their governance, many schools were opened to educate a few depending on the needs of the colonial government. They needed people who could read and write to serve as secretaries, clerks and messengers; hence, subjects taught in schools were mainly humanities with little or no focus on indigenous skills. Students were taught English and French Literature, Philosophy, European History and European Geography as against African culture and civilisation.

“The worst part of it was that Africans were denied critical thinking and analytical skills, but were meant to follow only the orders of their colonial master.”

Even in post independent Africa, he said the colonial mentality still hangs on the neck of the people as according to him, the assessment remains the same.

“Even though after independence, we have now introduced many science and technical subjects at all levels of our education, participation is still very low as we still look forward to graduates from Europe and American institutions. Now we have many school leavers and graduates who have no skills; therefore no industry can hire them. Instead, we have expatriates from China, India, Korea and other European countries coming to work in our factories as skilled workers as against the high population of unskilled graduates on the continent. It’s a one-time bomb waiting to explode.”

Way out

Part of the solution to this problem, he noted, is the need to enforce skills training, as according to him, many African countries are already looking in that direction. He, therefore, noted that, “While the West is determined to keep Africa and her people on the same spot, we must take affirmative action to get out of this mess they have imposed on us. An education system that keeps us poor while our resources are being taken away should be changed by any means. Our education should be focused on societal needs so that our youths can be prepared to participate in the local economy when they leave school. And those who graduated previously from colleges and universities but cannot get gainful employment should be encouraged to go back and acquire technical and vocational skills that are relevant for this age.”

In this current dispensation and age of the internet of things, artificial intelligence and digital analysis, he said learning no longer takes place in the classroom alone, but on the fields of practice.

“As a continent, we should try to find out how much of what is learnt in classes can be remembered during practical situations where the knowledge is applied. Those with good communication skills, practical and analytical skills are the type employers would need as we move forward. In the future, getting a job would be based on graduates’ ability to tell the employer what can be contributed to an organisation rather than showing a degree certificate without practical skills.”

Different strokes

Looking at the whole scenario with a different lens, a Ghanaian educationist, Kofi Quansah, however, said knowledge is universal. 

He said although some school subjects have their bases grounded in African traditions, most modern knowledge, he noted, come from Europe and America and also from Arab nations.

“Except the subjects in the Arts and Culture, most other subjects in the African school curriculum have their bases from European, American or Arabian sources. Some of such knowledge has become universal. The curriculum development panel or curriculum division should be aware of the modern trends in each of the subjects on the school curriculum of their country. 

“Without knowledge of modern trends, the curriculum in African schools will soon become moribund. This is because much of the research in education and in many other fields of study is carried out in Europe and America where there is a steady flow of research funds.” 

He said apart from universal knowledge, which invariably consists of current knowledge and practices in many parts of the world, there is also a body of knowledge and practices that are perennial; that is a body of knowledge, sometimes a theory or a practice, that is still valid and has been carried on from ancient times. 

Educators and curriculum developers, he particularly noted, should be mindful of such perennial practices that have guided the conduct of education over the years. 

As a new world order dawns globally, it is expedient on African leaders to take a second look at what the hitherto education has done for the continent and whether it should be revised for the good of all.