Education: Which Way for Africa?

Published on 31st July 2007

To understand the struggle of Africans that our brother George Weah (Africa's football icon) embodies when he wants to go back to school to boost his chances for election to presidency, we need to place him in the post-colonial African context laden with vestiges of colonial and neo-colonial dominance.

Independent Africa inherited its way of life from colonialists. Their education helped propagate their dominance over the African race. This inherited education system is being used to dominate fellow Africans; create a gap between the educated and uneducated; rich and poor; rulers and subjects and workers and masters amongst ourselves.  

Africa’s history is a story of division. A few well-to-do elite and middle class brainwash the proletariat into thinking of themselves as marginalized rather than human beings consigned to the societal periphery. Oblivious to being victims of flawed economic systems handed down by Europeans and perfected by the elite, Africans at the bottom of society view education and politics as their salvation and opportunity to social elevation.

In the Weah and Sirleaf presidential contest, who coined the "uneducated, unelectable" propaganda against Weah? The educated elite. They played on the low self-esteem of the uneducated masses to tilt the competition landscape. Why do you think that Weah during all those years in Europe and all the money; never bothered about education? He did not need a job to escape poverty! Why don’t our politicians parade their achievements when asking for higher offices but prominently display academic credentials? To play on the low self esteem of the uneducated.  

If education is supposed to make better citizens, consider the ratio of “educated” people who are uneducated in terms of corruption ills. Who mismanages our resources? The unlettered? No! It is the Africans with BA, BSc, MA, MSc and PhD. Why do the “learned” misrule? The answer is in the principles of education we acquire.

Colonial schools trained natives to be carpenters, store keepers, teachers, masons and supervisors to serve their own interests, instead of management or anything that would rival the colonialist. A misguided understanding of education makes us consider it as an escape-route from poverty or pathway to power, instead of equipment for self-exploration, self-evaluation and self-actualization. The result? African children go to school with one aim - to get employment, failure to which they keep going for another degree and postponing employment.   

Colonial education abolished the African way of knowledge transfer and replaced it with tools of extracting labor and compliance of soul and spirit. For instance, in the colonial Kenya, Marion Stevenson the writer of the first Curriculum for East Africa schools defended her students from being conscripted by the Chiefs, according to the Indented Labor Law of the 1920s, by arguing that education was the most effective means and tool of processing African Children from a raw material into compliant, productive and profit making product for the white settlers' economy. The 1924 British White paper on the policy of African Education assumed that Africans were property and cheap means of production. Under the pressure of the League of the Phelps Stokes Commission, the paper permitted colonies to educate Africans for use to fight the "agitation" by "misfits". The paper stated in part that: …, the untutored savage requires guidance...when he finds that education is a means of better and more regular food supply...the danger of agitation from the misfit is likely to decrease...The policy of the Department in the dealing with the savage races is rather to educate the masses on practical lines so as to improve their physique, food supply and standard of living rather than to hurry the civilization of the select few who become detribalized and divorced from their people (Stabler, Ernest - Education Since Uhuru: The Schools in Kenya, Weslayan Press. Middletown, Connecticut Pages 6 - 7).

After independence, Africans viewed education as key in the development process and fantasized over the correlation between education and economic growth. Many African countries consequently increased their expenditures on education. But when we look back, can African nations justify the expenditures? Education helped produce more ‘willing slaves’ who nowadays jump onto ships or planes headed to Europe or America. If you ask what they are going to do, they will just reply “anything.”

During slave trade, many Africans would jump into the ocean and risk being eaten by sharks or drowning because they did not want to be slaves. Incredibly, today, even when a ship is boldly emblazoned “slave ship” university degree holders will board it enmasse to become economic refugees in the West. 

Colonialists viewed Africans as lazy and unproductive; requiring manipulation to "improve" their "food supply", "physique" and productivity. Unfortunately, the African public assimilated this mindset lock, stock and barrel and consider education as a tool to process children from unmarketable raw material into marketable elites or capital.

When Kenyan Member of Parliament, Hon. Kalembe Ndile discussed the reformation of the assistant ministers’ roles in a talk show, the public called in to ridicule him for lack of academic credentials. Notwithstanding the humility of the said minister’s education, he has actually been one of the most visible members of parliament; much more than some PhD holders who do not contribute anything to public debates.

Africans perceive education as an essential requirement for overcoming the bottlenecks and bureaucratic barriers to social advancement, without realizing that it is a simply a cog on the wheel of opportunity and not the ultimate tool in itself. In reality, education sharpens that which was already within - the potential in man. For instance, it is great footballers who are picked for football academies, great musicians who are auditioned for record deals or great runners who are selected for top notch training camps.

Granted that each human being has the innate potential to traverse any condition to become what they want to be, they will never be as excellent at it as someone with inherent talent in that area. Though some Africans may not string together grammatically correct sentences, they are hypnotically poetic in the soccer pitch. While education may enhance one’s skills and talent in leadership, on it is own education can never make a great leader but may indeed aid him to monitor or prefect over others.

Education should help us discover who we are and what we are capable of doing to improve human relationships, living conditions and to be stewards of our environment.  An appropriate agenda for educational planners and administrators ought to be created. The agenda should include such principles as: clarification of the philosophy and goals of schooling; change in curriculum, methods of teaching, and approaches to education; reorganization of the educational system; and reassessment of value systems. Education is a powerful force for creating the right information, shaping attitudes, and developing the moral and intellectual fiber of African society.

You ask education for what? I answer to increase intrinsic human value! Until African minds stop cherishing education that creates servitude relationships, that makes the educated elite look down upon the unlettered, and that corrupts the uneducated to look down upon themselves, the essence of education will remain elusive and our priorities misplaced. Whoever wants to go to school should go to school but motivation and priorities must always remain right.

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