From the shackles of colonialism to the technological advances that have projected even the most primitive who are being dragged onto a digital high-speed train, education in Africa has, is and always will be key to societies that are to prosper and be regarded as equal players on a global scale.
There has been much talk and practice of implementing Afro-centric curriculums, with some experts, not all, advocating programmes that empower African people, focusing inward on all things that surround us as
opposed to things that originate from across the shores of Africa. That concept is not unique and many countries, including those outside of Africa, have adapted their curricula to include their own cultural identity and
ethos. From the eco-systems of Silicon Valley to the slums of Nairobi, and the squeaky-clean streets of Doha, experts are adamant that education as we know it is changing.
No longer does a formalised, structured educational system serve global needs. The game has changed to fostering creativity and innovation. The game has changed to finding imaginative solutions. Panel experts at summits and leading entrepreneurs have pointed to the significance of a little bit of craziness, adaptation, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and disruption. So where is Africa going in the field of education? What kind of education is most suited to serving the developmental needs of the continent and at the same time making it globally competitive? How is Africa going to harness its vast human and natural resources in the direction needed, as the Pan-African icon Kwame Nkrumah put it, “To allow the African genius full expression”? More than 50 years ago, Nkrumah also noted the need to equip students with an understanding of the contemporary world within the framework of African civilisations, their histories, institutions, and ideas. African studies was compulsory in the universities he built in Ghana.
The historical paradigm
All over the continent, governments have either settled with the legacy of colonial education or tinkered with reform. But one country that is serious about changing the existing paradigm to an appropriate educational system is Uganda. Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire, a Ugandan writer, lawyer and academic, writes in an article culled in the online media platform, This is Africa, about the decolonisation process going on in Uganda. “The African experience has been that education during colonial times was driven by missionaries. The conventional wisdom suggests that this was mainly through altruistic considerations – albeit racially tinged – to bring light to the
Dark Continent and enlightenment to its natives.” The language used was the tongue of the colonists. This western education expanded the basic numeracy of natives, introduced literacy and introduced new technical skills. There was the good and the bad. Most African leaders, past and present went through a Western education. It was elitist.
“All over the continent, governments have either settled with the legacy of colonial education or tinkered with
reform. But one country that is serious about changing the existing paradigm to an appropriate educational
system is Uganda.”
The pattern of brainwashing the minds of Africans to subservience was replicated everywhere and illustrated in the last African country to obtain independence, South Africa, where the infamous Bantu education was designed to make blacks aspire to be bus drivers and labourers. Decolonising the education curriculum On attaining independence, some postcolonial thinkers and politicians embarked on the decolonisation of the education system, to serve the needs of Africans. This has had varying degrees of success and failure. Most failures can be
attributed to the colonial mindset of African policy makers and implementers, fostered by the former masters.
Arguing for the abolition of the English Department and establishment of the African Literature and Languages Department at the University of Nairobi many years ago, Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote: “We want to establish the centrality of Africa in the department. This, we have argued, is justifiable on various grounds, the most important one being that education is a means of knowledge about ourselves. Therefore, after we have examined ourselves, we radiate outwards and discover peoples and worlds around us. With Africa at the centre of things, not existing as an appendix or a satellite of other countries and literatures, things must be seen from the African perspective.”
Mwesigire notes that in Uganda several steps to decolonise the education curriculum have been undertaken to date. “At present, learners in [classes]Primary One to Three learn about their immediate environment, through the oral strand. They learn about the family, the home, school, neighbourhood and subcounty. This is called the thematic curriculum, and they study in their local languages, with English studied as a subject. It is at Primary Four that learners transit to studying in English. Under Social Studies, learners are taught about the district in which their school is located. They learn about its location, physical features, vegetation, people, leaders, and how to meet people’s needs in the district.
In Primary Five, they look at Uganda, Primary Six, East Africa and in Primary Seven, Africa. There is no doubt that the curriculum is very contextual up to this level. The textbooks in use are almost all locally produced. The textbook industry in the country is booming because materials produced from outside can’t be used to teach the new curriculum. Thus, where John Speke would have been praised as the one who discovered the River Nile, the Primary Five textbook says that the river was called Kiira by the Basoga, who live around it, and John Speke was the first European to see it.
An African-centred education is defined as education designed to empower African people. A central premise is that many Africans have been subjugated by limiting their awareness of themselves and indoctrinating them with ideas that work against them. Beyond these confidence-building values, the creativity of the African child must be unleashed in schools, to cultivate a focus on solving problems and creating, making and selling stuff to the whole world. For, after all, when the Gross National Products of countries are measured, it is precisely about the harnessing of the human resources of that country to deliver goods and services. The natural resources are just an enabler.
As ideas about the ideal global educational paradigm shift like the desert sands of Qatar, so must African policy
makers rethink education, ensuring that it is in the best interests of the continent, and resist influences and pressures designed to entrench a status quo. Anything short of that will be slow suicide. That is why there is an urgent need for disruption in education, and also why teamwork involving all Africans on the continent and in the diaspora is vital.
Unleashing the African genius
Let us stop for a moment and look at how innovation and technological progress has refocused our approach to the business of education. Can it be said that the digital age has projected our way of thinking in a way that many
would not have imagined half a century ago? This immense giant leap into the future sometimes passes us by since we are living and breathing it, from simple texting and skyping to printing 3 dimensional objects, there is no turning back some would say. With online interactive participation to tablets at your fingertips, the business of education has acquired a whole new weapons arsenal that can and should be unleashed on those willing to participate.
In Africa, these innovations are happening and many countries already have superfast internet facilities, not to mention the mobile giant that woke up some years ago resulting in Africa being one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets in the world. As the famous ad says – but wait, there is more – the growth has not yet stopped and saturation point has yet not been reached. Mobile learning platforms are playing an integral part in the education teaching chain. New mobile interactive applications are being implemented every day, from publishing books on phone reader apps to social media platforms such as Africa’s largest homegrown mobile social network MXit. Currently, the South African based service has well over 50 million users, not only allows its users to stay in touch by text chatting, and facilitating live tutorials such as Dr Maths.
Its statistics are not to be scoffed at having helped 30,000 school-aged children work through mathematics problems by connecting them with mathematics tutors for live chat sessions. It is also very affordable – some would even say cheap – since the service itself is free with minimal costs payable to their mobile network, and to boot, it operates 24 hours 7 days a week. This is only just one solution that can assist Africans in the Diaspora, but is also very much dependant on access to existing digital infrastructures that each country has to offer its citizens. Africa needs more MXit like innovations such as Nokia Life, a subscription information service designed for emerging markets that offers a wide range of information services covering healthcare, agriculture, education and entertainment.
It reaches over 70 million subscribers in Pakistan, India, China, Indonesia and Nigeria. In a UNESCO led think piece on education and skills, “Education and skills for inclusive and sustainable development beyond 2015”, predictions are that gradual shifts away from class-room centrededucation will occur with a more pronounced approach to informal learning within the learn “anywhere, anytime” concept, this being sustained and made possible with the inevitable mobile market penetration to learners across the spectrum, from urban to rural areas.
The report goes on further to state that along with basic education tools such as literacy and numeracy, digital and information literacy, critical thinking as well as online communication skills will be necessary.
Under the guidance of teachers, who also need to equip themselves with these skills, the mobile phone market is here to stay and is already a necessary item in terms of keeping abreast of all things in everyday life. Many an educator will argue that the traditional classroom environment can never be replaced, where learners can interact live with a teacher, and feed off each other in terms of the collective knowledge that is exchanged within such an environment. So too one can counter argue that within a digital environment, be it in the form of an online
discussion or social education platform, the same applies, and not only does it remain on record for as long as the service remains active on the particular platform, it is accessible from anywhere and anytime and not time bound. It is a fine line of mixing and matching the needs of learners across Africa by taking the best of traditional teaching methods and adapting and moulding them into a cohesive, successful formula that will project and let Africa play on an even field with other global players, thereby remembering the words of that great man:
“Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.
This article was written by BRUCE GERMAINE.