Wither African Indegenous Knowledge: The Case of Primary Education from Colonialism to Globalisation in Africa
Daniel N. Sifuna (Nairobi, Kenya)
The success of any education system depends not only on the nature of its aims, but also on its content. Indigenous African education grew out of the immediate environment, real or imaginary. From the physical environment, children had to learn about weather, landscape, animal and insect life. Children had to have knowledge of important aspects of the environment in order to adopt and exploit it. They had to make proper adjustments to the physical environment by using axes, hoes, spears and other tools which the experience of the past had helped to evolve. They were taught how to farm, hunt, fish, prepare food, build a house or run a home. Indigenous education also inculcated a religious attitude to life. Religion, which was concerned with morality, gave support to the laws and customs of the community and to its accepted rules of conduct which included; courtesy, generosity and honesty.
Critics of colonial education have often attacked it for being theoretical in nature and its failure to reflect a meaningful relation to the environmental needs of the learner. What was taught and the manner in which it was delivered aimed at reinforcing colonial values. Often it was bookish and structured around acquisition of useless facts that were irrelevant to the social problems of the communities. The question of relevance has generally been raised with regard to all levels of the education systems, but with a stronger focus at the primary school level which provides schooling opportunities for a greater part of the population. There have been repeated calls to reform the curriculum in primary schools. It has often been suggested that ‘the education given in primary schools must be complete education in itself and must not continue to be simply a preparation for secondary education. The kind of primary education to be provided should be relevant for those to whom it will be terminal as well as for those to whom it will be preparatory.’ In many of curricula reform projects, following the achievement of independence, the question of the indigenisation phase of the curriculum was, however, completely lost.
The need for relevance in the school curriculum has nonetheless, continued to be echoed in numerous forums of the education authorities and educationists. The latest of this was in the Dakar Framework for Action for Education for All, of 2000, which brought together many stakeholders propagating the implementation of the Jomtien Conference on Education for All of 1990. In the African report, it was recognized that there is a necessity of education systems to provide all African people with the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge essential for access and use of information and communication technology. It was also recognized that African indigenous knowledge systems, languages and values should be the foundation for the development of African education systems. It was further recognized that there is a necessity for curriculum transformation to give children, youth and adults the type of quality education that promotes appreciation of diversity, richness and dynamism of our cultures, with a goal to liberate us from psychological, economic and technological dependency.
Despite such conference exhortations, the current forces of globalization which have strong elements of cultural imperialism and aims at the harmonization of attitudes, supposedly, with the emergence of a global culture and the domination in the use of foreign languages in primary schools in Africa provide little or no room for acquisition of African indigenous knowledge.