|Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||17. Nr.||August 2008|
|Africa and Europe: Historical and Cultural Dilemmas and Challenges for Nationhood and Development|
The Case Of Primary Education In Africa
From Colonialism To Globalisation
Daniel N. Sifuna (Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya)
The paper shows that 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. Most of the early Western scholars at the time of colonization, however, assumed that because Africans knew no reading and writing, they had no systems, contents and methods of education to pass on to the young. To such scholars, education in Africa meant Western civilization. The failure to integrate indigenous learning and Western education was partly a deliberate effort to eradicate African education. The introduction of Western institutions by some colonial agencies, especially the Christian missionaries was also calculated to undermine many aspects of African social structures and pave the way for their replacement. The Western assault on traditional knowledge also applied to the replacement of local languages with foreign languages. With achievement of independence for most African countries in the 1960s, little effort was devoted to considering whether the knowledge conveyed in the schools was of relevance for the young nations. The more urgent problems had to do with the expansion of education, with the building of new schools, with government take-over of private schools as well as doing away with racially-segregated schools. Consequently, curriculum reform to reflect the relevance of the African setting did not take place. Western curricula values continued to be reinforced after independence. The current forces of globalisation, which have strong elements of cultural imperialism and aim 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. To arrest the current situation, the paper proposes that it is best for Africa to look to herself for the development of her own curricula and modes of delivery through the examination of methods and techniques of indigenous African knowledge.
Nature and Form of Indigenous Knowledge
Although indigenous knowledge systems varied from one society to another, the goals of these systems were often similar. Indigenous learning was essentially an education for living. Its main purpose was to train the youth for adulthood within the society. Emphasis was placed on normative and expressive goals. Normative goals were concerned with the accepted standards and beliefs governing correct behaviour, while expressive goals were concerned with unity and consensus. There were also elements within the system, which encouraged competitiveness in intellectual and practical matters, but these were controlled and subordinated to normative and expressive goals (Erny, 1981).
Indigenous learning in its various forms had a many-sided character intimately intertwined with social life. What was taught was related to the social content in which people were called upon to live. Among the Chagga of Tanzania, for example, there was some training in imitative play. It consisted of representations of scenes from adult life by means of which the young were made familiar with the norms and ideals expected from full and responsible members of the society (Raum, 1965). Indigenous education was not only concerned with the systematic socialization of the young generation into norms, beliefs and collective opinions of the wider society, but also placed a very strong emphasis on learning practical skills and the acquisition of knowledge which was useful to the individual and society as a whole. In broad terms, it emphasized social responsibility, job orientation, political participation and spiritual and moral values.
The success of any education system depends not only on the nature of its aims, but also on its content. Indigenous African learning grew out of the immediate environment, whether real or imaginary. From the physical environment children had to learn about weather, landscape and animal as well as insect life. It was a harsh environment, but children had to cope with it. Because life was a real struggle against the difficult aspects of the environment, certain emotional attitudes and sentiments were developed around them. Children had to have knowledge of the important aspects of the environment in order to overcome and exploit them. 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 houses and run a home (Ocitti, 1973).
The physical environment also demanded that closely-knit societies under a strong form of government were necessary to foster a strong communal sense. Individual tendencies were allowed to grow only under the umbrella of society. Through their relations with other members of the society, children learned to imitate the actions of others, assimilate the moods, feelings and ideas of those around them, and thus acquire community identity. An individual was to live and serve other people in accordance with the accepted manners, customs, laws, avoidance, taboos and a rigorous code of morality. Children were also taught their roles in the all-embracing network of kinship relationships and what their rights and obligations were within it. Above all, every person knew his/her economic part and performed it with others (Wagner, 1949).
The economic role of the children featured prominently in their training. Elders aimed to adapt children to their physical surroundings and taught them how to use it. Within the homestead and its environs, parents and older relatives were responsible for training in economic responsibilities. Learning by imitation played a bigger part as smaller children followed the example of older children in building, herding or hunting, in the case of boys, or sweeping, carrying wood and water and cooking for girls. Some duties required skills obtained only after much practice, while others demanded a quickness of mind, for example counting a large herd of cattle (Kenyatta, 1938).
Indigenous learning 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. Religion had much to do with moral and ethical principles, such as conduct of one individual towards another and the relations of the individual to the community. Individuals had to learn when to use or avoid ancestral spirits and other mysterious powers for the sake of their survival. They had to learn to appreciate the ties between the living members of the clan and the dead or ancestral spirits of the invisible world. They therefore learned about which observances the welfare of the individual, clan and the entire community depended on. (Brown and Hiskett, 1975).
Traditional educators applied various methods to convey knowledge. These methods could be broadly divided into informal and formal methods for purposes of easy understanding. The informal methods of instruction included learning through play. In most communities the importance of play was realized. Children were left to their own initiative to make toys with which they played. They made such toys from local materials of their own choices and interests. They moulded them from mud and clay and made use of articles which were of little use to adults (Ocitti, 1973).
Children also engaged in make-believe activities which were imitative, imaginative and symbolic. They enjoyed imitating their parents or other grown-ups, and especially those activities in which they themselves would pursue in later years. Boys, for example, imitated activities which were appropriate to their sex. These included; building huts of grass, digging and hunting. Girls, on the other hand, participated in activities of the family and life in the home. They therefore imitated their mothers in such activities as cooking, grinding, fetching water and firewood (Erny, 1981).
A popular form of play was wrestling. A wrestling game was staged by children inciting each other. The child or group of children provoked into a fight normally took courage and accepted the challenge. Children did not however, just wrestle for its own sake or for fun; they did so in order to become more proficient in the game and also to compare their physical fitness and strength. A child who was defeated on a number of occasions by most of his age-mates invariably became a laughing stock and was considered a weakling. On the other hand, the child who distinguished himself as the strongest was highly acclaimed and assumed leadership of the peer group. Other play activities included; swinging, chasing one another, sliding and dances performed in the moonlight after evening meals. These were designed to develop the children’s memory and promote their language (Wagner, 1949).
Oral literature constituted an important method of instruction. This included, among others, teaching through myths. Myths were tales which effectively described or accounted for natural phenomena and focused on aspects such as gods, death and the origin of humanity, which were beyond the understanding of the human mind. Elders therefore used myths to explain things that were not easily understood. Allied to myths were legends, which were tales, fabricated to account for real events that took place or were believed to have taken place. Like myths or fables, legends sounded like fairy tales, but contained fragments of actual history. They were closer to real life than myths and were real in the sense that they told about people or things that actually existed. Closely related to myths and legends, were folktales. These were concerned with familiar situations or recalled some ancient customs, and they were based primarily on day-to-day happenings. Much of the ethical teachings were given to children through folktales, most of which had happy endings and involved a triumph over difficulties, and virtues, such as communal unity, hard work, conformity, honesty and uprightness were reflected in many of the folktales. By listening to folktales, children learned a lot about human problems, faults and weaknesses. Folktales were also calculated to inculcate morals (Ocitti, 1973).
Children also learnt through dance and folk songs. Music formed an integral part of their daily lives. Many of the rites and ceremonies, feasts and festivals were performed to the accompaniment of music and dance. The ceremonies, feasts and festivals were also an important source of teaching. Adults made desirable religious doctrines, practices and experiences available to the young largely through instruction arising out of ceremonies (Raum, 1965).
Proverbs were used widely in ordinary conversation. A judicious use of proverbs was usually regarded as a sign of wit. Proverbs were the condensed wisdom of the great ancestors. In a given proverb one or two moral ideas were contained in a single sentence. Most of them referred to different aspects of socio-economic and political life. There were proverbs dealing with cooperation and personal human qualities, authority and domestic life, particular modes of production or relationships between children and parents, wives and husbands. Some of the codes concerned which focused on the regulation of behaviour were embodied in proverbs. Old people and parents used them in their dealings with children to convey precise moral lessons, warnings and advice, since they made a greater impact on the mind than ordinary words (Erny, 1981).
Traditional learning also involved the use of deterrence or inculcating fear in children. They were made to conform to the morals, customs and standards of behaviour inherent in the clan. Bad habits and undesirable behaviour, such as; disobedience, cruelty, selfishness, bullying, aggressiveness, temper tantrums, theft and telling lies were not usually tolerated. Verbal warnings were used and more often followed by punishment. Children who committed offences might be rebuked, smacked or assigned some piece of work to complete before being allowed to eat. Serious offences and disciplinary problems, however, resulted in severe beating or other forms of inflicting pain on the body. Such punishment was regarded as reformatory. Sometimes children were discouraged from indulging in what was regarded as a bad habit by being ridiculed with a funny or nasty nickname. Deception was another method, especially with young children to discourage them from acquiring bad habits (Kenyatta, 1938).
Other methods of instruction included involving children in productive work. Learning through the medium of work enabled children to acquire the right types of masculine or feminine roles. Children learned by being useful, by doing and working hand-in-hand with adults. This kind of learning, through a number of stages, prepared children for their future roles. What was acquired was the ability to perform various farm or pastoral and domestic tasks. Every mother, for example, wanted her daughter to master home-management skills before marriage. Similarly, every father wanted his son to become a competent farmer, hunter, fisherman or herdsman. Thus, of all the different aspects of education and training to which children were subjected, the one to which most attention was paid was the one that prepared them to be prospective wives and husbands. A child was expected to learn this largely by seeing and imitating, but he/she was given formal teaching usually after he/she had made a mistake or when the outcome of their work was found unsatisfactory. He/she was usually subjected to a gradual process of training according to age and sex. Firstly, the work that a child did usually increased in amount and complexity as he/she grew up and secondly, the physical ability of the child was also taken into consideration. Rarely was a child assigned a task which was beyond his or her physical fitness and ability (Wagner, 1949).
More formal methods of instruction involved theoretical and practical inculcation of skills. Learning through apprenticeship, for example, was formal and direct. Parents who wanted their children to acquire some occupational training normally sent them to work with craftsmen, such as; potters, blacksmiths and basket-makers. The same was true with hereditary occupations. For example, a herbalist would instruct his child from time to time about the uses of medicines until he/she became knowledgeable and proficient in practice.
Formal instructions were also given through constant corrections and warnings to children. These concerned some aspects of domestic work, herding cattle, cultivation, fishing and folklore. Children were taught the every-day customs and manners of eating, greeting and how to behave with relatives and important people, as well as parental and marital obligations.
Among some ethnic groups, more formal instruction took the form of succeeding stages of initiation from one status to another. At the age of five, for example, the outer edge of a child’s ears were pierced, at about the age of ten it was the ear lobes, a visible indication that the child has advanced from childhood to boyhood or girlhood. But the most prominent initiation practices were those associated with circumcision in puberty. This test was regarded as the point of passage into full membership of the community. It was deliberately made an emotional and painful experience, sometimes covering a period of many months, which was engraved forever on the personality of the initiates. Without circumcision a person could not be regarded as a full member of the ethnic group or have rights of property. Circumcision was normally accompanied with formal lessons. They took the form of lessons, songs and tests by the instructor. Questions were asked in the form of riddles for the initiate to interpret their meaning. Such questions dealt with issues pertaining to the protection of the homestead against enemies, committing adultery and many others. In some communities, this involved making tools, such as bows and arrows and staging mock fights (Wagner, 1949).
From the above description, indigenous knowledge had a philosophical bearing which included communalism or group cohesion in which parents sought to bring up their children within the community for their own welfare and that of the wider community. Children were brought up by socialization as opposed to individualization. This was done deliberately to strengthen the organic unity of the clan. Freedom of the individual was completely subordinated to the interests of the clan or tribe and cooperation was preferred to competition. There was also the ideology of preparationism in which children were prepared to become useful members of the household, village, clan and tribe. Children were brought up to be versed in their future roles. The philosophy of functionalism was based on the fact that indigenous knowledge was strictly utilitarian as an immediate induction into society and a preparation for adulthood. Children were engaged in participatory education through learning by doing. Education was therefore an integrated experience, where children learnt by being useful to adults and engaging in productive work. Because children learnt what was of utility to them, they did not need much motivation to learn (Ocitti, 1973).
Traditional knowledge had also strong elements of perennialism in that it focused mainly on the transmission of a heritage from one generation to another. It aimed at ensuring continuity and being the instrument by which their civilization was perpetuated. Through education, members of the society made sure that behaviours necessary for the survival of the cultural heritage were learnt. It was a collective means through which society initiated its young generation. Above all, traditional knowledge involved the principle of holisticism which meant multiple learning without room for early specialisation. Aims, content and methods were inextricably interwoven. Farmers, for instance, were not only required to build their own houses and granaries, but they could be skilled craftsmen and hunters. The holistic approach to learning developed children into “jacks of all trades and masters of all” (Ocitti, 1973).
Colonialism and Indigenous Knowledge
The predominant view held by many Europeans who first came to Africa was the African had no history and culture to perpetuate and that Africans never taught the young. Partly, this mistaken belief reflected an ignorance of knowledge systems and helps to explain why the first European educationists never considered that the ‘formal’ schools they were introducing had any relationship to the largely ‘informal’ education African children were receiving in their communities. The basic assumption was that Europeans were introducing something totally new. This naïve way of looking at African indigenous learning presupposed that there was no social interaction or socialization, and that there was no deliberate effort by adults to bring up children to be the kind of men and women required by society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Other scholars assumed that because Africans knew no reading and writing, they had no systems, contents and methods of education to pass on to the young. To such scholars, education in Africa meant Western civilization. They neglected anything traditional because of their restricted view of the nature of education. It is however, important to point out that failure to integrate indigenous learning and Western education was partly a deliberate effort to eradicate African education. The introduction of Western institutions by some colonial agencies was calculated to undermine many aspects of African social structures and pave the way for their replacement (Berman, 1975).
Christian missionaries in particular often found themselves at odds over the place of indigenous knowledge, beliefs and customs in the emerging Christian order. From the missionaries’ point of view total renunciation of the old order was a prerequisite for acceptance of the new. A statement issued in 1938 by the interdenominational International Missionary Council indicates the intensity of this belief. In part the statement argued that, “…the missionary is a revolutionary and has to be so, for to preach and plant Christianity means to make a frontal attack on the beliefs, customs, apprehensions of life and the work and by implication…on the social structures and bases of primitive society (Kraemer, 1938). Nineteenth-century missionaries believed that African degeneracy was rooted in their culture and traditional belief systems. Africans were said to be redeemable, but first the evils within their social systems had to be destroyed. Only then could the process of civilization commence. Implicit in this was the replacement of traditional culture with something ‘higher’, something new and European. It was stated, “cloth the savage, topple the pagan idols, silence the drumming, break the extended family, encourage individualism, abolish polygamy”, as some basic elements of evangelical Christianity (Berman, 1975).
In this regard, one the common ways for missionaries to undermine traditional systems was by segregating Christian converts from the general pagan population. As early as 1905, these isolated Christian communities, “Salems,” as they came to be known, were arousing hostility from the African populace. This went hand in hand with the introduction of boarding schools to keep children away from the so-called savage surroundings so as not interfere with the civilizing process. The extent to which mission school teachings accelerated the splintering of the traditional society is indicated by the comments of some Africans who experienced them. For example, the late Kenyan leading politician, Oginga Odinga noted that missionaries in his school “were not satisfied to concentrate on the word of the Bible; they tried to use the word of God to judge African traditions. An African who followed his people’s customs was condemned as heathen and anti-Christian (Odinga, 1967). Christian missionaries in Mbonu Ojike’s Nigerian village school around 1920 “inducted us to ape their Western culture in nearly all aspects. Every good Christian must take a Western name at baptism”. So thorough was the indoctrination, Ojike wrote, that “I mocked my father’s religion as ‘heathen’, thinking his as inferior to the white man’s” (Berman, 1975).
The Western assault on traditional knowledge also applied to language use. In the French African colonies, the main feature characterizing French colonial education was the widespread use of the French language. Although France would permit the short-term use of African languages in order to meet “immediate” pedagogical needs, such as health education and morality, all instruction had the mastery of the French language as its ultimate goal. The French view of the African intelligence enabled them to justify the language policy. French colonial officers are said to have attributed “the technical inferiority” of Africans to “their ignorance of the language.” “The native’s mind could only become disciplined by the mastering of spoken French,” implying that learning the French language was itself the education (White, 1996).
The British government was from the very beginning much less involved than the French in the educational policy of its African colonies. Missionary education played a more prominent role in the history of the British African colonies, and the missionaries saw the value of the use of vernacular languages. In 1953, for example, the colonial office stated that, “To preserve the vernacular languages of Africa is to preserve the tribes that speak them.” The sons of the chiefs and kings Britain used for its “indirect rule” were however trained in English to serve as middle-men between the Africans and the colonial administration. Other Africans in the colonies had some few years of schooling. This kind of education typically involved teaching students to read an indigenous language before they were introduced to English. When the mission schools were taken over by the British government, however, they too introduced English at an earlier stage and relegated the vernacular language to an inferior position (White, 1996).
The colonial policy to foreign languages in schools was however, strongly opposed by the philanthropic American Phelps-Stokes Commission which visited Africa from 1922-1924. Its report made a strong argument for the use of African languages as medium of instruction. For example, the report made the following statement:
With full appreciation of the European language, the value of the Native tongue is immensely more vital, in that it is one of the chief means of preserving whatever is good in Native customs, ideas and ideals, and thereby preserving what is more important than all else, namely, Native self-respect. All peoples have an inherent right to their own language…No greater injustice can be committed against a people than to deprive them of their own language (Jones, 1924).
Despite such pleas, foreign languages, especially English, French and Portuguese became the official language of education to the exclusion of native languages. Thion’go recalls, for example, how in Kenya English became more than a language, it became the language, and all other languages had to bow to it in deference. He narrates how at school one of the most humiliating experiences was to be caught speaking in the vernacular language in the vicinity of the school. This is an experience some of us who were then in what was called the intermediate school went through. The culprit was given corporal punishment—three to five strokes of the cane on the bare buttocks—or was made to carry a metal plate around the neck or a large piece of wood with inscriptions such as “I am stupid” or “I am a donkey”. Sometimes the culprits were fined a sum of money they could hardly afford. The method of catching the culprit involved a button/disc initially being given to one pupil who kept it secretly and was supposed to hand it over to whomever was caught speaking his mother tongue. Whoever had the button/disc at the end of the day, had to come forward to loudly tell the school assembly the person from whom he had received it. The ensuing process would bring out all other culprits of the day for punishment. In this way, school children were turned into “witch-hunters and traitors to their own linguistic community” (Thion’go, 1986).
It however, needs to be emphasized that due to the entrenched racial nature of colonial societies in many African countries, the African elite were leading opponents of the use of the vernacular as medium of instruction. These Africans felt that most of the colonial language policies suggesting that Africans use their vernacular in school were inspired by racial prejudices regarding the supposedly intellectual inferiority of Africans, a factor making them incapable of benefiting from a Western education. The Africans suspected that these language policies were designed to keep them in their social ghettos in the same way black Americans had been disadvantaged by their education in separate institutions which were inferior to the ones the white children attended. They therefore rejected systems supposedly tailored to their needs and demanded to be educated to exactly the same standards as whites were. In particular, they insisted on the use of European languages as instructional media (Brock-Utne, 2000).
In this regard, Africans pushed for the use of a European language in the school system, whenever they had the opportunity. For example, in Kenya in the 1930s, the official policies called for the teaching of various local languages in the early primary years, with English introduced later gradually. However, when the Kikuyu in central Kenya boycotted missionary schools and founded their own independent schools, for example, English became the medium of instruction at all levels (Berman, 1975). The reason for the insistence on English as the language of instruction has to be seen in the light of the struggle against the British colonial injustice towards Africans. To compete with colonialists on their own turf, they believed in having a more proficient command of the English language.
Independence and the Indigenisation of the Primary School Curriculum
Relevance generally refers to applicability of what is learnt to a particular environment and life situation. It implies that learning has a purpose: that of responding to actual needs, interests and problems of the participants and their communities. Relevance encompasses the content of education and the process of its acquisition. It is crucial for empowering the individual for intelligent, appropriate and dynamic responses to the challenges in life. Relevance has serious implications for the process of curriculum development, the modes and process of delivery. To be relevant, the curriculum needs to be sensitive to local conditions, while at the same time responding to shared ‘universal’ issues of human concern.
Curricula innovations are often attempted in order to introduce relevance through new fields of study such as, social and environmental studies or integrated studies as a way of relating the design of basic schooling to the life and work of the wider community. Relevance of this kind has been justified from various perspectives. On educational grounds, it has been seen as facilitating deeper contact between children and their studies or the educational process as a whole; and on psychological grounds, it is seen as an aid to the socialization of children in the ideals advocated by child-centred educators. On economic or utilitarian grounds, it is interpreted as permitting the transfer of useful knowledge and skills to the younger generation or to the population as a whole with benefits to the individual student and to the society generally (Sinclair and Lillis, 1980).
The first landmark conference to address the issue of relevance in education was in the early sixties at the dawn of political independence in most African states. In 1961, delegates from 39 states and five European states (then the colonial powers) met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the auspices of UNESCO and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to discuss education in Africa. The type of education discussed at this conference, was formal schooling, of the type which the colonialists had largely reserved for their children. This was the first time that such discussion —conducted predominantly by Africans — had taken place at a continental level. The report of the conference became one of the most important educational documents in Africa. In the report the expansion of secondary and tertiary education were accorded priority. The conference however, also set the goal for universal primary education to be achieved by 1980 and the need for curricula change, as it observed that education in Africa was based on a non-African background and therefore recommended the importance for relevance as follows:
Africa educational authorities should revise and reform the content of education in the area of curricula, textbooks and methods, so as to take account of the African environment, child development, cultural heritage and the demands of technological progress and economic development (UNESCO-ECA, 1961).
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 a 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 whom it will be terminal as well as for those to whom it will be preparatory.’ Instead of the primary school activities being geared to a competitive examination which will select the few who go on to secondary school, they should aim at preparation for the life, which the majority of the children will lead (Nyerere, 1968).
Such calls for curricula relevance in the less industrialized countries has also been influenced by the aggravated situation of school-leaver unemployment. The dissatisfaction of qualified school-leavers who are unable to gain access to employment in the modern sector which they desire, has led to the persistent belief that schools, by introducing more relevant programmes, can overcome young peoples’ frustrations and ensure their willingness to participate in the life and work of their communities. Problems of rural poverty and of prematurely rising levels of expectations regarding material security and prosperity among school-leavers have therefore also been predominant, among the reasons given for including work experience in the curriculum.
With the achievement of independence for most African countries in the 1960s, however, little effort was devoted to considering whether the knowledge conveyed in the schools was of relevance for the young nations. The population called for a greater number of schools and backed up their demands by voting for those politicians who promised a qualitative extension of educational facilities; additional formal education and qualitative upgrading of the human production factor, were indeed considered to be not only a maxim of political action, promising an improvement in living conditions, but also, in the words of the education economists of the 1950s and 1960s, a reasonable investment in the future (Blaug, 1973).
There is therefore a general agreement in the literature on the educational achievements of the independent states in Africa that increasing the quantity of education overtook the work on quality inputs like the reconstruction of the curriculum (Beshir, 1974; Uchendu, 1979; Jansen, 1989). As Beshir puts it ‘As education expanded, the problems of content and relevance of the curricula have been given less attention, not because they were not important, but because there were more urgent problems’ (Beshir, 1974: 30).
The more urgent problems had to do with the expansion of education, with the building of new schools, with government take-over of in private schools and doing away with racially-segregated schools. To some extent the rapid expansion of schools also precluded curriculum reform because teachers had to be recruited with so little teacher-training that they would have had greater problems handling any innovative curriculum development. Among the few concrete promises made by national independence movements about the future educational system, equal access and educational opportunity for the people of Africa ranked highly on the agenda. The legitimacy of the new states therefore depended heavily on their ability to provide access to schooling for larger parts of the population.
In this regard, while the African educationists were busy fulfilling the promise of schooling for the African masses, the curriculum and textbooks, along with teaching methods were in the hands of the educational industry and publishers of the North, mostly former colonial masters. One reason for this state of affairs was that the African independence movement lacked a clear curriculum policy (Lillis, 1985).
Three major regional curriculum projects, which were, for example, launched in the 1960s by the Education Development Centre (EDC) of Newton Massachusetts under the general title the “African Education Programme”, presumptuously labelled in this way, when it was really only meant for the Anglophone countries. Under this programme, the EDC initiated the following curriculum development projects:
In all these projects, the indigenisation phase of the curriculum was completely lost. Local centres were set up with educators from the US and UK working with the so-called “counterparts” to prepare teaching/learning materials for African classrooms. Lillis (1985) uses the term “curriculum dependency” to describe the control exerted by expatriate teachers, foreign experts, imported models of training and adopted examination patterns in ensuring curriculum continuity in independent Africa.
Consequently, curricula reform to reflect relevance to the African setting did not take place. The Western curricula values continued to be strengthened after independence. The outcomes of the primary school cycle left much to be desired. Since instruction was normally given in a foreign language, school leavers still had an incomplete command of reading and writing skills and had difficulties with basic arithmetic. The knowledge and skills offered bore little relevance to the immediate environment. Instead, they were based on ideals and values which had little in common with the living conditions prevailing in the rural areas, and hence encouraged large migrations to the urban centres. Although most communities regarded the school as a vehicle for economic and social advancement, and there was cooperation between school and communities in the provision of material requirements, in the more traditional African settings, school was still considered to be an extraneous element, relatively isolated from the social life of the local community.
It was only in Tanzania that some efforts were undertaken to effect a genuine reform in the curriculum. In March, 1967, President Nyerere issued an education policy document entitled, Education for Self-Reliance, which analysed the system and attitudes of education as they had evolved in the country and then went ahead to demand an educational revolution which was to recast the system in the light of Tanzania’s needs and objectives of socialism as proclaimed in the Arusha Declaration of the same year. After the policy directive working parties were set up to examine ways and means of implementing the new ideas. The education system was geared at building a new socialist nation and primary education was to be provided to all the children. From 1968, Kiswahili became the medium of instruction and children were to be taught useful activities that could help them make a living. Children were to be involved in the production of food and undertake most of the school activities (Nyerere, 1968).
At the policy level in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, however, efforts continued to be made to find new ways to redesign the primary school system in order to achieve a better accommodation with contemporary socioeconomic and cultural requirements. New policies for more suitable education were plans to increase cooperation between school and community. Policy makers saw the orientation of the education system as an opportunity to free formal education from the burden of its colonial heritage. The Conference of African Ministers of Education held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1976, for example, clearly showed the importance accorded to the local community in the primary school reforms. At the conference, the function of the primary school was formulated as follows: “integrating the individual with the community and the environment, equipping him/her for the productive work and for active participation in the formation and progress of the community and rural development” (UNESCO, 1976). Reforms at the primary school level were to be governed by the following three principles:
Primary school instruction was to be provided with and for the communities with reference to their requirements and socio-cultural specificities. The knowledge and skills provided at school were to serve directly the improvement of living conditions and the development of rural areas (UNESCO, 1976). The inclination towards an orientation of the school to the needs of the communities was reinforced and emphasized during the Harare Conference in 1982 (UNESCO, 1982).
The need for relevance in the school curriculum has also been echoed in numerous related and similar forums of the education authorities. The latest of these 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 an appreciation of the diversity, richness and dynamism of our cultures, with a goal to liberate us from psychological, economic and technological dependency (UNESCO, 2000). To improve the quality and relevance of education, it was recommended, among other things:
The most fundamental issue about the continuation of foreign curricula for over five decades since the attainment of independence however, is the commitment or lack of it by the ruling elite. They have gone through such a long period of schooling, much of it in the West, that they have not only become foreign to their own culture, but also despise it (Darnell and Hoem, 1996). In education like in other forms of decolonisation, they have been unwilling and even resisted change. With regard to the medium of instruction, for example, while among the African linguists the advantages of using the mother tongue as a language of instruction are quite obvious, the donor community, Western scholars and the African elite have often united in opposing such a policy. The reasons given for adopting the language of the former colonizer would often be that with the multiplicity of local languages, choosing one of them as national languages might create conflicts which could eventually lead to civil wars. Hence many African countries opted to retain the colonial language as the official language and the medium for formal schooling. The identification of education with learning the language of the former colonizer seems to be a tacit admission that it is the only suitable medium for assimilating education (Roy-Campbell, 1992).
Globalisation and Indigenous Knowledge
Educationally, the process of globalisation of education is increasingly centring on consumerism, wherein learning ceases to be about analysis, discussion and examination, and largely becomes a product to be bought and sold, to be packed, advertised and marketed. This growing competition and spirit of consumerism amongst educators is detrimental to learning outcomes (Moore, 1996; Yang, 2003).
The process of globalisation which is affecting all spheres of development has a marked characteristic of eroding and undermining traditional modes of life that have been in existence over many centuries and have been able to survive even under the most relentless forms of suppression. Humanity is increasingly being faced with an unprecedented worldwide process of standardization and hegemonisation in almost all aspects of ordinary life, and language is certainly one of the most essential of such aspects. The more the process of globalisation advances, the more it raises interest in the phenomenon that could be termed cultural/or linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992).
Socially, globalisation is related to the breakdown of the community, a phenomenon that is part of the much larger, more complex of changes associated with the post-modern society. Education has long been a net contributor to the positive benefits of physical communities. Nonetheless, technology delivered education is undermining still further the physical experience of the community and offering instead a much less substantial substitute in the form of virtual communities. Communities therefore need to be salvaged from information technology, not furthered by it (Talbott, 1995; Yang, 2003).
Culturally, the globalised education causes concerns about imperialist attitudes, the loss of indigenous cultures and relentless imposition of Western values. It is seen as the new colonizer, insensitively spreading its providers’ views of the world to developing nations in the mistaken belief that they are actually helping people. Too often, consumers of these educational packages, largely from less industrialized countries, either fail to recognize or decide to ignore the colonial assumption (Yang, 2003). Evans (1995) argues that despite the value of the globalised education in offering a diversity of choices, this comes at the expense of encouraging local initiatives which value local culture and promote national beliefs, skills and knowledge. The potential power of globalised teaching to spread dominant ideologies and to crush emerging structures, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is the main cause for concern.
The promotion of dominant ideologies is largely being enhanced through what is commonly being termed as a “cultural conditionality”, which is a conditionality set up by the lender or donor which has direct implications for the content of schooling, for instance, insistence on the purchase of textbooks written and published abroad, use of examination systems devised in the West, adoption of “international” (reads: Western) standards, and the neglect of African culture, including African languages (Brock-Utne, 1995). There have been donor-coordinated educational programmes designed and implemented across different recipient countries which disregard the education sector’s considerations within the individual country. The emphasis on cost, efficiency and effectiveness tends to lead to more focus on Euro-American curricula rather than on locally adapted curricula based on indigenous knowledge, systems, socialization methods, and locally identified needs for specific skills, thereby impeding locally designed innovative experiments in recipient countries (Buchert, 1993).
The cultural conditionality undoubtedly works against the indigenisation of the curriculum in African schools. Donor agencies through their aid have enormous influence, especially in those subjects and themes in which they are particularly interested. Donors support what they deem important to them, and that may often not coincide with the wishes of the recipient country. Donors have exerted immense pressure to have themes of their interest become fully-fledged subjects in the primary school curriculum. There is, for example, a case in Tanzania where the government has first tried to counteract such pressure, and then agreed to have the themes, the donors wanted included in new integrated subjects both at primary and secondary levels. Nonetheless donor pressures persisted, as cited:
So far the most affected subjects include the English and French languages, Unified Science (certain themes), Social Studies (certain themes), and primary teacher education. The projects were introduced with conditions laid down by both the donor and the implementing agency. Threats of withdrawing funds or other action to be taken by the donor where the implementing agency fails to honour the laid-down conditions are common (Mbunda, 1997).
The greatest threat to the adoption of locally adapted curricula based on indigenous knowledge systems has been in the area of examinations, which exercise considerable influence on what is learnt in school. What is measured in the examinations for further advancement is what tends to count much no matter what the teacher tries to teach. Although most countries, especially among the Anglophone countries have since independence developed terminal school examinations based on the local school curricula, the renewed donor stress on “academic standards,” is beginning to mean “Western standards” (Little, 1992). The Donors to African Education, for example, in 1989 created a Working Group on School Examinations (WGSE) to help coordinate and collaborate on the development of national examination systems as a means for improving primary and secondary education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its intention has also been to draw attention to the role examinations can play in improving primary and secondary education. The WGSE has built a programme of country-specific, five-year, funded action plans for the improvement of examination systems in 14 Sub-Saharan countries. Although it has on whole met its objectives, it still argues that, “there still is, and will continue to be, a need for assistance to the African examination systems through advice, technical assistance and training” (Lynch, 1994). The technical assistance sought is expected to come from the North from one of the donors, although there is already a wealth of local experience in curriculum and examination designs.
When the World Bank (1988), for example, argues that “academic standards” in African countries are low, it largely does so by referring to low test-scores earned by the African pupils and students on tests developed in the West by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Many African educational researchers are extremely opposed to importing standardized tests developed in the West to evaluate African children. One of these researchers noted as follows:
Evaluate Tanzanian students against batteries of tests that have been used trans-nationally by bodies such as the IEA? These approaches come out of very specific cultural milieux in Northern industrialized countries (Ishumi, 1985).
Little (1992) analyses the tensions between external standards and internal cultures. It is noted that cultural definitions of necessary levels of learning achievements vary, as do strategies for assessing them. Little detects an increasing trend towards the internationalization of educational assessment targets and practices and asks:
If ‘international standards,’ which in many instances means ‘external standards’ produced in the West, begin to take precedence over national and sub-national standards, what are the implications for nationally and culturally prescribed curricula? Will an internationalized education assessment technology begin to drive an internationalized curricula reform? How much wider will the gap become between the culture of those who control education and who design “international” tests and curricula (i.e. the ‘supernational educators’) and the culture of the child whose learning is the goal? (Little, 1992).
Vedder (1994) describes how global measurements of the quality of education lead to a globalisation of curricula to the detriment of local cultures, especially in developing countries. The step from the notion of global measures to a standardized or global curriculum is a small one. Tests dictate curricular priorities and global tests dictate global curricula. Having analysed in some detail the plans for IEA’s third international mathematics and science study (TIMSS) as a standard for a global measure of the quality of education, he states: “Following the notion that tests dictate curricular priorities, one might suggest that IEA represents a force towards the globalisation or internationalisation of curricula.” Vedder is critical of IEA and its mission and suggests that much is to be gained from primarily national approaches which meet global standards of quality (Vedder, 1994).
Local cultural values are being further annihilated with the dominant use foreign languages, especially English which has become dominant in globalised learning and teaching. The English language dominates the development of technologies which support global communication (Mason, 1998). This has indeed increased the demand for English and its globalisation phenomenon has had very far-reaching implications in the annihilation of indigenous languages.
The increasing importance of English is strongly enhanced through donor support. The World Bank, for example, continues to place heavy emphasis on the reduction of government subsidies in education, though such subsidies are indispensable in the promotion of instruction in local languages. At the same time the World Bank’s support in improving the quality of education through learning materials weighs heavily on the use of foreign published materials. A World Bank loan to the Central African Republic allegedly intended to improve the quality and accessibility of elementary education, for example, came with a package of conditions that required the country to import its textbooks (including French language charts) directly from France and Canada. It has been estimated that due to similar World Bank projects and linkages, over 80 percent of school textbooks in Francophone Africa are now produced in France (Mazrui, 1997).
Both the British and the French generally use a substantial portion of their development aid to strengthen the use of their own languages as media of instruction. The British Council, for example, has played a major role in the formulation and implementation of language policies in Tanzania and Namibia (Brock-Utne, 2000). A British Council annual report was said to admit that although the British government no longer had the economic and military power to impose its will in other parts of the world, British influence endures through “the insatiable demand for the English language.” The report maintained that the English language is Britain’s greatest asset, “greater than the North Sea Oil” and characterized English as an “invisible, God-given asset” (Brock-Utne, 2000).
Is the imposition of foreign languages through donor cultural conditionalities reaching the expected milestone? Although there is a need for more serious studies in this particular area, some studies are beginning to show that, the more the emphasis has been on entrenching the foreign language in the classroom to the exclusion of mother tongues, the more the mother tongue has claimed its social roles outside, and in the end the foreign language has been ineffective (Bgoya, 2001).
It is further noted that, regarding the question of primary imperatives for adopting a foreign language as a national one, it is clear that there is none. On the contrary, there are numerous reasons to support the argument that such linguistic imposition does more harm than good. When a language is artificially imposed, students are rarely able to master it sufficiently to work comfortably in it. Not only do they fail to acquire proficiency in the foreign language, but they also lose proficiency in their own languages, becoming doubly disadvantaged. Dependence on a foreign language, like other forms of dependency, is a liability that a nation can ill afford (Bgoya, 2001; Mazrui, 1996).
In this discussion it has been shown that 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. 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.
Most of the early Western scholars at the time of colonisation assumed that because Africans knew no reading and writing, they had no systems, contents and methods of education to pass on to the young. To such scholars, education in Africa meant Western civilization. They neglected anything traditional because of their restricted view of the nature of education. It is however, important to point out that failure to integrate indigenous learning and Western education was partly a deliberate effort to eradicate African education. The introduction of Western institutions by some colonial agencies, especially the Christian missionaries, was calculated to undermine many aspects of African social structures and pave the way for their replacement. The Western assault on traditional knowledge also applied to the use of foreign languages.
With achievement of independence for most African countries in the 1960s, little effort was devoted to considering whether the knowledge conveyed in the schools was of relevance for the young nations. The more urgent problems had to do with the expansion of education, with the building of new schools, with government take-over of private schools and doing away with racially-segregated schools. Consequently, curricula reform to reflect relevance to the African setting did not take place. The Western curricula values continued to be strengthened after independence.
The current forces of globalisation 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 the acquisition of African indigenous knowledge.
To arrest the current situation, it is best for Africa to look to herself for the development of her own curricula and modes of delivery through the examination of methods and techniques of indigenous African knowledge. Modern school-based education should incorporate many components of indigenous knowledge to make it more relevant to the African setting. Social studies and the use of local languages are subjects ideally suited for transmitting the important aspects of African cultural life. Many elements of indigenous education are still in practice in most parts of Africa. Many children in the rural areas grow up in two systems of education - the Indigenous and the Western. With the kind of reforms undertaken in African countries, the goals and content of the two systems are not necessarily in conflict. It is the practice of modern education that tends to diverge from the stated objectives.
To effect any meaningful change in the character of African education, there is need for a change in attitudes and values about the function of education which ought to permeate the entire African societies. In many parts of Africa, it is not only the educated elite who are frightened by experimentation and transformation. Rural societies are among those who strongly advocate for the continued existence of modern schools, and the way they have been structured. This is because mistakenly, or otherwise, they perceive it as a means of advancement out of the village for their children, and as a source of security in an unstable environment. Any intention on the part of the educationists to experiment with the present education set up is, therefore in danger of being met with considerable scepticism and even resistance. However, what seems to augur well for change is that large sections of the populations in most African countries are increasingly getting disillusioned with the present education as many of their offspring complete it even up to university, but return to the villages and cities to join large cohorts of the unemployed.
VS 3 Africa and Europe: Historical and Cultural Dilemmas and Challenges for Nationhood and Development
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