Education in Africa Should Be For Empowerment, And Not For Conformity

The world has changed dramatically over time. Trends come and go. How things are done changes considerably. People adopt new ways of doing things and if such works, people stick with it. If it does not work, people are quick to abandon such. Qualitative changes, quantitative changes, and all. As pronounced through dialectical and historical materialism. (Karl Marx)

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The nature of education in Africa has increasingly become a cause for concern. Education in Africa, when it was brought by the colonizers, was specially designed to alienate the African from his identity and immediate surroundings. The African was compelled to abhor everything African, to view everything African as extremely backward and barbaric.

The education system brought by the colonizers to Africa under the veil of “civilization” was created to make sure that the African did not have a questioning sensibility regarding his own world and how he perceived that world. It was education designed for Africans to mimic (it is still mostly like this).

Policies like assimilation that was favoured by the French colonizers were meant to force the African to be European, so that he hated his own identity. So that by enjoying the luxuries that came with European education the African would be divorced from his most pressing and immediate context.

Social mobility and social capital were determined by how much colonial education one had imbibed. In a way, the same colonial education also gave rise to Africa’s revered, iconic and fearless nationalist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Leopold Senghor, Robert Mugabe, Nelson Mandela and many others. The educated nationalists went on to lead the struggles for independence for their countries on the basis of this education, which was mostly attainable through the benevolence of mission schools. (Together with the associated biases for those who eschewed the nationalist path).

When African countries attained their independence, major reforms were implemented in education to ensure that it reflected what was necessary in the African society. And to make it widely accessible to the majority of Africans. Through a people-centred approach. Education was improved so that it spoke to the African. But these reforms were not adequate as education systems across Africa, and the whole world at large, still emphasize the super-imposing need for academic excellence (being good at producing results only and not truly assessing whether the education acquired is vital for real-life skills and emotional intelligence) and nothing else.

Because of the emphasis on academic results as the sole factor determining the brilliance of students, education is biased. Students are forced to load information in their heads for the sole purposes of passing exams only and not for acquiring the relevant information needed to navigate the rough terrains of life in a cold, capitalist world.

People now conform to whatever that is put in front of them because the only urgent need apparent to them as they perceive the education system is to get academic results with flying colours.

And to use that education as a means to acquire as much private property as possible, particularly in the urban areas. Degrees are relevant as far as they give one a chance to upgrade their class – the aspirational middle class and the bourgeoisie.

The aspirations to acquire an education so that we can mimic what is done in the global north and east without paying attention to our local immediate context are counter-productive. Our education should speak more to African cities, towns, and rural areas in an inclusive way.

Yes, good academic results mirror brilliance and the zeal of students as regards excellence in life. But the focus on academic results has turned overwhelmingly unsustainable for overall organic national development.

What happens to the brilliant child good who is excellent in athletics? What happens to the student who excels in music? The one who is amazingly super in football? These factors then reveal the skewed nature of an over-emphasis on academic results only.

Academic results force people to load information without properly processing its meaning and relevance to the world they live in.

Education should help people to develop a questioning sensibility. It should enable people to be empowered, to demand more. Education should be fashioned in a way that fosters emotional intelligence and how to better understand oneself, and the people in the world one lives in. These factors should be the crowning points of education systems in Africa.

In our local African contexts, the education should reflect more of our history in detail, as well as explaining the relations between African and global capital since the advent of imperialism in an objective manner.

We should depart from education that is narrow in nature. Education should be broad. People must not just conform but must be empowered with education.

Because education is not just about academic results. Education should prepare people to appreciate what life is, the history in the world from an objective point of view, and to develop their skills in various areas of life. Emotional intelligence creates people who perceive the world better. As well as education grounded in robust Pan-African oriented approaches.

So, as the debates about opening schools in these pandemic times, policy makers should have this in mind – that education must empower people in a way that inspires them to find collective solutions for their communities and countries at large.

Education in Africa must foster a sense of an organic collective national consciousness that helps us counter the ideological hegemony of global capital (the north and east). So that we have organic, homegrown solutions in Africa. In this way, progress will be inclusive and not based on class. And not to copy everything that global capital throws at us without ideologically questioning such solutions.

Education should be not for conformity but for empowerment. 

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