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Africa: Education, Development and the Third Millennium

     By Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia

 A comparative and International Education perspective and analysis pertaining to Africa’s development  is a daunting task. Africa is vast (11.6 million square miles) and highly diverse (with at least eight hundred languages) and relatively disconnected in terms of infrastructure, but Africa’s conceptual and metaphysical as well cosmogenic superstructure is incredibly similar across the board and  rests on relatively similar mode of productions and cultures.

 Despite the heterogeneity of African  societies,  cultural bridges can easily be constructed between national boundaries. For instance, the Somali are found through the major portion of the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti); the Mandinka are in Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Ivory Coast and other parts of West Africa; the Fulani, by virtue of their nomadic life, traverse the entire Sahel and are a nation under several nation-states; Swahili is a uniting lingua franca to East Africans as is Arabic to the Northerners.

 Sometimes it is not just languages and cultural patterns that unite Africans, but rather substantial similarities in social organization. Whereas the Akan people of southern and eastern Ghana are actually related to the Anyi and Baoule of south-eastern and central Ivory Coast , the Ewe of Ghana and the Kru of Ivory Coast are connected by similar patterns of social organization.

 It is against the above background that we must examine Africa’s education and development in order to meaningfully realize the transformation of African societies in the Third Millennium. In an increasingly globalized world and the enormous impact of the latter on the entire planet, Africans cannot afford to pursue an isolationist inward-looking policy, nor must they simply emulate Europe, America or other developed countries in designing and implementing curriculum for schools and strategies for development for their specific nations. In the 1960s, for instance, many Africans continued [understandably but not justifiably] ex-colonial educational frameworks, and in the 1980s a significant number began to shift and adopt the American educational system without critically examining the latter and observing its relevance to Africa’s development.

 Due to excessive foreign influence, Africa was unable to feel its potential and exploit some skills and talents embedded in its tradition, to the promotion of modern education. What we call today vocational education, for instance, simply eroded and replaced traditional African apprenticeship. The latter were not only schools but also cultural laboratories where parents, teachers and students contribute their input. As some scholars like Onifude and Obidi observe, long before the coming of the European, the Yoruba of Nigeria “learned a variety of crafts, trades and professions from craftsmen and professionals through the apprenticeship system” (Comparative Education, Vol. 31, No. 3, 1993).

 Another important traditional African tool for the enhancement of cognition (and which fuses the affective domain), ironically used by anthropologists and abandoned by modern African scholars, is ‘participatory observation’. As Margaret Zoller Booth aptly puts it, “as is true in much of Africa, traditional education in Swaziland places emphasis on active participant observation. This differs from imported Western educational system which are more abstract and often not relevant to the child’s immediate surrounding.” (Comparative Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, 1997).        

 As a matter of fact, with the exception of religious education as in the case of Ethiopian Orthodox Church teachings where the Scripture has to be memorized , all other activities such as tilling, fishing, hunting, harvesting, cooking, bee-hive making , tree felling, building construction, painting, choreography and dance, hunting and gathering, handicraft, metallurgy, pottery, brewing etc. are virtually learned by participant observation. In fact the motto of African traditional education is “learning by doing”, schooling beyond participant observation.

 Africa was also the richest in the knowledge and use of herbal medicine but we may gradually lose it unless visionary leaders and scholars preserve this priceless legacy. But,  as there is global resurgence to recapturing herbal medicine, Africa may rethink and exploit its potential and incorporate herbal healing in medical colleges.

 Africa is also perhaps the richest repository of oral tradition; the cumulative and collective human experience is passed from generation to generation, and yet Africans were unable to intertwine their folklore with education. In fact, African schooling must systematically infuse oral history as interdisciplinary teaching tool.

   By and large, across the board in the Continent of Africa, emphasis on the significance of education and expansion of schools was given priority although in some cases the quality of education  (e.g. Ethiopia 1974-1991) was dismally low.

 While schools proliferated, new curricula were designed too. A good example of this initiative is the National Policy on Education (NPE) of Nigeria, which was adopted by the Federal Government in 1981. It is the year when Nigeria abandoned the British System in favor of the American 6-3-3-4 system, that is six years of primary education, three years of junior high school, three years of secondary, and four of university.

 By referring to Fafunwa, Coredlia C. Nwagwu, in The Environment of Crisis in the Nigerian Education System (Comparative Education, Vol. 33, No. 1, 1997) tells us that “at independence there were one university, one college of technology, no colleges of education (only 280 low-level teacher training colleges) and 443 secondary schools” and “during the 1993-94 academic year, there were 38,254 primary schools, 5959 secondary schools, 55 colleges of education, 45 polytechnics and colleges of technology and 35 universities in Nigeria.”

 Similar to Nigeria at independence, Ethiopia had one University College of Addis Ababa founded in 1950 and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with the exception of Asmara University in Eritrea, it was the sole institution of higher education. After 1961, the University College became Haile Selassie University and was renamed Addis Ababa University (AAU) in 1975. In the early 1980s AAU had branches in Awassa, Bahir Dar, Debrezeit and Gondar; Alemaya College of Agriculture at Harar, which was part of AAU, became an independent university.

 After the fall of the military regime in 1991, some colleges were upgraded, a new University of Mekelle (initially College of Arid Zone Agriculture) and Mekelle Business College were opened in Tigray northern regional state. Another private Business College is also inaugurated in Addis Ababa. However, Ethiopia’s endeavor in the education frontier is meager compared to Nigeria. While Nigeria’s oil revenue might have contributed to the expansion of schools, which Ethiopia clearly lacks at present, it should be remembered that its population is double that of Ethiopia.

 A similar comparison could be made between Ghana and Botswana. In the mid-1980s, about 1.6 million students were attending 9180 elementary schools annually in Ghana; 235, 900 students were enrolled   in Botswana’s primary schools. While Ghanaian secondary schools enrolled 768,300 per annum, those of Botswana enrolled 36,000 annually, and while the University of Botswana in Gaborone admitted 2,300 students, the total university enrollment in Ghana (University of Ghana, the University of Science and Technology at Kumasi, and the University of Cape Coast) was 8,000. But, while Ghana’s population in 1989 was 12.2 million, that of Botswana was 1.2 million , and while Ghana has some mineral wealth like gold and bauxite, Botswana is the second largest diamond exporting country in the world.

 Egypt is another important country that has made significant success in educational development and expansion of schools and can be compared with the above mentioned countries.

 Elementary education is free and compulsory for all Egyptian children between the ages of six and twelve; in Nigeria primary education is free but not compulsory. In the early to mid-1980s, Egypt’s adult literacy rate was 45% while that of Nigeria was 50%. The literacy rate between the two countries is not a huge gap, but the population of Egypt was half that of Nigeria in the same period.

 Similarly, in the mid-1980s while Egypt boasted 6 million children enrollment in 12,230 elementary schools and 2.7 million in secondary schools, Nigeria enrolled 13.6 million pupils in its primary schools and 3.1 million in secondary schools. Egypt has only 13 universities ( four times that of Ethiopia), but they are a third in number to Nigerian universities, not to mention the 55 colleges of education of Nigeria, unsurpassed by any country in Africa.

 Egypt does not enjoy the oil blessings of Nigeria and virtually depends on the Nile for its waters, it is nonetheless a leading African nation in manufacturing industry.

 Education contributes to overall development, but its direct correlation to economic progress is complicated and there is no general consensus  that endorses this conjecture of education as impetus to national development.

 As indicated above, my interest in this article is not so much ‘education and development’ of respective African countries but their place in the globalized world and the possibility of catching up in the 21st century.

 In Africa and the New World Order (African Link, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998), I have argued that “the European Community, the Bretton Woods institutions and economic scholars labeled the 1980s as a decade of ‘Africa’s economic crisis’ and this orchestration became a sound justification for international agencies to intervene in the decision-making process of African economic policies.”

 The external intervention in African affairs also affects educational policy. For instance, as Anthony Lemon observes, “Zimbabwe abolished fees for primary schooling in 1980, although she was forced to reintroduce them in terms of the World Bank Economic structural Adjustment Programme in 1987” (Comparative Education, Vol. 31, No. 1, March 1995).

 For Comparative and International Education academe, the current globalization or new world order with its attendant ‘cross-cultural transfer’ may apparently signal the age of mutual interdependence, but on close scrutiny, the educational technology transfer may not be appropriate and/or relevant to the African context. In Internationalization or Indigenization of Educational Management Development? Some issues of cross-cultural transfer, (Comparative Education, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1998), Susie Rodwell extrapolates that “the international and comparative literature provides ample evidence of the tendency for the latest strategies from the West to be adopted in LDCs without ensuring their appropriateness and relevance to the different context and situation…. Whether we are concerned with MSD [school-based Management Self-Development] or other model of educational management development , it seems very evident that we need to improve our understanding of cross-cultural issues, in order to assess better the strengths and weaknesses of the alternative options and avoid the pitfalls of uncritical transfer.”

 Africa’s educational and economic development, therefore, must seriously consider: 1) the relevance and appropriateness of cross-cultural transfer to the local needs of African societies; 2) strategies for economic development that are deliberately designed to guarantee Africa’s independent path and foster already existing regional cooperative endeavors such as Southern Africa Development Conference (SADC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); 3) Africa’s potential as provider, and not recipient, of cooperation, communality and spirituality on top of the legacy of ancient civilization; 4) the necessity of conflict resolution, peace and stability as preconditions to educational development and economic progress.

 The first decade of the Third Millennium may not yet witness the resurgence of Africa beyond underdevelopment, civil strife and famine, but the Continent may be able to lay the cornerstone of genuine and meaningful development agenda by promoting a package of development, democracy and education.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004