Africa’s education sector is in urgent need of vital reengineering that will foster a novel process. Drivers of change in Africa’s education will not be money, foreign direct investment, economic assistance or technical expertise from the Global North or elsewhere. Instead, what is needed in Africa’s education system is a bold and energetic leadership that deeply grasps the power of an enlightened mind to build transformative systems from scratch.
The unexamined assimilation of the Western knowledge system by the rest of the world has slowly but steadily piled up severe consequences over the years. Years of abandoning community values and knowledge systems in favour of purely Western neo-liberal values and education have only led to multilayered malfunctions at the personal, family, community and environmental levels. For Africa, the introduction of the right kind of education even now can still reverse the effects of the wholesale imposition and adoption of Western values and thoughts. We here explore some areas that Africa’s leaders in education would wish to take seriously in the effort to bring transformation across the region through education.
A transformed curriculum
At the core of Africa’s educational needs is a curriculum that is relatable to the needs of the region. Crafting new curricula across subjects and fields of study for Africa is a task that only Africans who are deeply knowledgeable about the needs of their communities can implement. This task can be undertaken without the organization of major, money-guzzling conferences or the hiring of expensive consultants. A series of online meetings by qualified, dedicated volunteers over a period of time can achieve as much of an impact.
The subjects of study and the contents of those subjects will need to be revisited. At the social level, for instance, subjects such as ethnic studies should be prioritized, seeing that the continent is beset by ethnic divisions. In medicine and pharmacy, in another instance, the curriculum should, among others, reflect more on tropical diseases, put more emphasis on the African history of medicine, and revisit Africa’s indigenous medicinal knowledge. In science and technology, African-centred science, the kind that students can easily identify with outside of the four walls of the classroom, should be emphasized. Textbooks should be evaluated to ensure compliance with community and national values, ethics and knowledge systems.
Although the delivery of knowledge in Africa’s educational system has changed in the years since colonialism, there remains a need to increase the effort invested in ways of learning that are uniquely African. What is needed is an approach that promotes Ubuntu; that has a deep regard for the past, the present and the future; that respects the earth and what it holds on, under or above it; and that shows an appreciation of the spiritual. Further, in this kind of education, the teacher must be a person of impeccable character who is well respected in the community.
Within an Afro-centric pedagogy, cooperation is the watchword in the classroom and not competition. Students are taught to deeply value and respect who they are and what they stand for, as well as who the other person is and what they stand for. The kind of assessments that are given to students are all aimed at building bridges and not at showing off who is more brilliant or influential.
Other ways of promoting an African-centred pedagogy, which leaders in the education sector must—and should—seek to promote, include experiential learning, that is learning with the real life, lived experiences of learners, rather than the importation of completely foreign ideas and concepts and imposing such as the preferred reality that learners must aim for.
The use of storytelling is an age-old method of learning across much of Africa. This art must be explored and deeply studied. There is a need to largely incorporate storytelling as a vital part of teaching and learning across the region.
Other ways of promoting African traditional pedagogy include the presentation of education as a holistic and trans-generational, non-linear activity. A holistic education reduces the compartmentalization – which labels certain disciplines as reserved for smart students and others for dull students. This labelling has crippled Western education on many fronts and stalled progress in research. Trans-generationally, education should be passed down from one generation to another. In a world where the younger generation feels smarter than the older generation because of a smartphone that they can easily use to search out information, there is a need to delineate between information and wisdom or understanding. The necessity for generations to receive the accumulated wisdom of previous generations through interactions remains.
Transformed educational structure and administration
Africa is ripe for a radical transformation in the structure and administration of education. Take the rise in private schools and the trauma of school fees payment on parents, for instance; not to talk of the effect of the student-as-customer syndrome on teaching and learning across the region. There is a need to strongly encourage other non-government-driven educational platforms, such as community-based education, education pods – where parents come together to start a school for their children, homeschooling, etc. Homeschooling is an African traditional concept that needs to be explored in present-day education across the region.
The battle against the commodification of education
Since the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme in Africa in the 1980s, African countries have largely made education a cash-and-carry process. Take the case of Makerere University, for instance. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Makerere University was privatized and commercialized under World Bank pressure. The commercialization compelled most departments, faculties, and institutions to raise their own funds, meaning that fee-paying students were prioritized. Faculties shifted from a curriculumthat focused on national transformation and advancement to one that emphasized commercially viable programmes and courses that would attract private fee-paying students. Faculties campaigned for secretarial studies, environmental management, conflict resolution, human rights, and other marketable courses. To ease the African university’s dire financial situation, World Bank “technical aid” expatriates created Western-oriented courses. Faculty recruitment and retention were based on financial rather thanscholarly considerations. These market-based reforms at Makerere University reduced research and development within a decade.
After Independence, Makerere University was among the few African universities that embarked on the development of an independent, indigenously developed curriculum, built around the kind of knowledge needed by the erstwhile colonized people. With the mandated World Bank market-based reforms, however, this uncommon progress was sacrificed to the capitalist preference for a lucrative Western-based education system. The World Bank market-based reforms at Makerere caused a significant drop in the academic quality of the University.
The next generation of African leadership in education must seek to revert teaching and learning at the elementary, secondary and tertiary levels to a situation where education is aimed at individual, community and national transformation.
The once universally accepted pathway to advancement championed by the Global North has come under intense criticism. Yet, there appears to be no readily packaged – nor tried and tested – alternative to the widely adopted Western model of societal advancement. Ironically, while enlightened voices across the West are demanding that the pause button be pressed on the ongoing trajectory in Western education, many leaders in the Global South are pursuing the Western advancement model, still convinced that it remains the only viable route to progress. The continent of Africa must delink from this pursuit of the Western idea of progress. The right kind of education is central to this delinking process.
A novel educational system built on a central paradigm that honours the human person, family, community, nation and the earth must become foundational in Africa’s advancement discourse. The wheel is not to be reinvented in the pockets of areas where Western culture and science have made some advancement that honours Ubuntu and the earth. We should maximise the positives in that knowledge system.
Education leadership in Africa at this point is critical. Drivers of policies in education across Africa must cease to be blueprints downloaded from more technologically advanced nations. Leadership in education demands foresight that embraces the depths of African Ubuntu philosophy while simultaneously maximising relevant scientific and technological advancements.