The spirit of African Renaissance has sparked new hopes for the future of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora. The desire to henceforth put the fate of Africa in African hands has materialized in new Pan African institutions such as the African Union, NEPAD, the African Peer Review Mechanism, the Pan African Parliament and the Peace and Security Council. The Continent has definitely taken a right turn and all her children worldwide must rejoice and lend support.
My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by a recent survey that revealed that many of the top employees of the new pan African institutions sent their children in French, British or American international schools. What a paradox! How can the African Renaissance project be sustainable if the children of the elite in charge of the project are trained by westerners in Eurocentric schools? But in fact, what choices did these parents have and what prompted them to make their decision?
A parent I interviewed gave me a no-nonsense answer: “Look! As an employer of an international organization, I often change my country of residence. Africa has 53 educational systems and I cannot have my children switch their curriculum every time I move. I chose the French school because I am sure to find it in every capital city in Africa”. Another parent was blunter: “ It is my duty to give my children the best education I can afford. African educational systems are not up to world-class standards. The student to teacher ratio is too high, schools are ill-equipped, and teachers have little qualifications and are generally underpaid”. We can all relate to the concerns of these parents. Giving a proper education to an African child often means choosing between a rock and a hard place. Parents are faced, on one hand, with “ outdated and substandard” educational systems rooted in colonial history, and on the other hand, with a so-called “international” school, well equipped but with a curriculum that ignores the contribution of Africa to world civilization and therefore tends to unstill in African youth a deep sense of inferiority.
Western international schools are definitely not designed to educate African children. All over the world, they have a clear objective: “to offer a western education to children of western expatriates working in international organizations or multinational corporations”. For instance, the primary goal of an American International school would be to “offer an American education to children of United States citizens residing abroad in order to facilitate the reentry of these children into schools in the American educational system”. Accidentally, these schools are also willing to “teach children of other nationalities who wish to secure an American Education.” The same applies also to French or British international schools. Despite the lip service paid to “multiculturalism” and the expressed need to somewhat relate their teachings to “the local environment and to the natives”, western international schools deliver a curriculum that is basically Eurocentric. In his classical book “ The Miseducation of the Negro”, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African American expert in the field of education, makes a critical assessment of the western educational system as it relates to educating students of African descent: “The same educational process, which inspires and stimulates the European student with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time that spark of genius in the African child by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The African thus educated is a hopeless liability to his people”. Clearly, western international schools are not meant to be and can never be the ideal environment for the effective grooming of the African Renaissance leaders of tomorrow.
The 53 educational systems put in place by African countries after independence have yielded controversial results, to say the least. The IMF inspired neo-liberal policies have dealt a deathblow to already comatose schools; all over the Continent, governments lack the resources to provide a decent education to African children. Overcrowded schools, lack of educational materials, ill trained and underpaid teachers are just some of the diseases plaguing primary and secondary schools. Numerous studies reveal a growing dissatisfaction of the general population with the product of African educational systems. In a research paper entitled “The Falling Standards of Education in Cameroon”, R.V. Massima writes: “Based on the findings of this investigation, the standards of education are falling. Students from all the schools studied exhibited similar characteristics. These included negative attitudes towards schooling, inability to communicate properly, high interest in trivial issues…” The researcher rightly points out that the failure of the educational system in Africa stems from elementary school.
My personal research conducted has convinced me that the primary difficulty of African schools is not the lack of material and financial resources. The root of the problem is to be found in a culturally irrelevant curriculum that ignores the African knowledge systems and tends to produce schizophrenic individuals estranged from their history, culture and local environment. In fact, the current educational systems in Africa find their origins in the colonial educational system. For example, the major characteristics of the French colonial education systems were the following: “First is the widespread use of the French language; second is enrollment limitations; third is the objective to train Africans solely for the purpose of filling the lower ranks of the colonial civil service.” British and French colonial education was premised on white supremacy and black inferiority. “The Black races of Africa have not attained a complete and coherent civilization of their own nor do they possess the necessary foundation on which to build up a real system of education. The great contribution that we can make is precisely in the interweaving and blending of primitive civilization with our own universally applicable civilization which will have to justify its position of superiority by the manner in which it acquits itself of the responsibility it has assumed.” Colonial education thus exerted foreign culture, foreign values and white supremacy into the core of the curriculum with the purpose of creating a class of submissive Africans, out of touch with their own people and culture, willing pawns in the colonial game.
Unfortunately, despite some noteworthy efforts here and there, the educational policies of “independent” governments in Africa did not depart significantly from their colonial roots. One is struck by how little has changed in the field of education since independence. Ministries of Education are still controlled by foreign “technical advisers”. African countries are still struggling to find an uneasy balanced between curricula that are culturally relevant and curricula that prepare students to participate effectively in the global village. Overwhelmingly, the current educational systems produce a class of so-called “intellectuals” that leave school with just enough knowledge to alienate them from the sort and make them contemptuous of their brethren that have remained in the villages or in the ghettoes; Yet they prove incapable of using this semblance of education, of which they are so proud, to launch Africa on the path of sustainable development. The most striking evidence of the failure of education in Africa is the estrangement of “intellectuals” from the masses, the very people upon whom they must count to carry out a program of progress.
Just like their brothers and sisters on the Continent, Africans in the Diaspora are being miseducated. Dr. Woodson explains the historical roots of the so-called Black education in America and the similarity with neocolonial education in Africa is striking: “The missionary workers who went South (of the United States) to enlighten the black freedman after the civil war had more enthusiasm than knowledge. Their aim was to transform the Blacks, not to develop them. They followed the traditional (Eurocentric) curriculum of the times, which did not take the African into consideration except to condemn or pity him. Just like the typical “educated” continental African, an “educated” African American develops an attitude of contempt towards his own people. As we can see, both the western international curriculum and the educational systems in “independent Africa” are rooted in the assumption of White supremacy and Black inferiority. Such systems can but be detrimental to Africans. Alternative education must be considered.
In fact, from the time Europeans set foot on African in the 15th century, some Africans on the Continent and in the Diaspora have relentlessly resisted Eurocentric education. They preserved ancient knowledge systems or created new ones. The most recent and systematic of these efforts are found in the Afrocentric Education Movement. This Movement seeks to break the miseducation cycle of Africans by placing the African student at the center of the educational experience as a subject rather than an object. It has created alternative schools in Africa, Europe, America and the Caribbean. Though the Afrocentric movement is very active on university campuses, it has been proven that the process of reeducation yields better results in early ages.“ Teachers of elementary and secondary education giving attention to this problem have succeeded in softening and changing the attitude of children whose judgment had not been so hopelessly warped by the general attitude of the communities in which they have been brought up.” Experience shows that by the time students reach university, it is much more difficult to cure them of the symptoms of white supremacy embedded in the elementary and secondary school curricula.
As we strive towards African Renaissance, we have to overhaul our educational system shifting it away from an Eurocentric to an Afrocentric paradigm. Afrocentric Education is rooted in the unique history and evolved culture of African People and is committed to correcting the historical distortions, enslavement, colonialism, cultural disruption and dependency. In Afrocentric schools pedagogical approaches must be in sync with the overall goal of the educational system. According to Akoto, a leading expert in alternative Education, an Afrocentric pedagogy“ endeavors to stimulate and nourish the creative and critical consciousness, through study and application to inculcate a firm commitment to the reconstruction of African nationhood, and to the restoration of African historical/cultural continuum”. Afrocentric Education is therefore Education for African Renaissance and African Nationhood. “Education, formal or informal, lies at the very core of the nation building effort, as it involves the codification, perpetuation, interpretation and transmission of national history and culture, which are the fundamental building blocks and cohesive force of the Nation”.
In addition, the character of the mwalimu (teacher) is crucial to the success of the pedagogic goals of Afrocentric Education. Most African teachers have been trained within the Eurocentric paradigm and need to be retrained before they can effectively teach in an Afrocentric school environment. The Mwalimu must possess general competence in pedagogic techniques and a mastery of a chosen area of specialty. He/she must also strive to achieve greater command of both the wisdom of tradition and modernity and have an infectious drive to advance the cultural and political interests of African People. The mwanafunzi (student) must be inspired and fueled with energy and unlimited potential. He/she must be so motivated by the mwalimu as to welcome the teachings as a treasure not as a burden. Afrocentric Educators place emphasis on the Interactive Circle as a teaching method. The circle can best facilitate the kind of dynamic and reciprocal discourse that is essential to the development of a truly liberated African personality. The teacher initiates genuine dialogue that aggressively engages the student in intellectual exchange. The goal of the process is to reconstruct and reinvigorate African culture, and to promote and defend the economic and political rebuilding of the African Nation. Last but not least Afrocentric Education is holistic in nature. It seeks not only to feed the intellect but also promotes the physical and spiritual development of the mwanafunzi.
Recent studies show that Afrocentric Education promotes not only academic excellence among African students but fosters social responsibility. By learning more about himself, the African child develops pride and a sense of self-determination. The African thus educated ceases to be a liability to self and to his/her community. He/she becomes a blessing to the whole humanity. Afrocentric Education stands for scientific truth and historical rectitude, and promotes mutual respect and intercultural exchange among the people of the world. Non-Africans would benefit greatly from Afrocentric education because as Dr. Woodson puts it “no one can be thoroughly educated until he/she has learned as much about Africans as he/she knows about other peoples”. Bringing to light the contributions of Africa to world civilization is the missing link to racial harmony, world citizenship and rule of international morality
The African elite particularly those working in African Renaissance institutions such as the African Union and NEPAD must take the lead and preach by example. ‘A people can never succeed who leave the education of their children to foreigners.” It is high time that we reclaim the hearts, minds and souls of our children so that they may carry into the future the vision of African Rebirth so beautifully expressed by Marcus Garvey: “God made us to be masters. In the world, He placed us above everything, both visible and invisible. Let us never forget our God and pray to the God of other people. No humanity comes before the one that starts with oneself. Let the sky be our limit and eternity be our yardstick! There is no mountain we cannot overcome with the creative power of our spirit. Africa calls us to service, to come to its rescue. We must free ourselves and build up a great Nation. Let us not allow any religious qualms or political intrigues divide us. We, the (900) millions Africans worldwide, need to fight together, win together and die together. We should always bear in mind that we are at war and we are all soldiers. May God help us to see the light, so that we can become a great and majestic Nation walking towards its destiny under the banner of a united Africa”.
* Makini Smith-Tchameni is a leading African American expert in the field of Afrocentric Education. She is the CEO of the ACE Foundation.