Despite the warning of the prophets of doom announcing their imminent demise, Nations are still flourishing and seem to have long days ahead. Paradoxically, the rise of globalization has run concurrently with the awakening of nationalistic forces. On the African continent, the inability of neocolonial governments to create national consciousness within the borders micro-states, inherited from colonialism, has left enough room for the old and cherished concept of an African Nation encompassing all continental Africans as well as the sons and daughters of Africa living in the Diaspora. In fact, African nationalism has always been global because, as a People, we Africans are present in Africa, in Europe, in the Americas, in the Caribbean, and in Asia. Today is the day for African Renaissance, a day for the Rebirth of the African Nation.
A discussion on the various definitions of nation is beyond the scope of this article. But, simplistically speaking, a Nation may be defined as a group of people that have to one degree or another a sense of a common origin and a vision of a common future. This group of people may or may not live on the same territory; they may or may not be under the same government; they may not even speak the same language. There is no question that the people of the world that called themselves Jews had the constitutive elements of a Nation long before the creation of Israel in 1948. At the time they did not even speak the same language. Today, they still don’t. It is equally true that in the hearts and minds of Africans worldwide, there is the notion that we are one people with a common past and an intertwined future. But, like all things, nations are born, grow and die. At birth, the Nation may be fundamentally mythical. The generalization of the founding myth and its acceptance by all the members of the group is the key element in Nationbuilding. Education lies therefore at the heart of the construction and solidification of the Nation. The failure of most African countries to create a Nation within their borders is directly linked to the deplorable state of educational institutions: Dilapidated infrastructures, overcrowded classrooms, limited or non-existent teaching resources, underpaid and undervalued teachers. The worst of all is the outdated and culturally irrelevant curricula that promote self-hate, tribalism, petty-mindedness and selfishness.
For most students in Africa, schools have become the place where everything but academic pursuit occurs. From sex parlors for inapt teachers and weak students to gang turf wars for fallen boys and girls who have given up their books for weapons, schools in Africa are not meeting the task of instilling our youth with the needed tools to rebuild the African nation. The numbers of student dropouts through out the continent blame the ministries of education for not making the current education relevant in face of the devastating effects of Globalization. Not only are the children of Africa asking themselves why should we go to school, but parents too are fed up with what they perceive as a system that teaches the children to dislike their African culture and language. An African parent once told me that her daughter often asked laughingly when spoken to in her mother language “What is that in English?” An African language teacher in an urban high school admitted, “When students are spoken to in African languages they ignore the person speaking, but when English is spoken these same students are very attentive.”
In so-called developed countries, children of African descent are also receiving the short end of the educational benefits. One African living in England writing to New Africa magazine, March 2005 issue noted, “ I was paying for my son to be educated, but unless I took a firm hand in his education, he wouldn’t obtain the information necessary for him to know about himself and people who were black like him.” This parent continued to state that in the British educational system “ Blacks simply didn’t exist as a people in their own right, but as a people to whom others did things.” This is what Afrocentric educators call being the ‘object’ of the lesson as opposed to being the ‘subject’. A child thus taught becomes a liability for his/her race. On the other hand, a child that is taught about the contributions of his people to world civilization grows to be a proud participant to the progress of his Nation.
As Africans commit themselves to African Renaissance, which means a strong desire to rebuild, revitalize and develop the continent and its people worldwide, education must become a strategic tool for Nationbuilding. Kwame Akoto, an Educational expert based in the United States, defines education “ as the ritualized reaffirmation of the national identity”. For him, a national education should be molded and catalyzed by the cultural and ideological assumptions, essential values, priorities and goals of that nation. Education both formal and informal lies at the very core of the nationbuilding efforts. It is through the educational system that national history is codified, interpreted and transmitted to the next generation. The school system plays a fundamental role in laying the building blocks and producing the cohesive force of the Nation.
The African Renaissance Project is a revolutionary vision. This revolution necessitates the creation of a new African. Indeed in all revolutions changes in the content of the school curricula are seen to be of utmost importance to those who make the revolutions. Che Guevara said: “ For the revolution to succeed, a new man must be created simultaneously with a new material base in the country...Society must become a huge school”. Fidel Castro is even plainer: “Revolution and education are the same thing.” A school system basically reproduces the class structure and the social relations of production from one generation to the next. The goal of a colonial system of education is to reproduce the colonial relations of production. By maintaining that system, the independent African states are committing an act of cultural and historical annihilation and seriously undermining the gains of independence.
History teaches us that no major qualitative social change has occurred without a qualitative overhaul of the school curriculum. In Japan, during the Meiji Restoration, the government created a new national education system that emphasized the ideas of loyalty, patriotism, and obedience. School curriculum stressed self-sacrifice to the state and family. The Japanese educational system also created a network of technical schools and universities both public and private that educated a growing class of Japanese on how to use new machinery, administrate modern government and run private industries. Japan's educational system was a tool in creating for Japan a New reliable citizenry who respected the central government and had the knowledge to be technically efficient in the new industries and administration that an industrializing state created.
Despite the fundamental differences in their goals and methods, there are striking similarities in the use of education in socialist Cuba, Meiji Japan and Islamic Iran. In Iran, the revolutionaries re-arranged the education system to produce the New Iranian. The major themes of the Iranian textbooks were rewritten to herald a profile of the ideal Islamic person (Homo-Islamicus) whose creation was the aspiration of the revolutionaries. The Ayatollahs appeared to have clearly understood that the long run stability of their revolution could only be achieved when the present school children as adults would have internalized the values of the revolution through schooling and other socializing agencies. To be successful, Revolutionaries need to bring about changes in the old system's values and institutions as much as possible in the shortest period of time. In this process, schools are looked upon to be one of the most important vehicles in the development of these new norms and values.
African Renaissance will not be sustainable if the same colonial Eurocentric educational system is allowed to thrive all over the continent of Africa. If we do not reclaim the hearts, minds and souls of our young ones, someone else will to our and their detriment. Education for African Renaissance is education for African nationbuilding. Nationbuilding is the conscious and focused application of our people’s collective resources, energies, and knowledge for the purpose of liberating and developing the psychic and physical space that we identify as ours. This process requires an African Centered Educational system rooted in the unique history and evolved culture of African people. African Centered Education is concerned with the origins, current status and future of the African world. It is committed to correcting the historical distortions and creating new values in sync with our present condition and our future goals. African Centered Education instills in children the sense of pride, commonness of purpose as well as the nation management and maintenance abilities needed to steer the African boat in the ruthless waters of globalization.
*Makini Smith-Tchameni is a leading African American Expert in the field of African centered education. She is currently working with African Renaissance institutions to set up Afrocentric Schools all over the African continent.