Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Euro-Colonial Education in Afrika

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
August 16, 2006

At the outset, it must be clearly stated that what is sharply discernible is that the Euro-colonial system of education actually replaced an ongoing indigenous Afrikan system of education.

This reality then makes it very clear to understand exactly what are the differences between the Afrikan system of education and the Euro-colonial system. This is vital because the system that existed in Afrika for centuries was a system which served the needs of the Afrikan people.

The Afrikan system of education trained the whole society to perform certain given roles/tasks within the society. It was a total, holistic experience that impacted and covered the lives of everyone within that society.

It provided skills; it disseminated specific knowledge and information as well as passing on the traditional values which Afrikan society considers relevant and desirable for the maintenance and development of society.

This system of education was then replaced, not immediately, but over the period of Euro-colonial rule, by an alien system under the rubric of the colonial educational system.

Ergo, the schools that were established by the colonialists, were manned largely by white teachers or later by Afrikans trained in this new way of looking at the world. The colonial powers decreed that Afrikan rulers must send their children to school, mainly their sons.

The colonialists found that it was useful to try and ensure that the sons of traditional rulers should have an education so that the authority which went with traditional rule should be buttressed and reinforced by the new educational values of colonialism.

The French colonialists made it very clear and specific. They made it a matter of the rule of law. As such, it was prohibited for a chief to keep his son away from school because the French understood that they required a certain category of Afrikans to serve on their behalf in the process of colonial rule. Therefore, it became necessary to ensure that the sons of rulers received colonial education.

According to slain Guyanese historian, Dr. Walter Rodney (1976), the objectives of Euro-colonial education were: (1) to produce people who would participate in the process of colonial rule (2) to produce people who would participate in the process of their own oppression and (3) to produce people who would participate in the oppression, subjugation and exploitation of their own people (neo-colonialism). Colonial education in Afrika was for the privileged. So, if one had a little bit of education in colonial Afrika, then that individual would be in a privileged position and with privilege came certain kinds of attitudes, certain types of values which characterized the educated Afrikan. Such an individual then felt that he was a cut above the rest of the colonized in society.

These values were deliberately pushed by the colonialists; they made it clear to those Afrikans who got an education that they were favoured by them and that they were chosen to be better than the rest of the other Afrikans.

Euro-colonial education reinforced the "notion of privilege" and the "notion of alienation" among the colonized Afrikans, by design and not by accident.

In sum, to be educated meant that one could get certain kinds of jobs in the colonial economy–very low paying jobs–jobs that were not high status by comparison with other parts of the colonial world but jobs which within the Afrikan continent meant a great deal.

And the fact that the colonial education fitted one out to become vertically mobile within society meant that it again reinforced the "notion of privilege" on the part of those who had the opportunity to participate in such a system of divide and rule/conquer.

Nevertheless, colonial education was a privilege of a dubious nature. In terms of skills, the Afrikan colonial education imparted very little; the education was non-specific and of a very low level because the colonialists made it very clear what they desired, namely, they came to Afrika to set up an administrative and police structure.

To this end, they brought fellow Europeans to do the task but they needed to be helped in the process. They needed interpreters; they needed messengers to carry messages back and forth between the European colonizer and the Afrikan colonized; they needed some clerks to record decisions; and they needed policemen all at the very lowest level of education in order to complete the Euro-colonial circle.

Euro-colonial education in Afrika required that only elementary schools be built; thus, this system of education was by and large elementary education, primary education or pre-high school.

As far as the curriculum was concerned, efforts were made deliberately and unconsciously to provide a programme of education that was not relevant to the development of Afrika but was one relevant to the perpetuation and maintenance of European colonial rule.

The fact of the matter is that there was a direct disconnect between Euro-colonial education in Afrika and the basic human needs of the colonized themselves. One wonders whether the colonialists saw the Afrikan colonized as human beings in the first place!

The record suggests that it was inconsistent in the overall colonial framework to try and develop a skilled Afrikan. A skilled Afrikan was the ultimate antithesis of Euro-colonialism because a colonized person had to be a manual labourer–that was his decreed basic definition in Euro-colonial terms and modus operandi.

When an Afrikan was classified as skilled or semi-skilled, he became a direct threat to those Europeans who were sent out to the colonies to fulfill whatever functions and necessary technical skills that were needed.

Euro-colonial education in Afrika was education to prepare/mold the Afrikan for a role within a system of production which was controlled and defined by Europeans.

In primary and secondary schools, the Afrikan was exposed to a system that was authoritarian to the nth degree.

Apart from slavery, Euro-colonialism was the epitome of authoritarian power control and it was directly reflected in the colonial educational system. Each Afrikan student within a school had to understand that there was a chain of command running from the King or Queen of England right down to him and he must behave in a certain manner that was prescribed by the King/Queen.

Furthermore, the Afrikan student had to understand that the authority of his teacher was derived directly from the authority of the colonial administrator and that the colonial administrator would turn up in the classroom and indicate to everyone that the teacher's authority was really derived from him. He would show the colonized Afrikan students who had absolute power.

The stark reality is that the thrust of Euro-colonial education in Afrika was to produce someone who was full of self hate, alienation, historical amnesia, confusion, false identity and psychological dependency and powerlessness.

Indeed, the race issue or ethnocentrism (lack of tolerance of other races) cannot be excluded from the system of Euro-colonial education in Afrika.

As Philip D. Curtin points out in his "The Black Experience of Colonialism and Imperialism" (Spring 1974): "One of the central issues was the attitude of Europeans towards race difference, which lay behind all (of their) policies (including education) they tried to follow in colonial Afrika."

This European supremacist mind-set was also popularized by Arthur de Gobineau in his book titled "The Inequality of Human Races" (1854) as follows: "Such is the lesson of history. It shows us that all civilizations derive from the white race, that none can exist without its help and that a society is great and brilliant only so far as it preserves the blood of the noble group that created it, provided that this group itself belongs to the most illustrious branch of our species. No Negro race is seen as the initiator of a civilization. Only when it is mixed (albeit colonized by) some other (European group) can it even be initiated into one."

As comrade Maurice Bishop once observed: "Perhaps the worst crime that colonialism left our country, has indeed left all former colonies, is the education system."

Truth Be Told: In the tradition of Euro-colonial education in Afrika, the system is still alive and kicking in neo-colonial TnT under the rubric of the Ministry of Degradation. During the Euro-British colonial days, students in TnT's public schools were able to read and write; today, in the era of putative political independence, these students can only beat steel pan, sing Calypso, disrespect adult administrators and teachers, curse and fight, among other things.

In the Euro-British colonial days, Trinbagonians were told that the future of this nation was in our children's school bag; today, under the system of Neo-colonialism, knives, guns, scissors, alcohol, drugs, etc, are in the school bags of our school children.

What is the future of this nation?

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.

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