Tackling Poverty in Africa: Step Number 2, Africa’s Unique Education System

Having realised that the lack of energy in Africa is one of the primary causes of poverty, using electricity in various forms (hopefully renewable) can reduce poverty rates. Furthermore a diversified structure of energy that is suitable for rural environments would be most effective. This alone however cannot relieve the burden of poverty. I now suggest that abandoning the conventional education system would be another key step to eradicating poverty.

I am a confessed addict to TED talks (available on www.ted.com) which involve individuals with brilliant ideas on technology, entertainment and design sharing them with the rest of the world. I was particularly drawn to a talk by Sir Ken Robison titled “Do schools kill creativity?” He emphasised how the modern education system is suited mainly for vocation. There is a hierarchy of subject matter. The technical subjects such as maths and physical science are given a higher status than the humanities. It then goes to the languages and finally the arts. The best schools are those that can get good matriculation grades and scores of university entrants. That is the measure of a good school in today’s terms. But what does it produce, especially for Africa?

People have been trying for years to solve the poverty crisis. It’s not new. Yet no one has come up with a creative enough solution that will transcend the ethnic and religious wars, rebel violence, leadership crisis, disease, corruption and lack of human resources. Whileusually fall asleep during Thabo Mbeki’s speeches, I did hear him say once: “African solutions, for African problems.” We need creative solutions and a schooling system that will address African problems and bring about solutions relevant to the continent. The IMF has over 1000 individuals with PhDs yet none can write proper policy (that works) to address the issues of African poverty. Isn’t this simply a lack of creativity?

The only thing certain in life is uncertainty. Yet schools teach as though the world today will be the world tomorrow. One would imagine that to prepare for the future, innovation and creativity would be at the forefront of education,to equip people for a diverse problem set. To equip people for a diverse problem set. When colonisers visited the African continent to snatch up “niggers”, they often commented on the amount of dancing and singing Africans practiced. Dance was central to culture and culture was the pillar by which society grew. Scholars from Timbuktu (Mali) had the same sense of understanding of culture and education. Being smart didn’t mean having an intensely literate one sided brain. But your body was as smart as both sides of the brain. The education system of the time allowed for a good amount of innovation and progression. While Africans were not too clued up on ballistics, when exposed to guns (steel, gun powder, springs etc) they were able to remodel them with ease and use them against the Europeans. Spanish commander Cortez (while in Central America) in battle with the Aztecs witnessed the level to which the Aztecs could imitate strategy and weaponry and use it to their advantage. The English were said to be astonished by how the Aborigines could imitate the English language without fault. nowadays it would take months to learn how to engineer a rifle, years to learn a language and more years to be able to devise anti-war strategy (ask the US Homeland security department). What went wrong?

Between the modern and industrial age, there was no formal education system for schools. The demand for human resources in an industrialising world led to the system of education we have today. This brought about Mathematics, Physical Science and Biology etc which are great. Fields such as dance, literature and art were marginalised and received less attention. Experts in fields of creativity and neuroscience now stress how vital it is for different parts of the brain to be stimulated to produce new ideas of value. This is not very easy in a world that moves education from the body (when you were a child) to both the body and mind (when you are in primary school) and finally just the mind (when in university, unless you do drama or dance). It is not surprising that the quickest learners are then children in primary school.

South Africa had the right idea when bringing OBE to the table several years back. Regardless of its flaws (of which there are many), to me  this education system is the most sensible. The concept of ideas based learning, exams with questions such as: what do you think? What is your opinion? There is no right or wrong etc. It is not surprising that Bill Gates dropped out of the best Law School in the world (Harvard) and found more success in simply focusing on his innovation. Craig Venter who has created a synthetic life form and mapped the human genome claims he did most of his learning in a visually enhanced environment such as nature (not in a school). Thomas Edison dropped out of school only to create the light bulb and several other inventions. This is not to demerit the schooling system or insult the value school can currently add to an individual but to highlight that other more comprehensive forms of education ought to be employed to eradicate Africa’s poverty. The current ones don’t work.

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