The Other Side Of Africa: Education

When people think of Africa, its peoples, and its culture, the last thing that comes to mind is education. Africa is praised for its culture, for its diversity, for its natural landscape, but never for its academic excellence. One common joke says that the best way to hide something from an African is to put it in a book. The question is, would a continent so damaged and broken be full of intelligent and educated people?In Africa, we have a tendency to keep looking to the past to validate ourselves. We look to the great kingdoms of Timbuktu, Carthage, Kush and the Great Zimbabwe, and we feel that we as Africans did something amazing and powerful before being tormented and destroyed by the evil settlers from Europe. But there has to be more than what happened in the past. There has to be something we can look to today to see advances that we are making as a continent, as a people. On a global level, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were developed by the United Nations. One of the goals was to have universal primary school education by 2015, and these have also formed the continental goals through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). So what are the success rates like? In Sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment has increased by 18% between 1998 and 2008. The pace isn’t fast enough to reach the required goal, but it’s still progress. The following is an extract from the MDG Monitor:
Countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda have abolished school fees, which has led to a surge in enrolment: in Ghana, for example, public school enrolment in the most deprived districts and nationwide soared from 4.2 million to 5.4 million between 2004 and 2005. In Kenya, enrolment of primary school children increased dramatically with 1.2 million extra children in school in 2003 alone; by 2004, the number had climbed to 7.2 million, of which 84 percent were of primary school age. Drawing on the experience of African countries that have eliminated school fees, UNICEF, the World Bank, USAID and a range of partners are helping to develop a “How To” guide for countries seeking a breakthrough in universal basic education by abolishing school fees to develop educational systems that are inclusive, equitable and sustainable.
Africa is becoming a model in the advancement of education and learning for the world. It has a low base to start from, making progression harder than the more developed nations and continents, but despite the circumstances the progress it’s making from a low base is commendable. Regarding tertiary education, after independence, Africa had universities that were regional centers of excellence. In East Africa, Makerere University was one of the top educational forces on the continent. It boasts alumni such as Mwai Kibaki (Kenyan president), Julius Nyerere (former Tanzanian president), and Barack Obama Sr, the father of Barack Obama, the current president of the United States of America. In Southern Africa, the University of Fort Hare boasted alumni such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Joshua Nkomo (founder of ZAPU in Zimbabwe which later became part of Zanu-PF), and Barney Pityana, one of the founding members of the Black Consciousness Movement and Vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa). One of the reasons why many of the once great African institutions didn’t continue in their greatness is that as financial endowments and opportunities arose, not many academics remained behind in these institutions to help them become the intellectual capital of their respective regions. Many went into business, government and social services to build their countries from the ground up, but this has left a gap for the next generation of leaders. Those that have the financial resources to, send their children to international universities, or some of the great universities in South Africa, but many don’t go back to further build their countries. To develop, Africa needs to develop its intellectual capacity (see Africa Needs a Carolingian Renaissance and a Reformation by Mugabe Ratshikuni) Africa is doing much more in terms of education, more than what can be mentioned in a brief article. It’s making steady progress in building its capacity. The biggest challenge would now be to keep its intellectual capacity. One of the fundamentals of economic theory is that there needs to be an incentive for research to occur, and research leads to development. Africa needs to educate the young, and provide incentives for the educated to remain within its boundaries and further advance the intellectual capacity through research and knowledge sharing.

One thought on “The Other Side Of Africa: Education

  • October 6, 2010 at 12:17 am

    When I was younger I watched other children get various gifts for having done well at school. I never once felt envy or robbed of something by my mom. I could not have known then, but the matter of fact is that I have gone on to achieve a little more than those children in my life so far. The reason I never got rewarded for bringing back a good report from school was that my mother believed that no child should be rewarded for doing something that they are supposed to do. She did not think I should be getting high-fives for doing things that were in my own best interest. Africa for me represents the child who gets rewarded for doing what it’s supposed to do. The only difference being that real parents normally reward their children because they believe themselves to be doing something good for the children, whereas those who give Africa a pat on the back for doing what it is meant to do might in fact be doing it just to ensure that we do not become the responsible adults we need to be in order to thrive.

    Not to downplay the achievements of the continent (my mom never downplayed my achievements – in fact she recognised them and made sure I knew they were good), but I cannot sit here and congratulate Africa for having more children in primary school, when all children should be in primary school. The only way that this continent even stands a chance of thriving and ensuring that the next generation of Africans will be able to compete on an even playing field with the rest of the world is if we get every child on this continent a tertiary education. Primary education is simply not good enough for a high-5.

    The African male is the only male who gets bragging rights for taking care of his children, I will not re-enforce a view that makes us as a collective aim lower than we are capable of achieving. For many years, Africa has listened to other people’s definitions of what it is capable of without itself assessing what it can do. The result has been an undermining of ourselves. We had Makerere, Carthage and today we have the University of Cape Town. Surely we can ensure that every child gets a primary and a secondary education at the very least. I refuse to see the education of our own children, for our own benefit, as an achievement worth writing about, much less celebrating. We are better than that. It’s time we behave like it.


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