Past and Present Education Systems in the African Society
By Oliver Mbamara
The typical African child raised in a typical Africa society of the twenty first century undergoes a dual educational upbringing. First, the African cultural upbringing, and second, the Western education obtained through exposure to western academics as obtains in the school curriculums. It is therefore inevitable that some of these children would tilt to the western ways while some will remain more Africa oriented, and yet some will be caught up in the dilemma of two conflicting educational upbringing. Where does that leave the person in a Western society who desires to have his child raised the African way? He has to make a decision that he thinks would be most beneficial to the good interest of the child. What would guide his decision? If he has not been to Africa or if he was not raised in Africa, and therefore not familiar with the African ways of raising a child, how could he compare the standard in the West with that of Africa? The African perspective ought to be known.
Before the coming of Western civilization and colonialism, the African child was raised by the community and educated in the culture and traditions of his people. The child was seen as an asset of the community in whom the community maintains a stake. Therefore, every member of the community contributed to the upbringing of the child whether the child was an offspring, family relative, extended family member, or simply another member of the clan. Generally, the child’s intelligence was measured by several factors including the child’s ability to reason among his peers, the child’s ability to meet the challenges of his age group, the child’s ability to obtain or go through the initiations of emancipation to adulthood faced by his age group. The tests were natural but obvious ones built into the community’s social structure. His peers would usually tease a loafer or lazy child. Little respect if any is given to him or his words in the community. There were no academic examinations necessary.
In the typical pre-colonial African Society, a child who could not pass the test or initiation ceremony to the next level of adolescence or adulthood is naturally expected to continue retaking the test until he or she passes it. There was no consideration of a blanket promotion since that would defeat the idea of the test, and also give less value to the test or the next stage of life. Imbedded in the process of taking such test and passing (or failing and retaking) it, are most of the essentials needed by the child to mature as an individual and as a valuable member of his/her society. To bypass an initiation or age group test was seen as being unfair to such child since the child was indirectly being encouraged to be lazy and less resourceful or creative. The society had no room for such individuals. Without proper understanding of the workings of this process, it may seem a harsh way of life. However, a closer consideration of the general and long term effects suggest otherwise. Practically, members of the pre-colonial African societies thrived well with the practice of tests for emancipation or advancement to the next stage of life.
In pre-colonial African societies, education took forms other than the ones operational today. There were several constant avenues synonymous to modern classes. For instance, whenever the moon was out, children gather according to age groups to play, sing, joke, play games, tell and share stories. That was a form of education. In fact, most of the prominent African cultures subsisting today have been handed down through oral transmission, physical interaction, and visual education. Other forms of education in early African societies included sharing of expressions through festivals, ceremonies, games, and artistic performances such as dancing, singing, drawing, etc.
With the arrival of colonialism and western civilization came the missionaries who introduced various religions (from Islam to Christianity) into African Societies. As the religions started to have foothold in African societies, the importers of these foreign religions resorted to the establishment of schools through which they perpetuated their religions and culture into the African socio-political mainstream. It was an imperialist move that was sustained by colonialism and it is now so imbibed in African socio-political system that many Africans have almost entirely replaced their cultural education with western education. No doubt we now have school systems that are structured after systems in Britain and France, depending on the Colonial leaning of such African society.
In fairness to the Colonial masters, most of these colonial territories inherited school systems that continued to practice the “no pass, no promotion” theory even today. This agreement between African culture and Western policy confirms that the universal way for a child to learn and grow is by working hard, improving and doing better in the endeavors and challenges faced as the child progresses in life. A contrary position that endorses the fact that children should be asked to move on to the next stage of life when they have not shown a mastery of the present stage would be quite absurd. It runs contrary to the law of Life and progression. It would definitely raise several questions, such as the following: What will be the motivation for the child to study more seriously next time if the child already knows that he/she will be promoted anyway even if he/she fails? Would this encourage discipline or waywardness? Why would the child behave in class if it were only a formality? How would the child learn to apply the greatest principle of life (freedom and responsibility) in his own living?
Africans and others who are interested in the African education system ought to be assured that although the school system in most African societies may be Western in style, African culture still influences the upbringing of the child in the typical African Society. Every African child is basically tutored on the principles of taking responsibility for one’s action. Truly, the pressure of easy life as lived in the West or represented in Western books, movies, music, media, technology, etc., is making it more difficult for Africans to raise their children like Africans. The challenge seems to be getting tough by the day and African cultural education seems to be loosing the battle to western education, influence of technology, and Western civilization. However, there is no need to panic because a more analytical look at things does not suggest that this is a battle that Africans seem likely to lose in the near future. All is not lost, and all will never be lost.
Those interested in sending their children to Africa for African cultural education and upbringing need not be discouraged. This is informed by the fact that even Western education has raised Africans who are now using the tools of western education to propagate African culture. These resourceful Africans could be found in various facets of livelihood both at home and abroad, around the Diaspora. You will find them as teachers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, civil rights activist, and more. Many Africans in Europe and America have today become so vast in the rudiment of things in the Western societies. Many occupy key positions while others have such wealth of experience and resources. Pro-African Organizations, media outlets, and pressure groups continue to proliferate. African Authors are gradually taking back the right of Africans to educate Africans on Africa and about Africans. These days, the school curriculums are becoming less dominated by Western histories, stories, and literature. With such first hand touch of the African perspective, African intellectuals are now articulating their thoughts and putting their works down on paper for an African curriculum.
Basically, African children are no longer constrained to read only foreign authors in schools today. With the arrival of such avenues as “NollyWood” (Africa’s foremost and fast-growing film industry), Africans stand at a focal position to tell the African Story, the African way, and for the first time, also get remunerated for such works. With a little polishing in the output and some direction in their approach, Nollywood could well be such a powerful tool in rewriting the story of Africa and giving back to Africa, its true image of richness in culture, spirit, and intellect. A land so well blessed from the beginning of time.
Because of such developments highlighting the growing efforts of these African channels, one can confidently say that African culture and African ways of raising and educating children will never disappear regardless of the pressure of western education and western civilization. It
has not been and it is not going to be easy. That is a fact of life. There will be challenges, but character is such an essential element in the determination and zeal to overcome or at least withstand every threat to survival. Many Africans have it. Africa has many sons and daughters who possess such rudiment and drive to keep the cultural fire burning. We have to encourage them.
How Shall We Help The Failing Child?
And in the test the child is raised
To grow like adult a good father,
Mature and ripe to care like mother
Strong to stand the tests of life.
In the test the loafer is timely caught
Emancipating the man from the child
Who may for granted has taken life
Too carefree and careless to even grow.
And in the test are all the tools
The key essentials for knowing life,
And in the process fail or pass
The strength is built to do better.
Shall we the experience rob the child
By waiving his chance to test the self
To grow from learning how to succeed
To gain experience through the process?
And how shall we help the child
Who at the moment lacks the insight
To move beyond the present state?
Is it to waive or retake the test?
Oliver O. Mbamara, Esq., 2004
Mbamara, Esq., is an Administrative Law Judge with the State of New
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