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The origin of the African Educational systems past and present…

By Tsitsi Mutendi



Lets talk about African Education and its origins.

Prior to European colonisation and the subsequent introduction of Western education, traditional educational systems existed in Africa and it worked harmoniously with the African way of living and the growth of its communities. In concept and execution the role of education in every society is to prepare individuals to participate fully and effectively in the world around them; education prepares youths to be active and productive members of their societies by inculcating the skills necessary to achieve these goals. Although its functions varied, African traditional education was not divided into discrete sections or categories. Primarily, it was aimed at producing an individual who grew to be well grounded, skillful, cooperative, civil, and able to contribute to the development of the community. The educational structure in which this was imparted was mostly informal; the family, kinship, village group, and the larger community participated in the educational process of the indivudual. It took a village to raise a child.


In his book Education in Africa, Abdou Moumouni affirmed that the educational process essentially was based on a “gradual and progressive achievements, in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of the child” (Moumouni 1968, p. 15). The method of teaching was the native language or “mother tongue” through which systematic teaching was delivered by way of songs, stories, legends, and dances to stimulate children’s emotions and quicken their perception as they explore and conquer their natural environment.


The African child was taught the various tribal laws and customs and wide range of skills required for success in traditional society. Traditionally, education received by Africans was oriented toward the practical. Work by Magnus Bassey (1991) indicates that those who took to fishing were taught navigational techniques like seafaring, the effects of certain stars on tide and ebb, and migrational patterns and behaviour of fish. Those who took to farming had similar training. Those who learned trades and crafts, such as blacksmithing, weaving, woodwork, and bronze work, needed a high degree of specialisation and were often apprenticed outside their homes for training and discipline. Those who took to the profession of traditional priesthood, village heads, kings, medicine men and women diviners, rainmakers, and rulers underwent a longer period of painstaking training and rituals to prepare them for the vital job they were to perform.


Teaching was basically by example and learning by doing. African education emphasised equal opportunity for all, social solidarity and homogeneity. It was complete and relevant to the needs and expectations of both the individuals and society. This is because it was an integral part of the social, political, and economic foundation of the African society. However, the advent of the European missionaries and the introduction of Western education through the mission schools changed, in many fundamental ways, the dynamics of African education. Western education soon took the centre stage in Africa, debasing, challenging, and supplanting the traditional, informal education along with its cultural foundations.

The history of Western education in Africa is directly traceable to the relentless efforts of European Christian missionary bodies. The nineteenth century constituted a momentous turning point in the history of Africa. Not only did it witness the end of the slave trade and the inauguration of legitimate commerce, the high tide of European imperial invasion, conquest, and pacification, but it also heralded the introduction of Western education. European Christian missionaries were the precursors of Western education in Europe. While Western education was a valuable instrument of effective colonisation and pacification of Africa, ironically it was also very useful for the eventual decolonisation of Africa. It is against this background that the history of Western education remains an overarching theme in African history. It is noteworthy that the mission school systems, modelled after European metropolitan institutions, became the cornerstone of future educational planning in post independence Africa. At the higher education levels, European university systems were wholly adopted with little modifications in almost all of the newly independent African states. Western education became indispensable in the formation of new identities and national development.


Taking the above into cognisance, the question that now lies, is the current education system used in Africa right now, based on the best systems available globally? Have we used the example of the Japanese Benchmarking, (Benchmarking is comparing ones business processes and performance metrics to industry bests and best practices from other companies. In project management benchmarking can also support the selection, planning and delivery of projects. Dimensions typically measured are quality, time and cost. Japan can be considered as one of the best examples on the globe for benchmarking continuous improvement practices. The whole world has seen their rags to riches story. Within no time the country has transformed its “Made in Japan” label from cheap to the one signifying quality, reliability and preference.)


Does our Education System really cater for the unique solutions needed by the world’s youngest population. Does the system used by your country teach the youth to be innovative problem solvers or is it creating a civil service force or a work force which won’t have the right skills needed to spearhead the advancement of our communities, countries and the continent as a whole. Unique situations need innovative solutions. We don’t need anymore job hunters or employees. We need solution seekers, change makers, and an intelligent self motivated employee population. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur or a leader but with more innovative self starters and doers in the masses we can all work together to create an Africa we can be proud of. An Africa that does not rely on miracles and donations but an Africa that believes in the ethics of hard work and creating its own opportunities.

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© 2023 by Mutendi Montessori Day School. 

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