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To this day, education in Africa remains a highly problematic topic, despite the numerous efforts to address the existing issues, both by European colonists and by the African government. Higher education is fragmented and based on obsolete teaching and learning approaches, whereas access to general education for women is limited in many regions. This paper aims to evaluate the causes and implications of this issue and to highlight the importance of addressing the problem of education in Africa to solve many other local issues.
European Colonialism and Education in Africa
As Muller and Karle note, historical and political factors have a substantial effect on the structure of educational systems all over the world.1 It is no exception for Africa: many scholars agree that the European colonial rule has had a massive effect on all aspects of the region’s life, including education. Despite the fact that the assumption that Europeans established education in Africa is wrong – some researchers trace the roots of all levels of education in Africa to the ancient times – the colonialism changed the region’s education system substantially.2 By establishing a qualitatively new system of learning institutions, colonialists aimed to “produce the elite required for colonial administration.”3
The innovations brought by the colonists thus included the establishment of European style higher education facilities. Colonial governments were responsible for controlling the institutions, from devising a teaching curriculum to approving graduation; moreover, some of the institutions were the extensions of the French or Portuguese universities and had no autonomy at all.4 However, the newly founded learning programs did not attempt to undermine the traditional African values and culture; instead, they were focused on developing a learning program that would preserve them.5 Genova adds that the colonialists blamed the pre-colonial elite for the diminishing of traditions, which is why they were sent to the new educational institutions to study African history and culture, too.6
Education in Postcolonial Africa
Nevertheless, despite the seemingly positive influence of the colonial rule on the education in Africa, the end of the colonial era and the postcolonial attitudes in the society have had an adverse effect on the educational system: “The politics of colonial transition, coupled with the critical posture and militancy of African university staff and students, created traditions of suspicion and barely veiled hostility between African politicians and rulers and their universities which have lasted till today.”7 This did not necessarily mean the complete rejection of the system established by the Europeans: Huxley argues that African people valued the changes to the educational sector even during the postcolonial nationalistic waves.8 However, the tension between the postcolonial government and the educational institutions has to lead to various distortions in the education sector, further facilitated by the economic crisis of the 1980s.9 Despite the success of some attempts to address the issue in the last several decades, access to proper education is limited in many areas due to poverty and socio-cultural circumstances, such as gender inequity, which creates many obstacles for women to receive both school and higher education.10
Many scholars have tried to develop propositions that would help to overcome these barriers and to ensure better coverage of the education system. For instance, Alidou et al. propose a language-based solution for the optimization of learning both in schools and in higher education institutions. The researchers insist that the connection between language and education is little understood, which creates obstacles for students who are taught in a language other than their mother tongue to achieve academic success.11 Assié-Lumumba, on the other hand, argues for the necessity of connection of the teaching to the traditional African culture: this would answer to the nationalist philosophy of the people and would encourage independent development.12 Furthermore, to address gender inequality in education, it would be necessary to educate the communities on the reasons and implications of educational disparities, as well as to provide proper training for teachers that would ensure they target both boys and girls in the classrooms.13
Conclusion: Impact of Education in Africa
Clearly, the lack of an effective education system poses various difficulties for the African community. For instance, poor access to education and poverty are the leading reasons for child slavery in Ghana.14 Furthermore, according to the human capital theory, access to higher education is firmly linked to the development of society and the region in general.15 Kane stresses, “educated citizens are the foundation for well-functioning democratic institutions, and for achieving social cohesion,”16 which is why it is important to address the contemporary issues regarding education in Africa.
Providing high-quality education to girls would address the gender gap and promote female empowerment, helping to decrease the occurrence of issues such as gender violence, sexual assaults, and gendered social injustice.17 To develop an efficient approach to transforming the education system, however, it is necessary to understand the nature of the existing issues. Therefore, the knowledge of historical development of the education sector, including the political and cultural factors that influenced its structure in the past both positively (for instance, European colonization) and negatively (e.g. postcolonial nationalism and the economic crisis), is essential to generate a sufficient, well-rounded solution.
Aina, Tade Akin. “Beyond Reforms: The Politics of Higher Education Transformation in Africa.” African Studies Review 53, no. 1 (2010): 21-40. Web.
Alidou, Hassana, Aliou Boly, Birgit Brock-Utne, Yaya Satina Diallo, Kathleen Heugh, and H. Ekkehard Wolff. “Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor.” Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), 2006. Web.
Assié-Lumumba, N’Dri Thérèse. Higher Education in Africa: Crisis, Reforms and Transformation. Saint Paul: Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2006.
Genova, James Eskridge. Colonial Ambivalence, Cultural Authenticity, and the Limitations of Mimicry in French-ruled West Africa, 1914-1956. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004.
Huxley, Elspeth. “Two Revolutions That Are Changing Africa: While nationalism is…” New York Times, May 19, 1957.
Kane, Eileen. Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work? African Region: The Word Bank, 2004.
Muller, Walter, and Wolfgang Karle. “Social Selection in Educational Systems in Europe,” European Sociological Review 9, no. 1 (1993): 1-23. Web.
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UNRIC. “Urgent Action Needed for the Eradication of Slavery and Child Labour in Ghana,” United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe, 2013. Web.
Woldegiorgis, Emnet Tadesse, and Martin Doevenspeck. “The Changing Role of Higher Education in Africa: A Historical Reflection,” Higher Education Studies 3, no. 6 (2013): 35-45. Web.
- Walter Muller and Wolfgang Karle, “Social Selection in Educational Systems in Europe,” European Sociological Review 9, no. 1 (1993): 1, Web.
- Emnet Tadesse Woldegiorgis and Martin Doevenspeck, “The Changing Role of Higher Education in Africa: A Historical Reflection,” Higher Education Studies 3, no. 6 (2013): 35, Web.
- Woldegiorgis and Doevenspeck, “The Changing Role of Higher Education in Africa: A Historical Reflection”: 37.
- See note 3.
- James Eskridge Genova, Colonial Ambivalence, Cultural Authenticity, and the Limitations of Mimicry in French-ruled West Africa, 1914-1956 (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004): 111.
- See note 5.
- Tade Akin Aina, “Beyond Reforms: The Politics of Higher Education Transformation in Africa,” African Studies Review 53, no. 1 (2010): 28, Web.
- Elspeth Huxley, “Two Revolutions That Are Changing Africa: While nationalism is…” New York Times, May 19, 1957: 2.
- Woldegiorgis and Doevenspeck, “The Changing Role of Higher Education in Africa: A Historical Reflection”: 40.
- Eileen Kane, Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work? (African Region: The World Bank, 2004): 59-60.
- Hassana Alidou et al., “Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor,” Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), 2006: 7, Web.
- N’Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba, Higher Education in Africa: Crisis, Reforms, and Transformation (Saint Paul: Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2006): 129.
- Kane, Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work?: 133-134.
- UNRIC, “Urgent Action Needed for the Eradication of Slavery and Child Labour in Ghana,” United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe, Dec. 4, 2013: par. 1, Web.
- N’Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba, Higher Education in Africa: Crisis, Reforms, and Transformation: 45.
- Kane, Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work?: vii.
- Kane, Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work?:58.