How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

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6.3 Education for Underdevelopment
Education is crucial in any type of society for the preservation of the lives of its members and the maintenance of the social structure. Under certain circumstances, education also promotes social change. The greater portion of that education is informal, being acquired by the young from the example and behaviour of elders in the society. Under normal circumstances, education grows out of the environment; the learning process being directly related to the pattern of work in the society. Among the Bemba of what was then Northern Rhodesia, children by the age of six could name fifty to sixty species of tree plants without hesitation, but they knew very little about ornamental flowers. The explanation is simply that knowledge of the trees was a necessity in an environment of ‘cut and burn’ agriculture and in a situation where numerous household needs were met by tree products. Flowers, however, were irrelevant to survival.
Indeed, the most crucial aspect of pre-colonial African education was its relevance to Africans, in sharp contrast with what was later introduced. The following features of indigenous African education can be considered outstanding: its close links with social life, both in a material and spiritual sense; its collective nature; its many-sidedness; and its progressive development in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of the child. There was no separation of education and productive activity or any division between manual and intellectual education. Altogether, through mainly informal means, pre-colonial African education matched the realities of pre-colonial African society and produced well-rounded personalities to fit into that society.
Some aspects of African education were formal: that is to say, there was a specific programme and a conscious division between teachers and pupils. Formal education in pre-colonial Africa was also directly connected with the purposes of the society, just like informal education. The programmes of teaching were restricted to certain periods in the life of every individual, notably the period of initiation or ‘coming of age’. Many African societies had circumcision ceremonies for males or for both sexes, and for some time before the ceremonies a teaching programme was arranged. The length of time involved could vary from a few weeks to several years. A famous example of the latter was the initiation school held by the Poro brotherhood in Sierra Leone. Formal education was also available at later stages in life, such as on the occasion of passing from one age-grade to another or of joining a new brotherhood. Specialised functions such as hunting, organising religious ritual, and the practice of medicine definitely involved formal education within the family or clan. Such educational practices all dated back to communal times in Africa, but they persisted in the more developed African feudal and pre-feudal societies, and they were to be found on the eve of colonialism.
As the mode of production moved towards feudalism in Africa, new features also emerged within the educational pattern. There was, for instance, more formal specialisation, because the proportion of formal to informal education increases with technological advance. Apart from hunting and religion, the division of labour made it necessary to create guilds for passing down the techniques of iron working, leather making, cloth manufacture, pottery moulding, professional trading, and so on. The emphasis on military force also led to formal education in that sphere, as in the case of Dahomey, Rwanda and Zulu cited earlier. A state structure with a well defined ruling class always encouraged the use of history as a means of glorifying the class in power. So, in the Yoruba state of Keta in the 19th century, there existed a school of history, where a master drilled into the memories of his pupils a long list of the kings of Keta and their achievements. Of course, reliance on memory alone placed severe limits on education of that type, and that is why education was much more advanced in those African countries where the use of writing had come into being.
Along the Nile, in North Africa, in Ethiopia, in the Western Sudan, and along the East African coast, a minority of Africans became literate, producing a situation comparable to Asia and Europe before the latter part of the 19th century. As in other parts of the world, literacy in Africa was connected with religion, so that in Islamic countries it was a Koranic education and in Christian Ethiopia the education was designed to train priests and monks. Muslim education was particularly extensive at the primary level, and it was also available at the secondary and university levels. In Egypt there was the Al-Azhar University, in Morocco the University of Fez, and in Mali the University of Timbuctu — all testimony to the standard of education achieved in Africa before the colonial intrusion.
The colonizers did not introduce education into Africa: they introduced a new set of formal educational institutions which partly supplemented and partly replaced those which were there before. The colonial system also stimulated values and practices which amounted to new informal education. The main purpose of the colonial school system was to train Africans to help man the local administration at the lowest ranks and to staff the private capitalist firms owned by Europeans. In effect, that meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole. It was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social resources. It was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instil a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist. Education in Europe was dominated by the capitalist class. The same class bias was automatically transferred to Africa; and to make matters worse the racism and cultural boastfulness harboured by capitalism were also included in the package of colonial education. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment.
A European-type school system hardly operated during the first forty years or so of colonialism. In that period, missionaries gave schooling for their own Christianizing purposes, and it was in the 1920s that the colonizing powers carried out a series of investigations into educational possibilities in Africa. Thereafter, colonial education became systematic and measurable, though it approached its maximum dimensions only in the post second World War era.
Colonial education was a series of limitations inside other limitations. The first practical limitation was politico-financial, which means the political policy guiding financial expenditure rather than the actual availability of money. The metropolitan governments and their African administrations claimed that there was not enough money for education. As late as 1958, the British Colonial Office said of Northern Rhodesia:
Until more money becomes available for the building of schools, no rapid progress can be expected and the practical prospects of providing full primary education for all children therefore remains fairly remote.
It is amazing that Northern Rhodesia with its immense copper wealth did not have enough money to educate Africans! One cannot be certain whether the colonialists were trying to deceive others or whether they had succeeded in fooling themselves; but probably most of the confused white settlers in the Rhodesias fell into the latter category, for they consistently argued that Africans did not pay as much tax per head as Europeans and therefore Africans could not expect to get education and other services out of taxes paid by white settlers. This is the fundamental failure to perceive that a country’s wealth comes not from taxes but from production. African soil and African labour in Northern Rhodesia produced vast wealth, but African children under colonialism had little access to that wealth for their schooling.
As noted earlier, most of Africa’s surplus was exported; and, out of the small portion which remained behind as government revenue, the percentage channelled into education was tiny. In every colony, the budget for education was incredibly small, compared to amounts being spent in capitalist Europe itself. In 1935, of the total revenue collected from taxing Africans in French West Africa, only 4.03% was utilised on education. In the British colony of Nigeria, it was only 3.4%. In Kenya, as late as 1946 only 2.26% of the revenue was spent on African education. By 1960, those percentages had all gone up two, three, or four times; but, being so small to begin with, they still remained insignificant.
Since such small sums were spent, it followed that another basic limitation was quantitative, in the sense that very few Africans made it into schools. In the whole of French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville), there were only 22,000 pupils enrolled in 1938-and that represented quite a jump over figures for the preceding five years. In 1938> the French provided education for 77,000 pupils in French West Africa, with a population of at least 15 million. A very illuminating fact that should be noted is that in 1945 there were more than 80,000 students attending independent Islamic schools in French West Africa — a number not far short of those attending French-built schools by that date. In other words, it was only in the final stages of colonialism that the ruling European power began to provide Africans in the former Islamic states of West Africa with educational institutions having an enrolment greater than the previous formal education.
Occasionally, in West and North Africa, the French government gave some financial support to the Koranic primary schools and to the medresas or Islamic secondary schools. On the whole, however, the pre-colonial African school system was simply ignored and it tended to decline. In Algeria, the Arab/Islamic institutions of learning suffered severely during the French wars of conquest, while others were deliberately suppressed when the French gained the upper hand. Throughout French North Africa, the old established Islamic Universities suffered because colonialism deprived them of the economic base which previously gave them support. As with so many other aspects of African life, what the colonialists put in must be weighed against what they halted and what they destroyed in both real and potential terms.
British colonies tended to do on average somewhat better than French ones with regard to educational activities, largely because of missionary initiatives rather than the British government itself. Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda were fairly well off as far as colonial education went. Of course, that was in a purely relative sense, and the absolute numbers involved were never large. Sierra Leone was better off educationally than French West Africa because the seven out of every 100 children going to school in Sierra Leone before the last war compared favourably with five out of every 100 in French West Africa. As far as the British are concerned, their slightly superior record in some colonies is also offset by the very poor educational facilities offered to Africans in Kenya, Tanganyika, the Central African territories and South Africa itself which was for a long a British responsibility.
One limitation of the educational system of colonial Africa which is obscured by statistical averages is the great variation in opportunity between different regions in the same colony. In many colonies, only Africans living in or near the principal towns had educational opportunities. For instance, in Madagascar the capital town of Tananarive had the most substantial school facilities; in Gambia literacy was high for Bathurst town and low outside; and in Uganda the urbanised region of Buganda practically monopolised education. Generally speaking, the unevenness in educational levels reflected the unevenness of economic exploitation and the different rates at which different parts of a colony entered the money economy. Thus, in Gold Coast, the Northern Territories were neglected educationally, because they did not offer the colonialists any products for export. In Sudan, it was the huge southern region which was in a similar position. Inside Tanganyika, a map showing the major cotton and coffee areas virtually coincides with a map showing areas in which colonial education was available. It means that those whom the colonialists could not readily exploit were not offered even the crumbs of education.
The closer one scrutinises the educational contribution of colonialism even in purely quantitative terms, the more it shrinks into insignificance. It must be noted, for instance, that there was an extremely high rate of ‘drop-outs’. A large percentage of those enrolled never finished school. In big capitalist countries like the U.S.A., there are many drop-outs at the college and university level: in colonial Africa, the drop-outs were occurring at the primary level, at a rate as high as 50%. For every student who completed primary school, one fell by the wayside. The drop-outs were from primary schools, because there was hardly any other type of school — this absence of secondary, technical and university education being yet another of the stumbling blocks.
Africans were being educated inside colonial schools to become junior clerks and messengers. Too much learning would have been both superfluous and dangerous for clerks and messengers. Therefore, secondary education was rare and other forms of higher education were virtually non-existent, throughout most of the colonial epoch. That which was provided went mainly to non-Africans. As late as 1959, Uganda spent about £11 per African pupil, £38 per Indian and £186 on each European child — the difference being due largely to the availability of secondary education for the children of the capitalists and the middlemen. In Kenya, the discrimination was worse and the number of European children involved was high. In 1960, more than 11,000 European children were attending school in Kenya, and of those 3,000 were receiving secondary education. The settler colony of Algeria displayed similar characteristics. Only 20% of the secondary pupils in 1954 were denoted as ‘Muslims’, which meant in effect ‘Algerian’ as distinct from European. Other minorities also did better than the indigenous population. For instance, the Jews in North Africa and especially in Tunisia played the middlemen roles, and their children were all educated right up to secondary standards.
African countries without a big white settler population also had racist educational structures with regard to opportunities at all levels and especially opportunities for higher education. In Senegal in 1946, the high school had 723 pupils, of whom 174 were Africans. Later on, a university was set up in Dakar (to serve the whole of French West Africa); and yet in the 1950s on the eve of independence, more than half of the university students were French.
The Portuguese have not been discussed so far, because there is scarcely any education to be discussed in their colonial territories. For many years, the statistical data was never made available, and when published towards the end of the colonial period the figures were often inflated. What is undeniable is that the African child growing up in Portuguese colonial territories stood one chance out of a hundred of getting instruction beyond Standard II or Standard III. The secondary schools that came into existence were for Europeans and Indians, the latter drawn mainly from Goa. The colonial powers with small territories in Africa were Spain and Italy. Like Portugal, they were also backward from a European capitalist viewpoint, and they provided their colonial subjects with a tiny amount of primary education and no secondary education.
Belgium was in a somewhat special category as far as colonial education was concerned. Although small, Belgium was a relatively developed and industrialized country, and it ruled one of the richest areas of Africa: namely, the Congo. By colonial standards, the people of Congo and Rwanda-Burundi had fair access to primary education, but schooling beyond that was almost impossible to obtain. This was the consequence of a deliberate policy pursued by the Belgian government and the Catholic Church. The African ‘native’ was to be gradually civilized. To give him secondary education was like asking a young child to chew meat when he should be eating porridge. Furthermore, the Belgians were so interested in the welfare of the African masses that they argued that no highly educated African would be able to serve his own people! Consequently, it was only in 1948 that a Belgian commission recommended the establishment of secondary schools for Africans in the colonies. It is not at all surprising that, at the time of regaining political independence, the Congo had only 16 graduates out of a population of more than 13 million.
Educationalists often refer to ‘the educational pyramid’, comprising primary education as the base and going upwards through secondary, teacher-training, higher technical and university facilities-the last named being so small that it could be represented as the point at the top of the pyramid. Throughout Africa, the primary base was narrow and yet the pyramid sloped shallowly because so few of the primary students could continue beyond that level. Only in certain British colonies was the pyramid really completed by significant higher and university education. West Africa had Achimota and Yaba Colleges, apart from Fourah Bay which was at University level. Ibadan and the University of Ghana also carne into existence some years before the end of the colonial regime. In the Sudan, there was Gordon College which evolved into the University of Khartoum, and in East Africa there was Makerere University.
The following data for the year 1958 could he used to illustrate the educational pyramid m Southern Rhodesia, where African education was not well favoured. Total kindergarten enrolment was 227,000. In the primary schools 77,000 entered Standard I, and 10,000 made it to Standard VI. Secondary education began with 3,000 pupils, of whom only 13 made it to Standard XII (Form IV). In that year, there were no African graduates from the recently established University College in Salisbury, but by 1960 there were three….
Those Africans who had access to education were faced with certain qualitative problems. The quality was poor by prevailing European standards. The books, the methods of teaching and the discipline were all brought to Africa in the 19th century; and, on the whole, colonial schools remained sublimely indifferent to the 20th century. New ideas that were incorporated in the capitalist metropoles never reached the colonies. In particular, the fantastic changes in science did not reach African classrooms, for there were few schools where science subjects were taught. Similarly, the evolution of higher technical education did not have any counterpart in colonial Africa.
There were numerous absurdities in the transplantation of a version of European education into Africa. When the Bemba children mentioned above went to school, they had no programme of instruction relating to the plant life with which they would otherwise have familiarised themselves. Instead, they were taught about flowers — and about European roses at that. Dr. Kofi Busia some years ago made the following admission:
At the end of my first year at secondary school (Mfantsipim, Cape Coast, Ghana), I went home to Wenchi for the Christmas vacation. I had not been home for four years, and on that visit, I became painfully aware of my isolation. I understood our community far less than the boys of my own age who had never been to school. Over the years, as I went through college and university, I felt increasingly that the education I received taught me more and more about Europe and less and less about my own society.
Some of the contradictions between the content of colonial education and the reality of Africa were really incongruous. On a hot afternoon in some tropical African school, a class of black shining faces would listen to their geography lesson on the seasons of the year — spring, summer, autumn and winter. They would learn about the Alps and the river Rhine but nothing about the Atlas mountains of North Africa or the river Zambezi. If those students were in a British colony, they would dutifully write that ‘we defeated the Spanish armada in 1588’ — at a time when Hawkins was stealing Africans and being knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for so doing. If they were in a French colony, they would learn that ‘the Gauls, our ancestors, had blue eyes’, and they would be convinced that ‘Napoleon was our greatest general’ — the same Napoleon who re-instituted slavery in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and was only prevented from doing the same in Haiti because his forces were defeated by an even greater strategist and tactician, the African, Toussaint L'Ouverture.
To some extent Europeans thoughtlessly applied their own curricula without reference to African conditions; but very often they deliberately did so with intent to confuse and mystify. As late as 1949, a Principal Education Officer in Tanganyika carefully outlined that the Africans of that colony should be bombarded in primary school with propaganda about the British royal family. The theme of the (British) king as a father should be stressed throughout the syllabus and mentioned in every lesson’, he said. He further urged that African children should be shown numerous pictures of the English princesses and their ponies at Sandringham and Windsor Castle.
The French, Portuguese and Belgians made it clear that education at any level was designed ‘to civilise the African native’, and of course only a civilised native could hope to gain worthwhile employment and recognition from the colonialists. According to the French, an African, after receiving French education, stood a chance of becoming an assimilée — one who could be assimilated or incorporated into the superior French culture. The Portuguese used the word assimilado, which means exactly the same; and Portuguese colonial law distinguished sharply between a native and an assimilado. The latter was sometimes called a civilisado ('one who is civilised’) because of being able to read and write Portuguese. That sort of African was rewarded with certain privileges. One great irony was that in Portugal up to 1960, nearly half of the population was illiterate, and, therefore, if they had been put to the same test they would have been judged uncivilised! Meanwhile, the Belgians were parading around with the same system. They called their ‘educated Bantu’ in Congo the évolués (’those who have evolved’ from savagery to civilisation, thanks to the Belgians).
Somehow, the British avoided hard and fast legal distinctions between the educated and uneducated African, but they encouraged cultural imitation all the same. Governor Cameron of Tanganyika in the 1920s was known as a ‘progressive’ governor. But when he was attacked for trying to preserve the African personality in the educational system, he denied the charge and declared that his intention was that the African should cease to think as an African and instead should become ‘a fair-minded Englishman’. Students who came out of Livingstonia or Blantyre Mission in Malawi were widely known to be black Scotsmen, because of the effort of Scottish missionaries. In Sierra Leone, the white cultural influence went back to the 18th century, and Sierra Leone Creoles stood out even from the rest of miseducated black people. The Creoles were not satisfied with an English Christian name or even with one European surname: they had to Choose two European surnames and connect them with a hyphen. Of course, in practical terms, the education with all its warped values meant that the educated handful went as far as colonialism would allow Africans to go in the civil service or in the employ of private capitalist firms.
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