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Decolonising African education

MAY 25 is celebrated in many African countries as African Freedom Day. The day is also observed by many African communities around the world to symbolize the determination of Africans to free themselves from foreign domination and

exploitation. The ultimate goal for the fight against colonialism in Africa was to restore the dignity of Africans and put an end to the different injustices suffered by the Africans under colonial rule.
The colonial establishment had over the years built institutions and systems to fortify their control and domination over Africans. One such system was the colonial system of education which was based on racial segregation. Thus the immediate task of many newly -independent African countries was to address such unjust systems brought about by colonialism.
In Zambia, following the attainment of independence from British rule in 1964, the new government undertook a number of reforms to expand and reform the formal education system in the country. The government embarked
 on new education infrastructure, strategies and policies to respond to the needs of the Africans who had been disadvantaged by the colonial education system. For instance, in 1966 the first public university opened its doors to the public to provide Africans with an opportunity to access university education. The idea of establishing the university was that it should draw its inspiration from the local environment within which its people live and function. The founders had hoped that the public university should endeavor not only to become a place of privileged elites, secluded or separated from the facts and practicalities of its community but also extend its resources to society beyond its walls, reaching all the corners of the country and beyond by taking university knowledge and ways of thought to people’s locality. It was this idea that largely informed the establishment of the University Zambia.
The idea of establishing a local university soon after the country’s independence in 1964 was based on the premise that colonial education had mainly been centered on shaping Africans as colonial subjects, incapable of inculcating them with the knowledge of critical thinking, development of technology, vocational skills and research and so on.
The colonial education system paid little or no attention to indigenous knowledge of the Africans. The colonial education system was viewed as a form of discrimination based on race which resulted in the deracination (the removal or separation from a native or local environment or culture) of Africans. The colonial education system favoured a one- sided formal education system which lay emphasis on the Western concepts by completely ignoring the African knowledge systems. It was founded on the separation of the western knowledge from that of the colonised Africans. This suggests that the European colonialists feared that western knowledge and its transfer through formal educational systems would orient Africans to inquire into the western models of science, technology and other forms of western ideas. Thus for the colonialists, becoming a curious, critical and technologically innovative colonised African was not the purpose of the colonial education system.
In this sense, the ideas, skills, creativity, originality and talent of Africans were suppressed resulting in their knowledge to suffer a form of what some scholars have called Epistemicide. This refers to the destruction of existing knowledge or aborting the possibility of new knowledge coming from the inquiry on the already existing knowledge. This, therefore, led to the failure by the colonial education system to incorporate African knowledge system into formal functioning of society and the African school curricula.
However, decades after the collapse of colonial rule, this colonial legacy in the African education left by the Europeans has hitherto, been carried over to our education system today. For instance, African education today has been criticized for not accommodating creativity and expression in African languages and culture. Some scholars have further argued that the African education system entrenches Eurocentric ideals which do not serve the interests of Africans culturally, socially and economically; an education system which does not respond to African needs and challenges but promotes the values and norms of the west or Europeans.
This has led to the increasing call for the decolonisation of the African education system among many African academicians and scholars. Recently, some students across some public universities in South Africa protested in demand for the decolonising of university education and curricula in their country. However, this call for decolonizing African education is not new. It first emerged during the struggles against colonial rule during the 1950s and 1960s.
For instance, African writers and scholars such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Frantz Fanon were among the influential advocates for the decolonization of the African social, economic and political systems in the post-colonial era. In its basic understanding, it is a call for education founded on the principle of inclusiveness, the idea that education has to “speak to” the context of the African environment and generate the full intellectual capacity for Africans.
Therefore, the call for decolonizing African education is the call for the full incorporation of local knowledge systems into the curriculum of the African universities and schools which is relevant and responsive to the African context and environment. However, this ideological paradigm should involve a conscious, diligent and focused conversation in national policy debates among the university community (students, researchers and other academicians), the government, private sector, local industry and the local African communities as partners and stakeholders in the education system.
The author is a social
commentator and blogger