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Decolonising education in Africa

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Children play at Star of Hope Primary in Lunga Lunga village, Industrial Area Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Last week I was at the University of Ghent in Belgium with several other African ambassadors.

Our task was to discuss how research from institutions worldwide can contribute to policy for better outcomes in Africa. In addition, the university showcased its works in Africa.

Among the many presentations that scholars gave, their works on decolonising education in Africa caught my attention.

The university established a centre for Bantu studies comprising academics from different disciplines.

They are to exchange knowledge and skills to holistically understand the past and present of “Bantu languages, Bantu speech communities and their (im)material worlds, both in Africa and the diaspora.”

From their highlights, it was clear that the university has done much more than any other institution of higher learning in Africa

With this revelation, I started thinking about how African countries could eradicate colonial practices to centralise their own.

Colonising methods have, over the years, dominated our education systems on the continent.

Some of these practices learnt in previously colonised countries are still used to pass exams. Intellectuals argue that memorising religious texts was a widespread practice in many cultures.

The British system, however, exploited it to stifle creativity and free thought throughout their colonial authority.

Although the term decolonisation of education is not a new field of study, few studies have examined how the topic relates to policy and its outcomes.

In their view, the idea is a process of recognising, analysing, and questioning the effects of colonialism as it relates to how people view knowledge and education.

Ghent has done an excellent job of resolving this age-old problem.

Listening to scholars talk more ably about Africa than their visitors from the continent raises questions like, what have we done?

Mention decolonisation, and it will be a debate on the education systems in Africa and their effectiveness in restoring Africa’s cultural identity that is responsive to its local problems.

The struggle for Independence in many countries across Africa focused on the removal of colonial State power and not knowing that the process of colonisation was much more profound than the optics of Independence.

Unknown to our Independence heroes was the extent to which the Europeans had imposed their cultural identity over their colonial subjects through cultural practices, institutions, and knowledge.

Therefore, deconstructing colonialism is a complex matter. It will require commitment and sacrifices far greater than the fight for independence.

To be fair to African scholars, they attempted to highlight the dangers of losing cultural identity but were considered rebels by the new leadership across the continent.

In particular, Ngũgĩ wa Thion’go noted that the literature of Europe was complicit to the prejudiced images and stereotypes that uphold the erroneous notion of European superiority over the Africans. Many African scholars were considered the enemy of the State for propagating cultural identity.

Their views towards the official policy were resisted or considered non-conformists. Anti-intellectualism is still rife in Africa. As a result, many scholars moved out of Africa to join faculties at universities, which gave rise to imperialism. And if the situation continues, Africa’s development policies will continue to be shaped by the outside world.

Studies have shown that classrooms with teachers and students who share cultural identities strengthen bonds and develop trust, which increases motivation and enthusiasm for learning among all participants.

Yet, studies notwithstanding, Africa is divided between the haves who take their children to foreign academies and the have-nots who take what public education gives. Yet, ironically, it is the latter who preside over policy in several African countries.

By creating a task force on education reforms, President William Ruto is sending an olive branch to intellectuals in Kenya that they have a place in shaping the education policy.

In return, let the intellectuals consult widely and come up with a responsive and disruptive education system. Get the views from within and outside the country into consideration, issues of the ecosystem, that is, parents, teachers, researchers, industry, and communities.

My take: we do away with exams by introducing a way of testing to foster creativity. Encourage multiple sources of learning, such as online, while emphasising self-testing methods. Furthermore, the future of education is disruptive.

As such, we should teach local languages as part of the learning process and change the role of teachers from traditional teaching to facilitating.

Education is a continuous process, so it can be adjusted while being implemented. Therefore, instead of a task force, we should consider a standing education committee constantly collaborating with the intellectuals to monitor, research, and react to emerging issues in time. Good policies depend on well-financed research institutions.

Ghent has taught us that there is much more in reviving our cultural identity through research to inform policy.