By John Nkemnji, Ph.D.*
Indigenous curriculum based on local African resources contributed to the coercion and the development of the people and society. The curriculum ensured the transmittal of culture, skills, and a way of life through oral tradition with storytelling, proverbs, and hands-on apprenticeship. The youth were initiated into society according to age, gender, and interests. Life was simple. Teachers, parents, elders, and the community worked together to educate the youth, and there was little unemployment with no homelessness. With colonization, the curriculum changed to the studying of Eurocentric concepts, and the African mentality changed. French and English have been the predominant languages of instruction in most Sub-Sahara African schools. I will dwell on the primary curriculum (elementary level) and leave the secondary and university studies for later analysis.
Intriguingly, human life and civilization started in Africa, but the continent is now referred to as a graveyard. Early outstanding institutions, the pyramids, spiritual and economic growth, and harmonious living in a natural environment with an abundance of natural resources made Africa the envy of the West. Africans lived to be over 100 years, and were hardly ill, obese, bored, senile, or stressed, despite tough environmental conditions. Africans are not inherently wicked and destructive, so why are some educated citizens destructive and corrupt? The destruction of social-emotional learning built into an imported curriculum is partly responsible for what exists today in Africa.
Today, most Africans are full of self-hate, greed, selfishness, individualism and distrustful of others. Be benevolent and caring, and others will question why you are caring. Even amongst some friends and families, there is resentment, jealousy, malice, meanness, distrust, and hatred. That is the everyday reality in Africa after many years of slavery, colonialism, and independence.
The primary school curriculum for nature study used to cover local plants and their uses for food, animal feed, medicine, and wood, but the textbooks now refer to them as deciduous, coniferous, and evergreen plants without applicable context. The Eurocentric curriculum has uprooted the African student from the concrete, and functional application of the content taught and learned to less relevant information. They learn amongst other intriguing fantasies that “Mungo Park discover the Nile,” – a river that has been with them all their lives. This type of curriculum prepares students for standardized tests through rote-memorization of meaningless facts and a learning system that discourages engagement and love for their way of life. The foreign curriculum encourages memorizing numbers and facts that initially prepared citizens to work for the colonial masters as clerks, translators, storekeepers, and catechists and not as constructive, critical thinkers. Eurocentric curriculum achieved its goals and helped some of the African learners rise to international heights. The problem is that they accomplish that personal glory at the expense of the African society’s interests and its citizens’ development.
In general terms, the African personality today has deviated from its ancestral foundational teachings. Many Africans have adopted an individualistic mentality, and with that comes self-hate, greed, selfishness, and distrust of others. Some governments are corrupt, and those in power cater to their greedy colonial counterparts’ needs more than those they serve. Those governments that strive to improve their societies are seen as a threat to the colonial powers and are disestablished through coups, assassination, or war. Africa has carelessly lost nationalists like Lumumba, Nkrumah, Sankara, Tolbert, Ngouabi, Kabila, and others.
The continent is rift with crime, violence, senseless wars, pestilence, and misery. The youth are miseducated, unemployed, and die on numerous dangerous routes trying to migrate to other continents. The awful state of affairs in the continent has necessitated many studies, sponsored by UNESCO, UNICEF, and many other NGOs. Despite the reforms, not much has improved because of the destroyed foundation at the primary level.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the benefits that came with the adoption of the Eurocentric curriculum. There has been an increase in the number of schools and high graduation rates. There has been the learning of foreign languages and a rise in globalization. Despite these benefits, there has not been a favorable transformation in the learners’ attitude. The problem lies in the destruction of the African child’s educational foundation and must be strategically reconstructed starting at the primary school level. This discourse proposes a return to the roots of indigenous knowledge, which is student-centered, focus on proper character formation, cooperative, collaborative, and prepares the students with local resources to cherish and develop themselves and their society. The saying that “the heart of education is the education of the heart” must be a guide, especially at a primary age when the learners are most impressionable.
A way forward examines the advantages of social-emotional learning, which restores concrete-meaningful knowledge starting at the primary level. The students need to learn self-awareness by understanding their emotions and thoughts and how they influence behavior. Right from primary school, students should learn to identify emotions, self-perception, recognize strengths, and learn about self-confidence and self-efficacy. They should be taught stress-management and self-discipline. These critical human developmental skills were replaced by skills that encourage students to be overly competitive, individualistic, selfish, docile, and subservient to external forces.
African students need the skills to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve personal and societal goals, and control impulses. The new indigenous school program for studies will need to be implemented with parents, community elders, and local resources. Despite the abundance of raw materials in the continent, schools do not prepare graduates to produce goods for society. Some raw materials: timber, gold, oil, coffee, and others are shipped abroad to be processed and sent back for consumption at a tremendous expense.
Despite the problems, some educators who are brought up in the Eurocentric type mentality still advocate that students continue to be prepared to compete at the international level. They prefer that students learn to build skyscrapers like in Europe, build roads with multiple lanes and overpass or high-level road bridges, and other foreign fantasies when the major portion of the environment is desolate. Africans do not have to try to “catch up in technology” or continue to build on a faulty foundation. I propose a return to student-centered indigenous education, focused on proper character formation and using local resources to solve problems for themselves and society. I propose that those who have gone through Western education should reflect and seek to apply their learning to improve the continent. This commentary is a starting point to expanding a revised mental shift to better students and the continent. The future of Africa lies in the proper education and empowerment of her children.
- Dr. John Nkemnji is Professor Emeritus, Educational Technology. He is an educational consultant and a proponent of life-long learning. The article summarizes his lectures on Social-Emotional Learning, the Relevance of Education, Education in Africa, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. The author expresses gratitude to those educators and students who commented on this draft. More comments will be helpful.