Our Education So Far, This Far(!)

a writing by Nkwelle Assurance Nkwelle

I write from a culture which the occident will refer to as 'third world', whatever that means. The topic under discussion has heralded a myriad of scholarly attention over the years, yet it is of perennial concern, even now. For, if not education, what else could be of paramount importance in the world at any time? But education goes with ideology, perceptions and innovation. so, such a complex topic may require a book, perhaps for an amplified discourse. However, This attempt is an evaluation of the character and contents of our education till now.

Although I use the inclusive 'our', this paper actually revisits education in Cameroon, and by extension, West Africa, from the time of 'independence' till date.

Education has been defined in various ways and I do believe that there are as many definitions of the concept out there as there are thinkers and critiics and they are disparaged as are institutions about the subject. To attempt an acceptable definition here therefore, would be to take on the daunting task of attempting to please everyone; and we do know that in the democratic world, and indeed, in any world, it is practically impossible to try to please all. However, we must have a premise that, education is a form of learning in which knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transfered from one generation to the next through teaching, training, research, or simply through auto didacticism. Education generally, occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts, ( Wikipedia Par 6). As limited as this definition is, one may side with it in many respects: it acknowledges the formative, and/or transformative quality of education and emphasises the need to transfer values and habits. I am particularly attracted to this definition because it does not mention 'the proper place where education should take place'. Thus, to me, it is more inclusive. However, this paper is not about evaluating definitions. I would therefore avail myself of definitions and focus on the objective as stated earlier.

Education is a cultural issue, and cultures innovate and invent based on the psyche of their education - folklore (myths, in particular). Sub Sahara Africa (West Africa) has produced, or been made to produce an education, which to me, is inimical to its progress. One does not, or if so, gets just a skimpy sense of cultural fulfilment in the content and character of our education since 'independence'. Our education takes us, even in this era, further away from our myths and legends, proverbs and songs, the list is unending. My generation and worse still, the generation that will succeed mine, will be even further away from the precincts of their base than mine is. The tap root of a solid education rests in the fertility of the soils of cultural transmissions and (re)initiation. Therefore, part of the purpose of education is to make for continuity of values, and, of course, some degree of innovation, appropriation and reappropriation. Education should make individuals and groups grow in pride of place and have a strong sense of belonging. In fact, education should make people yearn for improvements in national pride. But looking at our status quo, has, or is our education working towards these? Has it been able to provoke feelings such as the ones mentioned above? Does it help us to meet the needs of time? These questions guide discussion in this paper.

Some people may argue that the answers to questions such as the ones above may depend on the type education that one talks about. Of course, the answer may be 'yes', but care should be taken here that all education, no matter the type, should be able to fulfill the needs of a people. The nitty gritties of formal and informal education are a different polemic. Again, the occident, through an erosive colonial education, has made 'us' think, and erroneously so, that 'formal' means schools (systems) education while the 'informal' remains the forms that existed in the soon-to-be-made colonies, in the days of such hateful domination. White racial casuistry could not be more explicit with its sophistry that, unfortunately, held grounds and has sapped the continent or region of its intellectual verve till now.

It is hardly debatable that apart from the Negroid Egyptian civilisation, the type of education that is mentioned above was transported to the rest of black Africa by occidental missionaries and missionaries-become colonialists. This extension, in itself, was a good initiative, but the problem lies in the content and character of that education. Instead of plant the tap root deep in the humus comfort of African fertility, that education has plastered us to the perilous sandy perches of exogenous estrangements. The result is an awkwardly narcissistic existence that we have had for more than half a century. Our literature is abound with such depictions. Permit me share this story with you, reader. In Ngugi wa Thiong'o's 'Petals of Blood', a teacher in the primary takes his pupils out into an orchard that bright sunny morning, to pluck flowers. One of the pupils is attracted by these charming hibiscus petals. He plucks them and runs to his teacher, shouting, 'teacher, teacher, I have plucked the petals of blood.' Caught in by the child's innocent enthusiasm, the teacher takes a look at the flower. Bright and fresh, it was, from an outward view. When the teacher takes a closer look into the stalk, he sees 'nothing inside'. The only thing he sees is a green worm, no juice.
The 'nothing inside' is an expression of consternation. The teacher had expected to find such a blossoming flower with freshest of juice, but because there is a worm inside, the flower cannot remain juicy. Take this analogy within the context of Sub Sahara Africa. The worm seems to be the macabre presence of occidental capitalism, including all things that go with it - education and its calculated method to maim us of home pride. The flower itself is motherland Africa, whose juice (resources) are tapped by the green worm(growing positively) while the source, despite the fact that it looks untouched from the outside, remains a hollow brightness (the bright-looking petals). Furthermore, relate the story to our schools systems. take the institutions to be the flower, the trainers for the teacher and the curricula for the worm. Does this relationship then work for the improvement of Africa and her peoples? Do I need to answer?

About colonialism, Frantz Fanon, in 'The Wretched of the Earth' writes, 'colonialism is not satisfied merely by holding a people in its grip and emptying the native's brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it' (169). Colonialism, from Fanon's stand point was a war, carefully planned against the African and other peoples who had the same experience, aimed at keeping him/her to perpetual captivity. That careful plan found no better medium to express itself than the domains of education and religion. In the colonial education that we so bathe ourselves in, we are still unable to produce resources that can sustain our stability. Policy makers are more of take-and-implement, rather than make and innovate. They therefore become policy-takers, in my thinking. Most often, the supposed policy makers are uninformed in matters of valuable education. Such is the case of Eugene (Papa) in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Purple Hibiscus'. His colonial mindset, exacerbated by religious stereotyping, make him see the world from the narrow prism of his limitations. The result is a catastrophic family leader. The character's interest in education could be made more beneficial if he had let his children take pride in the ways of his people, like his sister, Ifeoma does. The then leader of the opposition in Britain, Tony Blair said, 'ask me my three main priorities of government, and I tell you: education, education, education' (1996). Every real society then invests in the education of its citizens, but what quality of education? - has been the contention of this paper. Our education makes us depend on platitudinous knowledge. The occident innovates and invents and transports such to us. Even then, our knowledge of such innovations and inventions is fashioned in such a way that we are taught how to 'consume', not how to 'make'. For example, the majority of the 'technicians' that we have around are 'experts' in (and note the tags) 'assembly', 'repairs', 'maintenance', or 'programming'. It is never, or hardly ever, 'design', or 'make'. I speak, especially of machines in our era.

Curricula of school subjects like Chemistry and Physics have not changed much, hardly even, but we know that science is a constantly changing phenomenon. If there are changes to be made, they are understood to normally be made from the occident. Today, we flatter ourselves of emergence. Get me clearly, there will be no substantial emergence if such is not harboured by our education. Dreams that we have for tomorrow should be informed and founded in a proactive educational system. We must adopt a futuristic approach and keep watch to the fact that the danger in colonial education is its ability to incapacitate the mind of reason.

That America was once colonised is no longer news. After 1776, the war of independence did not end. It continued on the intellectual linguistic domain. Noah Webster took upon himself to write his dictionary to assert the linguistic independence that America imposed on Britain. Today, there are two internationally recognised standards of English. American culture is different from British culture. This difference was made possible through education. There is a foundation upon which the mighty roof called America was built. Africa, do you have a foundation? will you?

I am not propagating an emulation of that country, but the world is a chain that respects trends. Our linguistic dependence can be indigenous. The so-called official languages that we pride ourselves in can be made official, along side many national languages. This task may be arduous, but the results will be edifying. If our education is firmly rooted in indigenous models, methods and contents, then we shall indeed begin to talk of a meaningful education and hence practically debunck the hocus pocus of white is right and therefore universal and superior.

However, one cannot ignore the fact that in the ex-colony, there is growing recognition and use of indigenous education methods, but these methods should not be addenda (as they currently seem to be) to mainstream Eurocentric curricula. Our education should be aimed at reclaiming and revaluing languages and cultures eroded during colonialism. That way, success of the indigenous student can be guaranteed.
In a World Bank report, the Cameroon government has stated 'that education systems are central to the issue of national, economic and social development of African countries, Cameroon being no exception' (par 1). Beautifully written, but what education has the Cameroon government put in place to facilitate that development? The question remains the tortoise's grinding stone. Educationist and 'policy makers' should revalue the content and character of our education and weight them to see whether in the near future, the dream of emergence will be feasible. Perhaps this should begin with taking pride in national character, and by that I propose the following to the national giants, SONARA (National Oil Refinery) and The CDC (Cameroon Development Corporation). We want an agrarian revolution. This is the way to get it. Added to the schools of agriculties in our universities, the CDC should have a university of agro-research.It is in the best place to do so. The National Oil Refinery should create a university of industrial research, with focus on oil and gas production and management. Make these institutions premium institutions and world-class and they should truly reflect a national character.

In conclusion, education is an edifying tool if it 'tames' the mind and helps it at the same time, to attain desired goals. At present, our education does far less than that; it is a shame therefore that for more than half a century of systems education, most of (black) Africa can still not laugh in approbation about her own education, history and cultures. To set the pace in any journey is always the problem. We shall always remember Maoism, that phenomenon that set China on a tedious journey years back, but the benefits of which that country reaps today. That was vision and determination. Education that does not improve lives and living has failed. Maybe we are still to take on that journey or perhaps we have begun. If so, then I would join Molefi Asante to say that 'we are on a pilgrimage to regain freedom; this is the predominant myth of our life' (The Afrocentric Idea, 159).

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