In The News

Education In Africa Is Failing Its People

  • PublishedDecember 8, 2011

There is something inherently wrong with the educational institutions and systems across Africa. There must be. How else can we explain why Africa is not producing entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, famous public speakers etc?

So the year 2011 is almost over. And what a year it has been. But I am not talking about the hard, running news here. No, no, no, I am not talking about any of those truly memorable events of 2011 that have kept most of us glued to our TV news screens throughout [ed: see our cover story]. I am talking rather selfishly of my own 2011 shocker…the fact that I have left my beloved Ghana to move back to the UK. Why, you may well ask. You are not alone. I ask myself that same question every day! But seriously, I was driven to make this move because of my children’s education.  

You see, there is something inherently wrong with the educational institutions and systems across Africa. There must be. How else can we explain why Africa is not producing entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, famous public speakers etc? Yet within the diaspora there are Africans and people of African descent excelling in all manner of fields. For example, people such as Dr Mark Dean, an African-American inventor and computer expert who played a key role in the development of the PC and David Adjaye, the award-winning, world-renowned architect. It must therefore be because there is something seriously wrong with education across Africa.

Because the reality is African students are not graduating out of our educational institutions as experts. Apart from a few professions such as medicine our graduates are not using whatever knowledge they have gained gainfully. Where are our scientists? Where are the product designers? Where are our engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors? Where are they all? Where are our charismatic leaders? Our public speakers? Africans, like many other people of the world, use modern products. For example in the past, when we may have used other methods such as chewing sticks to brush our teeth, today many of us use toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Yet not many Africans are producing such products.  Granted, there are multinational companies employing local Africans to manufacture some products and Africa does have some local manufacturers, but I am talking about Africans ourselves owning and operating large-scale industries. I am talking about Africans inventing new ways of doing old things. I am talking about Africans producing goods that are of great quality.

From industry to sports to the arts to politics to development issues, African students are not coming out of school, college and university with the answers. Nor are they coming out of school having been exposed to certain environments and conditions, which will allow them to explore and excel in their talents. The majority of African children are not coming out of educational institutions with a clear-cut vision of their dreams. And many lack the confidence to even have dreams! When I think of the African Dream, I am reminded of young people who want to go to America, work, work, work, doing whatever it takes to make enough money to return to Africa to be a “big man or madam”.  

All this because the majority of Africans on the African continent are not getting a proper education. From an early age, Africans living in the diaspora, like every race of people with whom they live, have the opportunity to start formal education. From nursery to pre-school right through to university and postgraduate courses, Africans and people of African descent that choose to make the most of these opportunities end up excelling more than their counterparts back on the continent. This is because countries such as China, America and the UK invest in children’s education.

From singing nursery rhymes in pre-school to children experimenting with test tubes in the science lab to excursions and extracurricular activities such as sports or music, children in these parts of the world are encouraged to be engaging, inquisitive and analytical. So in English class, say for example this was the sentence: “Ama is going to school.” In most African classrooms the teacher would ask “What is Ama doing?”. To which the majority of children would say “she is going to school”. The teacher would reply “good”, and that would be that. But in a classroom in the UK, the teacher would probe with further questions such as “Why is Ama going to school?” or “Is there another way the writer could have said Ama is going to school?”. Questions that force the student to probe their minds for other answers. So one major problem we have with our educational institutions and systems is the methods of teaching.

I don’t believe we are teaching our children to really use their brains to think outside the box. We need to put mechanisms in place that allow for this. All across Africa from an early age, the school curriculum should be designed to suit our individual countries, as well as prepare the student for dealing with international clients and markets. For example, with the amount of oil on the continent, schools should have courses that teach the future generation how to mine, extract, clean and refine oil. As well as learning maths and French and biology and the like, African students should be offered courses such as Oil and Gas Management, not just at the university level, but it should be something that is part of the curriculum from an early age, just like the aforementioned subjects and others like Religious and Moral Education. So that when they graduate, Africans living in Africa become the people who control Africa’s oil, the experts who own and manage their own oil companies. Currently the educational system across Africa is failing Africans.

Even the physical buildings we call schools are an eyesore.  Compared to schools in countries such as America, African schools are a huge disgrace. How do we expect our children to be motivated and inspired in buildings with peeling paint, cracking walls, no décor, no clean dining area, no decent toilets, no desks or computers? I could go on forever but I think you get the drift. Scientists (alas! Mainly Western ones because Africa does not have that many!) will tell you the environment in which we spend time affects us greatly. And if children are to spend up to seven hours per day in a classroom/school it should be appealing enough to inspire them because nobody can function positively in a depressing environment. Or even if they can, it is extra-challenging.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the education needed to survive in life is necessarily that gained in a formal institution such as a school. I greatly appreciate the value of education gained from life itself via family, friends, the media, environment etc. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember ever having to use Pythagoras’ theory outside of my maths class. Yet things I have learnt outside of the classroom such as respect for others and self and how to handle (or in my case it is it how to mishandle!) my money have gotten me a long way in life. For me the biggest example of learning from life as opposed to in a formal educational setting has got to be the British billionaire Richard Branson. He left school at age sixteen with no qualifications, but is one of the world’s most successful businessmen today, proving that you do not necessarily need a formal education to achieve your dreams.

Despite this though, I still believe people need some sort of exposure to a formal education. Because apart from the academic side of it, going to school, college and/or university teaches people things such as a respect for time, discipline, learning to share space, energy, conversation and the like, with people from all walks of life, as well as responsibility, cleanliness, aiming high, building your self-confidence, the importance of having aspirations, etc.  

Africans outside Africa are excelling because they have access to education, which is designed to enable them to graduate with usable skills. For example, look at the work of international filmmaker Julius Amedume, who honed his craft at the National Film and Television School in London and compare them to the top filmmaker in Nollywood. See what I mean?

Africans are very capable of manufacturing, inventing, producing, writing, designing everything from boxes to houses to toys. However the reason why Africa only has a few indigenous people excelling in many fields, is because the educational system in Africa has failed and continues to fail the majority of Africans. Until we can put in place a system which will allow our children to think and explore in an environment which stimulates and demands action, we will forever be churning out graduates who hold paper certificates but have very little to contribute to their own society.  

But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

Written By
Akua Djanie

Akua Djanie, better known to her fans in Ghana as Blakofe, a TV, radio and events Presenter. At IC Publications, Akua has been sharing her 'Reflections of an Ordinary Woman' for the past three years in New African magazine.

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