Heart of Arts

Excellence in Education in the Context of Pan-Africanism and Digitization

Toyin Falola


(Excerpt of a Public Lecture to mark the 20th Anniversary of the African University College of Communications, Accra, Ghana, November 23, 2022)

For different justifiable reasons, the development of a society has always been tied to the quality of education – formal or informal – that the people in that society have access to. The truth is, before the human mind can conceive innovative ideas that will revolutionize societies and institutions, it must first be made fertile by exposure to information about its societal realities and predicaments. No doubt, what we today refer to as “civilization” or “development of the west” has education as its backbone. So, one may not be wrong to conclude that the development of a society like Africa reflects the quality of its education.

Since it is not the case that Africa has no access to formal education, what puzzles me is that with Africa’s access, its development across different areas remains below par with global standards. Considering formal education, Christian missionaries have, as early as the late 15th century, established mission schools in parts of Africa. Before this, Africa had developed a functional system of education where indigenous African societies learned indigenous knowledge, crafts, and skills. But then, despite this, there is still a remarkable lag in the level of development in Africa compared to other continents in the world. What, then, could be the problem with our education? Why are we not achieving excellence in education? More importantly, what do we have to do to achieve excellence in education in line with Pan-Africanism and digitization?

Here’s the rough edge: education in Africa reeks of foreign legacies overshadowed by the lingering effects of colonialism in African institutional cultures, institutional structures, and educational curricula. Africa’s educational system was created using Western models, which impacted its ideologies, institutional cultures, organizational structures, and curricula. As a result, African students were instructed to interpret knowledge from Western views in African colleges and universities, which were initially founded in European colonies. Many scholars have referred to this as the colonization of Africa’s educational system. But since there was a vibrant education system in pre-colonial Africa, many scholars have pushed for a reversal to indigenous African knowledge systems.

Reverting to the indigenous knowledge systems that served as the cornerstone of knowledge and education in pre-colonial Africa has been suggested by several scholars and policymakers working to bring African educational systems back to the level of development that existed before the arrival of colonialism. The development of information and communication technologies has also given rise to new possibilities for expanding Africa’s educational systems. Some have stated that the twin initiatives of Africanization and digitization must be carried out concurrently to “decolonize” the education system. It is important to carefully consider the implications of Pan-Africanism and digitization on decolonization and the growth of the educational sector in post-colonial Africa.

African education and knowledge systems were introduced to the West by European colonizers and Christian missionaries. The first members of these systems underwent years of professional training and exposure to political engineering in Western countries. They gradually organized into political and cultural movements that came to be referred to as “Pan-African movements.” The history of modern education in Africa and Pan-Africanism are intricately linked. African intellectuals who were Pan-Africanist used the advanced educational system that European colonists established as a tool to establish a new socio-cultural and political order on the continent. A “modern education system” acknowledges the knowledge and educational systems that existed in Africa before colonization.

Recent literature has provided a perspective on Pan-Africanism as a movement for education. As an intellectual movement, Pan-Africanism embodies Africa’s philosophy, notions, and ideas as a united nation. As an educational movement, Pan-Africanism aims to inform the African public about the ideas, ideologies, and cultures that distinguish Africa from European colonial endeavors as a distinct political and cultural entity.

Currently, Africans are taught subjects in Western-styled educational institutions that, though pertinent for Europe and the Americas, are poorly suited to African realities. Therefore, campaigns to change the education and knowledge production systems on the continent have been inspired by the need for reform among African educational systems to accommodate African realities. However, the majority of the modifications made to African educational systems are merely cosmetic, focusing solely on minor adjustments to the curricula and supporting procedures. Though certain educational reforms have involved adding new courses, names, and assessment methods, the curriculum still fulfills the same old functions.

According to Kaya and Seleti in their article on African indigenous knowledge systems and relevance of higher education in South Africa, adopting Western-style education systems in Africa had an effect not just on the curricula and syllabuses of educational institutions but also altered how people conceptualized knowledge and knowledge systems. Other academics have also argued that the adoption of education systems modeled after those in the West encouraged a restrictionist view of African knowledge and knowledge systems because those systems’ proponents favored sophisticated knowledge and knowledge system understandings that excluded African indigenous knowledge and knowledge systems. This is why I agree that only through the Africanization of such systems will there be a true transformation within African educational systems. This process of “Africanization” is frequently defined as a revitalized interest in Africa and efforts to free the continent from colonialism. Regarding education, Africanization is interpreted as the need for African universities to create new curricula, syllabuses, and educational cultures to address African realities.

South Africa has arguably taken the Africanization of its educational systems more seriously than any other nation. As the nation endured decades of tyranny under sub-imperialist authoritarian regimes, the value of Africanization was emphasized. Apartheid was imposed on South Africa as a new form of harsh rule after decades of colonization. Still, meaningful discussions on creating an Africanized educational system that could replace apartheid education took place in South Africa. A fresh approach to education was required to recognize Black people’s humanity because apartheid schooling had colonized their cognitive processes. It was proposed during this time that a “people’s education system” could be created to set the groundwork for South Africa’s future in education. Despite the failure of the people’s education system, major efforts were still made to integrate African ideologies and indigenous knowledge systems into South Africa’s educational system. Though there is still a long way to go, South Africa appears to be moving in the right direction, and it is only expected that other African countries will follow suit.

With digitization, the development of information and communications technology has made knowledge production and acquisition more difficult for Africa. The expansion of information and communication technology in Africa has resulted in the loss of traditional, cultural, and customary knowledge, despite the claim that technological innovation has enormous benefits for sustainable development worldwide. African indigenous knowledge is based on data obtained via centuries-old cultural practices, unlike Western knowledge systems that may be “scientific” and theoretically oriented. Westerners have used conventional and technologically advanced techniques to maintain Western knowledge systems. Oral transmission from one generation to the next has, however, been the traditional method for maintaining indigenous knowledge in Africa. This knowledge is susceptible to loss if modern technological developments are not used to effectively maintain indigenous African knowledge.

African indigenous knowledge has enormous potential for sustainable development, but the continent has not taken the necessary steps to protect it, making it impossible to utilize it. Some people have argued that African indigenous knowledge should be preserved using contemporary strategies because the continent’s traditional oral preservation methods have some drawbacks. The knowledge gathered from earlier generations will eventually be changed, falsified, or lost if it is not properly kept. In this way, digital technologies have proven effective for the acquisition, transmission, and preservation of knowledge.

Digitalization has created new possibilities for both industrialized and developing nations. However, actual data acquired from developing nations, particularly in Africa, has revealed that these nations have not been able to fully capitalize on the prospects offered by such technologies. The low rate of internet usage in Africa continues to be a significant barrier to the widespread and efficient deployment of digital technology. African countries have been sluggish in using technology to remove the last remnants of colonialism from their educational institutions. Indigenous knowledge, which encompasses a variety of cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes, cannot endure without sufficient recording.

Supporting discussions regarding the decolonization of education in Africa requires intentional government action and efforts by other stakeholders in the education sector of each African nation. Only a combination of Africanization and digitization may result in the liberation of African educational systems. Decolonization is one action we must take concerning the African educational system to overcome this deficiency. However, the pursuit of greatness in Africa’s educational system, goes beyond decolonization. It calls for initiatives that are pan-Africanist in nature, using technology to digitally portray Africa to the rest of the globe.

Hence, we must actively build Pan-Africanism in its purest form so that our children will be motivated to carry it out, just as we must consciously eliminate the structures of European epistemology from our curriculum. As the link between authentic African traditions and modern lifestyles, it is our responsibility to hold the hands of the current generation of Africans until they return to the spirit of Pan-Africanism.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we maintain the ideality and applicability of our ideologies. Pan-Africanism belongs to the future just as much as it does to our current or past situations. Making the world recognize us for who we are – a continent full of intelligent people who won’t submit to western norms – is one approach to doing this. And we use digitization to accomplish this. Since the current issue is the educational system, we must start there. Africanizing African educational institutions’ structures, traditions, and curricula, as well as utilizing digital technology in research, teaching, and learning, are prerequisites for decolonizing African educational systems.

Lastly, we must pay close attention to the process and establish a feeling of quality control as we work towards decolonization, Pan-Africanism, and the digitization of our educational system. We must continue to advance the cause of African scholarship’s fair treatment while strengthening our procedures. This implies that we must be selective about who assumes the responsibility of educating our children in the context of our educational system. Are they individuals who share the principles of Pan-Africanism and want to preach them openly, or are they hired just because there is a gap that needs to be filled? This time, we must take a different, long-term approach to create a digital pan-African education system. The total decolonization of Africa’s educational systems won’t happen suddenly; it will take time and careful effort. The development of Afrocentric materials and pedagogies, the use of digital technologies in research and teaching, the rethinking of models for doctoral training, and the investment of time and resources to address language issues in African universities are some of the actions that must be taken.

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