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Black Agenda on Education

Featured Image: Nigerian author and critic Dr Chinweizu.

By Editorial Collective

Chapter 12 of the BLACK AGENDA on education speaks directly to the principle of decolonizing education in the context of decolonizing the country and by extension the whole world. Let’s study and engage. Send your questions, comments, feedback, or help others to send their input to the following email address: [email protected]

Education must be for liberation! The current education system is designed to create slaves and slave keepers on behalf of the colonial and white supremacist project. This very colonial anti-black education is driven by the exclusion of the majority.

What is the general purpose of education in a normal society? It was the founding father of Tanzania Julius Nyerere who provided a general outline, he argued that: “… education, whether it be formal or informal, has a purpose. That purpose is to transmit from one generation to the next the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the society, and to prepare the young people for their future membership of the society and their active participation in its maintenance or development.”

This is the general purpose of education in societies which are not oppressed.
This is a kind of education for conserving the integrity of the community, its education for the perpetuation of the society’s agreed norms and values. But what happens when the education system is not designed for the interest of the community but those of an occupying force? The logic remains the same, “preservation” of the status quo, therefore colonial education is for colonial ends.

Nyerere articulates the objectives of colonial education when he says, “(i)t was not designed to prepare young people for the service of their own country; instead it was motivated by a desire to inculcate the values of the colonial society and to train individuals for the service of the colonial state. In these countries the state interest in education therefore stemmed from the need for local clerks and junior officials; on top of that, various religious groups were interested in spreading literacy and other education as part of their evangelical work”.

The intent and effect of colonial education was to create an Europeanised African miseducated elite to manage the affairs of white people at the expense of blacks. This is how the miseducated native is described by Jean Paul Sartre in the preface to Frantz Fanon’s classical work, Wretched of the Earth, “(t)he European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words ‘Parthenon! Brotherhood!’ and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open … Thenon! … Therhood!’ It was the golden age.”

Dr Chinweizu takes the discussion further in elaborating what colonial education actually does to the “Native elite”. Chinweizu teaches us that colonial education makes the miseducated native elites into rats with the education of cats. We have here not education but chains. This colonial education has a function that goes on beyond the formal ending of colonialism. In fact, it can be argued that the colonialist by giving the native colonial education is preparing for another victory in the post-independence era. When colonialism managed by settlers is ended, a new phase of colonialism managed by the “native elite” begins. From this point of view, the defeat of the African in the war against colonialism is already guaranteed by virtue of the native elite’s black skin color and a soul that is white.

According to Chinweizu; “(o)n each country’s ‘independence day’, it simply moved from being ruled and exploited for imperialism by white expatriate colonialists to being ruled and exploited for imperialism by black comprador colonialists. There had simply been a changing of the colour of the staff, from white to black, in the same imperialist prison. Consequently, white supremacy remains entrenched everywhere, obscured by black buffer, front office governments.”

When Chinweizu was asked about the educated African elite and their role in society, his response was incisively as follows:

“but educated in what and for what? Were they educated in what C. L. R. James called “the political intricacies that the modern world demanded”? Certainly not. Despite their university degrees and general exposure, they lacked the appropriate political education. There is an incident reported in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography that shows that being “highly educated” and “exposed” might even be a handicap in the liberation struggle. Mandela had gone underground to start the military wing of the ANC. At one point he was hiding in Tongaat, a rural community of black plantation workers: Shortly before I was planning to leave, I thanked one elderly fellow for having looked after me. He said, ‘You are of course welcome, but, Kwedini [young man], please tell us, what does Chief Luthuli want?’ I was taken aback but quickly responded, ‘Well, it would be better to ask him yourself and I cannot speak for him, but as I understand it, he wants our land returned, he wants our kings to have their power back, and he wants us to be able to determine our own future and run our own lives as we see fit.’ ‘And how is he going to do that if he does not have an army?’ the old man said. ¬¬ [Long Walk to Freedom: 330] That incident took place in 1961. By then the ANC was some 50 years old, and it had just come to realize, and reluctantly accept, the necessity for armed struggle to attain its objectives. Now, what had taken the “highly educated” leadership of the ANC half a century to realize was quite obvious to an “uneducated” rural farm labourer!”

Chinweizu continues on what the fundamental use of education is:

“So, everything depends on the education they received, what it moulded them into. If you are educated as a lawyer, your mental framework tends to get limited to what you can do in a law court, or within the existing legal and constitutional arrangements. And if your education is such that you think from the point of view of your conquerors, if it moulds you into a black European, that is miseducation, not education. If you take a rat and train it to see the world in the way the cat sees the world, you have not educated the rat, you have miseducated it for life in a world with rat killing cats. You have actually made it an easier prey for the cats, because the natural instincts of a rat would have told it how to deal with cats, or how to avoid cats. But after you have given the rat the education of a cat, it would lose those instincts. It might even think of itself as a cat! And that is what this colonialist education has done to Africans for the last two centuries. We have been fundamentally miseducated, and we cannot even see the world from our own point of view, let alone in our own interest”.

To present the matter in these stark terms is not to deny that there is always rebellion from some rats.

What Is To Be Done?

Ngugi wa Thiongo’s take is instructive: “What should we do with the inherited colonial education system and the consciousness it necessarily inculcated in the African mind? What directions should an education system take in an Africa wishing to break with neo-colonialism? How does it want the ‘New Africans’ to view themselves and their universe and from what base, Afrocentric or Eurocentric? What then are the materials they should be exposed to, and in what order and perspective? Who should be interpreting that material to them, an African or non¬African? If African, what kind of African? One who has internalized the colonial world outlook or one attempting to break free from the inherited slave consciousness?”

What must decolonial education do? According to Ngugi, “(e)ducation is a means of knowledge about ourselves…. After we have examined ourselves, we radiate outwards and discover peoples and worlds around us. With Africa at the centre of things, not existing as an appendix or a satellite of other countries and literatures, things must be seen from the African perspective…All other things are to be considered in their relevance to our situation and their contribution towards understanding ourselves. In suggesting this we are not rejecting other streams, especially the western stream. We are only clearly mapping out the directions and perspectives the study of culture and literature will inevitably take in an African university.”

Nyerere’s take is evidently clear when he says, “(t)he education provided by Tanzania for the students of Tanzania must serve the purposes of Tanzania. It must encourage the growth of the socialist values we aspire to. It must encourage the development of a proud, independent and free citizenry which relies upon itself for its own development, and which knows the advantages and the problems of cooperation. It must ensure that the educated know themselves to be an integral part of the nation and recognize the responsibility to give greater service the greater the opportunities they have had.”

There is no possibility for a decolonised university of education in a colonial society. This explains why up to now in our country the struggle for “decolonisation of the university” has in fact been a struggle for inclusion and integration of the black elite into the existing system. What is needed is the total destruction of colonialism so as to usher in a decolonial society – the education sector would reflect this reality.

In the short to medium term there is a need to turn around the colonial education crisis through a four year extra ordinary intervention which would put the whole education system on a new footing? As a commitment to Pan-Afrikanism and recognition of the generally sound Zimbabwean education system, a four year process of co-teaching with the Zimbabwean O and A levels graduates in the public schools which have shown the most negative results must be embarked upon. This call must go to build capacity in all the schools in villages as well as the squatter camps.

There must be an examination that teachers must undergo so as to assess their suitability to teach. In this regard those who need further education should be assisted while those who are not suited to teach should each be granted a generous settlement to ease them out of the education system and to this end be retrained for their preferred and suitable profession.

A teacher is an important pillar of any society and must be taken good care of and also trained and supported. Pride and dedication has to be returned to the teaching profession.
At the end of the four years of special dispensation, a fully pro-black, decolonial integrated education system will be introduced.

The new pro-black education system shall seek to bridge the gap between intellectual and non-intellectual education. All graduates of the schooling system would be able to undertake practical and relevant tasks in society. The students during their time as learners must be part of solving real problems of society and be part of the reconstruction of society towards a different and mutually beneficial society. High school and university students would be required to undertake long periods of community development work and service. Also the students would function as a feedback mechanism to the development process going on in society.

Every learner by grade 12 should know how: the national and local budgets work; the planning system of the state and community work; how a basic house is built, and; how to plant basic foods and take care of the soil. Furthermore, every learner shall be aware of the process of how to assess people’s needs and in his regard give critical feedback to the state. All learners shall spend time in community development outside their own provinces and towns. This is to foster the spirit of national awareness and unity.

Graduates must pride themselves for having contributed to concrete development in the community – from building houses to developing gardens to building dams etcetera.

An Afrocentric pro-black socialist curriculum must be developed now and taught independently of the colonial schooling system as preparation for the whole new system of education in Azania. A parallel people’s education must commence immediately based on the philosophy of black consciousness so as to ensure that education for liberation is a reality.

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