Do we choose what we want to be educated on?

Formal education is the building block to ensure a nation’s prosperity, however it alone cannot alleviate poverty and other social ills of the society, but it enables and opens doors for opportunities and successes.

Developed countries perceive and regard formal education as extremely important and hence they have developed institutions where achievement and excellence in formal education is rewarded. They have designed standards of achievement where an undergraduate once after pass out receives a degree or diploma (and other recognitions) in their chosen field of study. Post graduates are also rewarded with honours, masters, doctorates and many other recognizable rewards. Let me not bore you with this assessment.

We all know formal education was brought to Africa by the missionaries and other pioneers of the day who sought to skill Africans in order for Africans better serve the Whiteman’s interest. This statement is as true as it sounds. Otherwise what could there be other reasons for a Bantu to be educated?

The then curriculum equipped a darkie to become a court interpreter, the sole purpose was to ensure that Bantus were screwed of their land, livestock and women and thus interpreters would explain this action by making it ‘easier for darkies to understand’ why their livelihood was taken away. Later after the acquisition of our land, livestock and many other possessions, the Whiteman decided to educate the Bantus overseas. What a prestige and honour for us!

In South Africa the missionaries were hard at work providing ‘learning opportunities’ for us hence some of our black people where schooled in America, Europe and other countries including UK, USA and Bulgaria.

Pixley ka Isaka Seme, and others, were among the first black South Africans to receive an overseas education. Ka Isaka Seme studied at Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts in the US and in 1906 he graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelors of Arts degree.

Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma received his doctorate overseas, in 1913 to study medicine in the United States. What an accolade, seriously I mean it!

These are success stories for our black people. It stands to reason that black people are capable of achieving anything that a white man can. The fact that Pixley, Dr. AB Xuma, Rev John Dube, Richard Msimang, Alfred Mangena, and many others were ‘bantu’ people, as they were referred to those days, could rise above their challenges and achieve accolades that only an African child could dream of at the time, was a remarkable feat, indeed an achievement paralleled by none! They proved to themselves and many other blacks that it could be done, that education was not only for the privileged few, but for everybody who hungers for it and has the opportunity to acquire it.

Education was meant to open doors as it did for Pixley and his educated associates, Richard Montshioa, Richard Msimang, Alfred Mangena, who after returning to the country in 1911 came together to hatch the idea that gave rise to the formation of the Convention of the African People which culminated in the birth of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), later to be called the African National Congress (ANC).

Now if anybody does not appreciate that education really leads one to think ‘big’ and sets you to greater achievement, they need their heads examined. Our people were achievers in their own right, and they had to be celebrated.

Anyway, the education that black people received was valuable but still many of our people were still illiterate. Of course opportunities could not have been given to all Africans as these were mainly scholarships that were a handful and only ‘deserving’ candidates would qualify for.

The impact that these educated blacks made was immense in that they would decide what needed to be done for the lot of the uneducated masses  in order to rid ourselves from colonialism and slavery. But the poor uneducated lot did not necessarily change for the better. Only a few went on to be educated! Was education alone sufficient to alleviate our plight? Was education the only vehicle to elevate black people oppression? I believe that education could and was the only answer to our quest for liberation and shedding of bondage.

But what kind of education was needed really, to achieve exactly what I have alluded to?

But do we choose what we want and need to be educated on or we are just confronted with no option but to seize the ‘opportunity’ granted us? How did formal education began and why was it ever decided that such form of education was required for the African child?

Backtracking a bit and coming home to Africa, formal education was never known to exist. The need had not arisen for such form of education. Ours was a simple and natural lifestyle which was void of complications and thus did not require a certain level of sophistication let alone a formal education.

Where any type of education was required would be a life-skill-type-of-education or what today is known as Life Orientation (LO). For instance, a man as head of the family would teach his son the intricacies of life that were pertinent to his continued existence. A boy at ages 5 up to 10 or 11 would be expected to tend to his father’s livestock. The boy had to learn the skill of milking goats before graduating into tending for and milking cows. He had to hunt and catch small animals whilst in the veld for him to have something to eat.

A mother on the other hand, would do the same to her daughter. But only this time the daughter had to accompany her mother to the fields where they would work and plough and tend for their vegetable gardens.

Once these kids became of age, say at age 12 and upwards, then a certain education was introduced in their lives, this time it is no longer a life orientation-type of education but a passage to manhood and womanhood, respectively. This type of education was sanctioned by elders and thus it was considered sacred and a must for these young souls. This education was called bogwera, lebollo, etc. and this education does not have an equivalent name in English. If you like you may call it initiation school.

Once the initiates pass out and are regarded as women and men, they would be accepted into society and bestowed with all respect and dignity as they shall have entered into adulthood. They were ready to marry and be married, sit with men and women and discuss all matters relating to adults.

This was the education that Africans knew. It was formal in the way in that once the initiates have graduated from the initiation school, they will receive the recognition of having achieved a lesson of life or the key to life, if you like. The indigenous knowledge of interpreting the stars, times for sowing and harvest, what food to eat and when, knowledge of plants and herbs for medicinal purposes, was all the education required. And I do believe this knowledge was evolving and it would have reached a level of formality, equivalent to the present day education.

With such education they were not expected to become nurses, doctors, accountants or even engineers. This education was sufficient to know what life had to offer.

With the introduction of schools in our country, then came in confusion and despair as this new educational system was not even close to what the Africans had known or expected. Imagine being told that you need to go to school and learn some syllabus which did not make sense to you? What would be your reaction?

I guess you just have to accept whatever is thrown your way and pretend to be ‘human’ about it. Why do you need such education anyway? Is it going to help you become a man or woman? Remember when scientists like Alessandro Volta, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei and others were busy trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe and determine what influences humanity and the world, Africans already had the knowledge about the universe including astrology.

This type of black education was priceless and it was passed on from generation to generation, of cause it was done orally. Black people were contend with their lives that which offered fulfillment to their wellbeing thus they had no reason to experiment on some theories which today modern day scientists accept some and dismiss many as not making sense. Theories like the Big bang, I mean it is flawed as it sounds. I wonder who believes in some bang which apparently was big, and gave rise to the birth of the universe as we know it. I have tried to follow the logic of this theory and still cannot get the gist of it. Who ensured that the bang took place? And who made sure that it had to be big? Wasn’t there no other means of creation other than a bang that could have been quite noisy and the effect still felt today? Enough of the bang!

We were astrologers and cosmologists in our own right and we could interpret stars and other celestial bodies and knew how to interpret and knew what they symbolized. We studied weather patterns and made preparations in cases where disasters could strike. Besides we did not have many disasters as you would find in Europe and elsewhere.

We studied biology and knew what food our kids needed to eat and which not to eat. We knew the right time for a man and a woman to get married and bear children. We did not have under-age children having sex as is the case today. Certainly we did not have as many teenage pregnancy like is the case today. The reason for low pregnancy was because girls were prohibited from eating certain dairy food, like eggs, milk and others as they would accelerate their growth into developing sexual desires at an early age.

Boys on the other hand were only allowed milk and certain milk like, kgatsele were prohibited as the creamy stuff could create a prolonged hardening of the boy’s ‘member’ that would prove embarrassing and thus public indecency which was undesirable to the community. Remember boys wore setsiba – loin cloths, so think for yourself!

We knew how to communicate with the spirits and some possessed healing powers. Even though some went to the extreme and started bewitching others! Basically we knew all there was to know about our lives.

Now with this new European education that was being forced down our brains, were we expected to do well in it. To be taught things that meant absolute garbage was just torture of the mind and that was the beginning of the brainwashing of our people, for which white people have become accustomed. Nonetheless, some and I mean just a few made it and graduated from this education system. Many still dropped out and the reasons vary from poverty, lack of interest and a myriad of other reasons.

Now in 2015, tertiary institutions are in turmoil as these institutions want to hike fees by up to 10%. Education had become a commodity which effectively means its worth is in its cost! This further strengthens my resolve that the European system of education is not particularly worthy and it requires money to enhance its value.

We need to overall this system and incorporate the African aspect to it. This is what we need to do:

  1. Development of the African Educational System (AES) premised on African ideologies;
  2.  AES should address the ‘spiritual deficit’ that we incurred over 400 years ago in the form of slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and subjugation of the African people;
  3. Instill Black Pride in our education and encourage self-love;
  4. Highlight Black achievements in our educational system; and
  5. Remove passes and failures in our education, no human being is a failure!

This way, we will have a choice in what we want to be educated on!