The colonial education system was subtly designed to keep the African poor. He was never given opportunities to acquire skills. It was a deliberate system skewed in favour of whites. Unfortunately, it is the same structure that postcolonial African governments pivot their curricula on.
Now governments are stuck with hordes of degree and diploma holders who cannot tell six from nine, because they have been made to believe that Western education forms are the gateway to the good life. What is astounding, however, is that the more one has of this alien form of knowledge, the more ignorant one becomes, and the less relevant they turn out to be to their communities.
There are many educated ignoramuses roaming the streets, mainly because they are not learned. They are simply consumers of data, and not engaging participants with the skill to interrogate and interpret facts. Neither do they have the ingenuity to plunge into the unknown and emerge wiser.
Nearly everybody wants to acquire at least a bachelor’s degree; for what purpose? That question persistently props out. The desire to be capped should not override or obliterate other visions, where reality is projected to the larger screen of life. Often, life after college haunts many people when reality sinks in, that they invested in redundancy. A redundancy which, however, is admired by those perceived to be lacking in the said knowledge. Yet, universities continue to sell the dummy that a degree is the only reality, without doing much in terms of paring that perception with the acuity on the ground.
It is possible that one may be catapulted to a position or status on the basis of level of education, which may also be a result of ingenuity on the part of the individual. It is worrisome sometimes to know that a nation may invest vast resources in individuals who may not even be worth it in the end. But where exactly is this stemming from?
African governments inherited an education system that its leaders believed, and continue to believe to be the vision behind their rise to power. More still needs to be done to shift from this mindset, because it is a colonial creation.
The so called “good schools” like the formerly Group A schools, were meant for white children only, where a different culture aimed at uplifting the settler community was pursued at the expense of the African.
The “City of Salisbury Official Guide” informs of Allan Wilson, one of such schools meant for whites: “Named after Major Allan Wilson, leader of the Shangani Patrol, (the school) was founded in 1940 as a modern high school for boys. . . The present bias is towards mechanical engineering, though other branches of technical work such as building construction, electrical engineering and automobile engineering are envisaged in the future” (p.183).
What is clear in the foregoing is that the bias in education favoured whites in terms of acquisition of skills. There was a clear separation between knowledge and skills, starting from secondary school. Theory alone has never been known to build nations, and white governments were aware of it. Which is why more emphasis was on practical skills gained through exposure and premised on talent. The African was excluded from this system.
The same Guide indicates that: “It has been mentioned that high schools provide for Europeans. There is as yet no proper secondary education for Coloureds and Asiatics, though a modest start in Bulawayo is planned for 1952” (ibid: 177).
Sixty-two years after settler occupation, there was no secondary school for coloureds and Asiatics, and certainly no high schools for Africans. Having been robbed of their heritage; the land and all that it stands for, indigenous people were excluded from the European heritage of knowledge; yet their own traditional knowledge systems were destroyed, or captured through colonial apparatus, like Christianity.
At the level of colonial education the African “was not to be given education that would enable him to compete with the white man . . . the European children were to be given the best possible education to keep their position of influence and power” (Chigwedere, 2001:3) over the African.
So, if the idea was to have an exclusionary system of education that would keep the African down, then, University of Zimbabwe (University College of Rhodesia) which opened its doors in 1952, when there were no high schools for blacks, was not meant for Africans. The curricula used was simply for propagation of white supremacy, and demonisation of the indigenous people and their cultural values.
Even when doors were opened for blacks through a bottleneck system, they were restricted to such careers that would not make them compete directly with whites. Theirs were supervisory roles in support of white capital. Yet Africans prided themselves in acquiring such knowledge which did little in changing the welfare of their lot.
To buttress the above rationale, Godfrey Huggins, known for institutionalising apartheid in Rhodesia when he became Prime Minister in 1933, delivered a speech on March 30, 1938 in which he said: “This (good education) is essential if our children are to be given equal opportunity for progress and keep their position of influence and power. It will prevent the creation of a poor white class.
“Constant adjustment will take place and the result should be a system of education Rhodesian in character, and essentially suited to our own requirements (Chigwedere, 2001:3).
Huggins just about summed it all. Whatever the system was, it was not suited to the African’s requirements. It is this glaring disparity meant to “keep the nigger running” which has been ignored by those who lambast black farmers as lacking in farming knowledge and such other skills. Agriculture, engineering and mechanical education institutions were not open to Africans.
When whites realised the essence of the land as a means of production, they deliberately closed out blacks from agricultural institutions like Blackfordby. The native was meant to be a labourer, who “will more and more tend to settle down with his master and remain on with his master’s son when he takes over and so on—permanent servants in the employ of the estate” (H.U Moffat, Rhodesia Prime Minister cited in Chigwedere, 2001:2, arguing for the 1930 Land Apportionment Bill in the Rhodesian Parliament).
Thus, the African was reduced to a perpetual labourer willing to remain in the employ of white capitalists for more than 20 or 30 years with the belief that he is being done a lot of good. Deprived of freedom to make career choices, which condemned them to the farms and factories as labourers, gardeners, housemaids or nannies, blacks were divested of opportunities that come with the acquisition of skills.
It is not loyalty that keeps one working in a capitalist setup that pays fodder to keep him/her going, no. Rather, is a culmination of oppressive segregationist policies, which, however, political independence alone can never adequately address.
The imperialist’s presence is still felt in the administrative apparatus of the new governments that cannot wean themselves from the imperial power because of neocolonialism. The education system, economic impetus and social cohesion are still under the tutelage of alien powers. Nothing much has been done to shift to the new world.
Notwithstanding their ability to transcend colonial limitations to acquire more skills, Africans remained tractor drivers and factory workers for 30 years or more, and be happy to be given ploughs, wheelbarrows and bicycles as part of their pensions.
They were raised to believe that without the help of the white man, they are nothing. They were expected to live simple lives as automatons with their simplicity starting in the brain. Baas was supposed to think for them.
The black African should not aspire for more; he simply has no capacity to achieve more, neocolonial supremacists convince themselves. He simply has to do what he is told by “Big Brother”; and it is this that sustains him. In the end, as white capital accumulates those trained to work toil for crumbs and leave nothing behind for their descendants, thus creating a vicious cycle of degree hunters willing to sacrifice every dollar for pieces of paper that do not translate to tangibles.
Having been programmed to copy and paste workloads in an attempt at changing outcomes, today’s graduate finds himself/herself not only incompetent due to lack of practical skills, but willing to work for almost nothing in a world too practical to be driven by theories.