The Story of Africa


- Towards independence


- French and British colonial styles


- Gold Coast to Ghana


- The Nation State


- Case studies Guinea and Algeria


- Case studies Kenya and Congo


- Education


- After independence



Ancient learning

A teacher attends to students
The oldest institute of higher learning on the continent of Africa was al Azhar University founded over a thousand years ago and dedicated to a broad range of Muslim studies. In Timbuktu there was a flourishing university in the 16th century. The hunger for knowledge was great all over the continent. Of all the things that Europeans had to offer, education had been the most prized in Africa.

Just as the Muslims of the north of the continent brought with them Koranic schools, so did the missionaries set up Christian schools. But while the Koranic schools for many centuries restricted their curriculum to religious texts, which meant working exclusively in Arabic, Christian schools taught in European languages and soon broadened their curriculum to take in more than the Bible and the liturgy of the different Christian denominations. A number of Muslims then took to attending both Koranic and Christian schools. Some Muslim schools organised broader curriculum to take in western subjects, but generally Christian and Muslim educationalists remained apart.

Everywhere, education became a key to change and self-improvement. In Angola, the Portuguese authorities took fright at the surge of ambition. In 1901, a law was passed stipulating that anyone wanting to be a telegraph operator had to pass exams in Latin and geography; Angolans were then unable to apply because these subjects were not taught in Angola.

Primary schools and universities

Thirst for education
"The Katikiro (Prime Minister of Buganda, Apolo Kagwa) spoke and told the people how we wanted to learn to do work of all kinds, and wanted teachers; teachers both of the Gospel and also of handy work of all kinds - carpenters, smiths, builders, traders in cotton goods and other things, brickmakers and coffee planters. After he had finished, everyone clapped their hands and cheered." - Ham Mukasa, secretary to the Apolo Kagwa, quoted from his book Sir Apolo Kagwa Discovers Britain, recording the visit of the Prime Minister of Buganda to Britain, in 1902.
At independence, governments were torn between providing more primary education and creating more universities and graduates. Only a minority of people in the continent had received primary education. Even Ghana, which next to Ethiopia had the highest level of primary education in Sub Saharan Africa, had a glaring contrast between the number of schools in the north and the south of the country.

In 1961, African leaders met in Addis Ababa to come up with a policy for not only expanding education but making it more relevant to the African child:

"African educational authorities should revise and reform the content of education in the areas of the curricular, textbooks, and methods, so as to take account of the African environment, child development, cultural heritage, and the demands of technological progress and economic development, especially industrialisation." - UNESCO report quoted in UNESCO General History of Africa Volume VIII.

A year later delegates met to discuss higher education at university level.

Higher learning

Before World War II there were very few institutes of higher learning in Sub Saharan Africa. Young Africans had been sent to Europe for education since the 16th century when the son of the King of the Congo went to study in Portugal. Within the continent, Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone stands as one of the oldest colleges of further education, founded in 1827, with an academic reputation which extended throughout West Africa. The first women were admitted in the 1940's, led by Lati Hyde Forster, who went on to be principal of the Annie Walsh Memorial School.

Liberia College was founded in the 19th century and Fort Hare in 1916 under the name of the South African Native College.

"Our history struggled through the white man's version of the so-called Kaffir Wars, the Great Trek, the struggles for control of South Africa and we had to give back in our examination papers the answer the white man expected." - Z.K. Matthews lawyers and graduate of Fort Hare, quoted by Leonard Thomson.

In 1921, Makerere was founded as a Technical College, becoming University College Makerere in 1937. It was affiliated to London University and achieved independent university status in 1963. Lovanium College was established in 1949 in the Congo, although none was admitted until 1954. Ibadan University was opened in 1948, also affiliated to London University.

In all cases, girls' education lagged somewhat behind that of the boys. The earliest girls school on the continent was probably the Annie Walsh Memorial School founded in 1848 in Freetown Sierra Leone.



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