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History and Outcomes of Colonial Education in Africa

Each year thousands of young Africans graduate from colleges and Universities and still some find themselves unemployed or underemployed. Yet, most parents still dream of their children obtaining a quality education and often they sacrifice their wealth in the pursuit of this goal. Something is going wrong in our education systems and the outcomes of this education. Our African economies have tremendous growth potential and many countries are reporting positive economic growth. However, the new graduates are having difficulty in finding purpose and meaning to their degrees in these economies.

Many of our African economies are primarily agriculture based. However, we find more graduates in all other fields than agriculture related skills and training. How is it that we can have such a glaring mismatch? Why do we continue to perpetuate the colonial system where it seems less than 20% of the students who enter grade one will make it to an institution of higher education and actually use their education on their job?

The colonial education system was created for the new settler governments. The few Africans who became educated in these systems were primarily to aid white settlers which is why most became clerks and so forth in supporting roles. Yet, we still use the same education systems that oppressed us to educate a free people.

History of African Education under Colonialism

Ghana

One of the greatest mistakes of the education in the part has been this, that it has taught the African to become a European instead of remaining African. This is entirely wrong and the Government recognizes it. In future, our education will aim at making an African remain an African and taking interest in his own country. – Sir Gordon Guggisberg (Governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1920)

In spite of what Sir Gordon Guggisberg said in 1921, the colonial administration established Achimota College in 1927 where only European textbooks where used. Students learned European Geography and history and were never exposed to their local stories.

Over the years, as I went through college and university, I felt increasingly that the education I received taught me more and more about Europe and less and less about my own society.- Dr. Kofi Busia, Prime Minister of Ghana 1969-1972.

The earliest schools for Africans included, Achimota College, Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, Makerere College in Uganda, and Lovedale in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and in Malawi. By the 1930s, only these four schools offered education that could ensure entrance into University. The Free Church of Scotland which had established Lovedale, also founded Fort Hare University College. Between 1923 and 1936, an average of four students per year obtained degrees at Fort Hare. On average two or three students were granted degrees by Fourah Bay College which worked in conjunction with the University of Durham.

Nigeria

Many other Africans sought to further their studies abroad. By 1913, there were about seven doctors working in Nigeria who had been trained in England. In the 1920s, there were approximately sixty lawyers working in Sierra Leone and Nigeria who had trained in London. Between 1905 and 1940, about 12 black students from French West Africa obtained University degrees and by the 1920s there were only two black lawyers practicing in that region. More Africans were influenced to study in the United States because of American missionaries in South Africa and Kenya. In the early part of the century, more than 150 black South Africa, some Maasai and Nigerians went to study in the United States. However, a good number focused on religious studies. In the 1930s, a number of Africans studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania including Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah who later became Presidents of their own countries. Many of those educated abroad eventually contributed to the struggles for self-government and national independence.

Rwanda and Burundi

In Rwanda and Burundi, like in most countries in Africa, most schools during the colonial period were run my missionaries who regarded education as a primary means of evangelizing to spread their Christian faith. In the 1930s, the Catholic Bishop, Leon Classe negotiated a school contract that would keep the Belgian colonial administration out of schools and allow the Catholic Church to assume responsibility for the entire education system. In turn, the Catholic Church received 47 francs per student and 600 francs per teacher. The church perpetuated the government’s preference of Tutsis over Hutus setting the groundwork for the resentment that resulted in the genocide. The Catholic Church chose Tutsis over Hutus and all government positions were to be reserved for the Tutsis. Bishop Classe believed that Hutus still needed just enough education so they could work in mines and industry. Until 1956, the only way a Hutu could receive higher education was if they went to a Catholic seminary to become a Priest.

In spite of the church’s role in oppressing Hutus, the first Rwandese to receive a kind of University degree was Anastase Makuza who graduated from the Centre Universitaire of Kisantu (Congo) in 1955 with a degree in political and administrative sciences. His application for a post to work in government  and for the Institut pour la Recherche Scientifique en Afrique Centrale was turned down because he was not Tutsi. He finally landed a job as a typist in Kibuye. As more Hutu became educated they found it frustrating that they could not secure employment just because of their tribal heritage. In March 1957, the Hutu published the Hutu Manifesto, a document which challenged the prevailing social and economic system in Rwanda at the time.

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