In a video clip that has gone viral, a critical thinker (probably Zambian from the examples he gives) expresses his dismay over the sort of education Westerners introduced in Africa. He charges that it is an education that moves learners from practice to theory. He further argues that it is an education system that does not promote thinking, but remembering.
The arguments are very captivating and thought provoking. He says our doctors are just a little more than Panadol distributors.
It is true that our education system needs extensive overhaul to remain relevant to the needs of society. It is also true that some of its aspects, which may at first glance appear to be useless, are actually quite important in the preparation of the human rescource our society needs.
We may not use the knowledge that Sezangakhona was the father of Shaka Zulu or that the Nile is the longest river in Africa in our day to day lives, but the system that imparted that knowledge to us should have made us capable of gaining other, more useful knowledge.
The schools that I attended did not offer any music lessons, but using the education system that I had picked up from them, albeit unconsciously, I was able to learn how to read music on my own. Today, I can pick up any hymn book whose hymns are presented in musical notation and I will be able to sing any song, even the ones that I have never heard before.
When I was studying in the United Kingdom, it was once announced at the church which I was attending that those interested in becoming part of a choir to back a Gospel musician who was about to launch his album should register their interest. I did.
At our first meeting, booklets containing the music (appropriately notated), about fifteen pieces in all, were distributed. We were told to study the music at home and come back a week later. No effort was made to teach us the music; every one of us had to learn it on their own. The actual performance was on a grand scale. In fact several performaces were staged, the final one in the famed Royal Albert Hall.
The point is that I was able to mingle with those who had studied music in school even though I never had had such a chance. The best education is that which will produce people that will be able to pick up relevant knowledge as they move through life.
It is not possible for any education system to impart all the knowledge that all the learners will require in their lives. For one thing, that will be an infinitely vast array of knowledge as every individual takes a unique path through life. There is not such a thing as one size fits all in matters of practical knowledge. For another, knowledge hardly remains static. By the time learners finish their courses, a good proportion of the knowledge they will have picked up will be obsolete.
In standards two to five, I learnt a number of poems that I still remember today. I have never used “Cats sleep anywhere, any table, any chair…” in my career, but learning the poems provided the opportunity to exercise the young mind. That is one of the things a good education should offer.
Just like physical exercise, the manner of an exercise is usually not the same manner as that in which the intended benefit will manifest. A boxer, for example, will jog and will spend time on the treadmill, but neither of these has any direct remblance to boxing.
Knowing and remembering that Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa has no resemblance to medicine, but as the young learner absorbs this knowledge, his/her brain develops such capacity as will one day be useful for them to remember and think through complex medical procedures.
A useful education system will whet somebody’s appetite for more knowledge. My seemingly simple Standard Seven science launched me into a deep passion for astronomy and space science. Later in life, I quite literally flew off on a tangent to get as much information as possible on this subject. If this country were the United States of America, I would most probably seek a job at NASA.
Searching within our educational systems, we should make sure that the following ingredients, discussed in this article, are present: they must lend themselves to logical interrogation; they must prepare the learners for self development; they must give the learners the hunger for more knowledge and must exercise the learners’ minds adequately.