In 1924, there arrived in this country a man who was widely known and believed to be the best educated African. His name was James Kwegyi Aggrey. He was from Ghana then known as the Gold Coast. He came as a member of the Phelps Stokes Commission on African Education in Eastern Africa.
In addressing students at missions in Blantyre, Likoma, Likuni, Livingstonia and Nkhoma, he said among other things that nothing but the best is good enough for Africa. He said the same thing elsewhere the commission visited.
At that time, missionaries who were the main providers of education held the view that all an African needed was primary education to enable him to get a job as a clerk, train as a medical assistant or become a police constable.
The African was believed not to be ready for higher education. Books were written to make sure an African was given an education just as good for him. There were books such as English Grammar for African Schools, Tropical Africa in World History, Agriculture for African Schools.
No matter how intelligent an African student might be, there was no policy of sponsoring him for higher education. The education he was being given at home was the best for him.
In certain circles, it has been said time and time again that Africans who go to study in universities abroad acquire an education that is not relevant to the problems of their countries. Therefore, the curriculums, syllabuses and textbooks should be devised to be in the best interest of African students. By and large there is reason in this. But if we are not careful we may be reviving the colonial days’ slogan “this is good enough for the African.”
What has prompted me to write on this topic is what I have observed in the past 10 years or so regarding the curriculum and textbooks for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE). Certain subjects such as life skills and social studies strike me to be too easy to adequately exercise a student’s mind. Besides, why do we not replace business studies with economics, a more demanding subject? It is offered at the International General School Certificate of Education (IGSCE) which is assumed to be the equivalent of MSCE.
While books and materials constituting literature in English ought to originate with the people of Africa, we must not overdo this otherwise our students will be excluded from the best of the world literature.
Preferably, besides anthologies of short stories and poems written exclusively by Africans or about Africans, students should read anthologies of the best world short stories and poems and essays.
In case of short stories, students should be exposed to masters such as Anton Tchekov of Russia, Guy de Maupasant of France, O.M. Henry of the United States of W. Somerset Maugham of Britain.
In case of poetry, extracts from the Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith, The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge or Hiawatha by H.W. Longfellow could improve students’ minds. That which is the best for the world is also the best for Africa.
If MSCE is to be accepted as the equivalent of the IGCSE, there must be evidence that students exert as much effort in learning its subjects as those who study for IGCSE or equivalent courses of other countries.
In this age, knowledge and technologies as ingredients of economic development have become more indispensable than before. This is because the world has shrunk into a global village. We are in competition with every country that manufactures the same products as we do or produces the same commodities.
In the quality of our education and technology, we must at least be as good as those with whom we compete; otherwise we remain the cinderella of the world. Aggrey was right that only the best is good enough for Africa.
More than half a century ago, I asked my former classmate at Blantyre Secondary School Matthew Kayusa if Henry Chipembere had retained his position at the top when they were studying for the Cambridge School Certificate at Goromonzi Secondary School in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. “Oh no, only once did he come top. The boys there work very hard,” said Kayusa.
I have lived in Zimbabwe only for one week while attending an annual book fair in Harare. I know Zimbabweans mostly through contact outside their country. I have developed admiration for their character.
Recently, I had the honour of receiving an envoy of Zimbabwe and Malawi. From him, I learned that Zimbabwean civil servants have high respect for time in an appointment. If an appointment is for 11.30am, you will find the Zimbabwean civil servant there waiting with a file in front of him. This may seem a simple thing to do, but people of other nationalities have often accused Africans of having no sense of learning.
Since they gained their independence in 1980, Zimbabweans have adhered to some pillars of democracy more faithfully. n