Over the years, the power of education to affect a nation's development has been debated. Most scholars agree that education correlates positively with national political and economic development. Thomas Jefferson understood this very well when he emphasized the need for education to develop an enlightened citizenry for American democracy. In this decade of globally expanding democracy, the vital role of education in providing a second chance to African nations seeking democratic government cannot be overestimated.
For more than a century and a half, African nations-with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia-were under the yoke of European imperialism. While the advantages and disadvantages of this colonialism continue to be debated, many Africans will always see it as an unforgivable rape. It is not surprising that the winning of independence by many African nations in the late 1950s was accompanied by high hopes for freedom and great expectations for self-government. Unfortunately most of Africa's emerging nations instead plunged into severe political, socio-cultural and economic turmoil that encouraged military interventions in the form of coup d'etats.
Military leaders have always criticized what they see as the corruption, violence, inexperience and fraudulent politics characteristic of most African civilian democracies-though the military themselves usually end up engaging in the same politics and vices they have criticized. Consequently, most African nations have shifted back and forth between three types of government systems: democratic, semi-democratic, and authoritarian. Today, only a few African nations can be categorized as truly democratic, while a majority are in transition toward democracy. Ramsey describes the strength of African nations' commitment to democracy as ranging from strong (solidly committed to the creation of a more democratic political system) to moderate (formal commitment to a democratic transition and preliminary steps toward institutionalization) to ambiguous (stated commitment to democracy with unclear agenda).1
In this decade of immense global challenges, African nations will need to revamp their educational systems if they are going to prepare their children and youth for effective participation in the emerging democratic process. Research suggests that the failure of African founding leaders to muster the discipline and sophistication vital to sustaining thriving democracies stemmed from their lack of political education.2 Some contend that the poor political education of Africans was the fault of colonizing powers. Thus, it is argued, the newly independent nations of Africa were set up for failure right from the beginning.
The Legacy of Colonial Education
European colonizers, particularly the British, did not extend participatory democracy to Africans in preparation for their future self-government. The British adopted the "indirect rule" system in which they exerted authority through indigenous chiefs or local authorities. This conveniently avoided opportunities for democratic process through local elections to village councils. Moreover, the British instituted an educational system that was monoethnic and indoctrinating. For instance, the school curriculum consisted exclusively of British and European history, geography, and literature. So-called citizenship education emphasized moral education and explicitly taught respect for colonial authority and laws, and allegiance to the colonial and home governments.
With meaningful political or citizenship education lacking among the crop of educated Africans, it was no surprise that, upon attaining independence, most Africans lacked the knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential to leadership and followership in a democracy. Ikejiani elaborates on this point:
In nations which have newly gained their independence it is important that any advancement in economic productivity be accompanied by a development of those political skills and knowledge and those democratic and human ideals which will enable the people to assure not only the just distribution of the goods the economy produces but the widest availability of other social and human advantages which a modern economy makes possible. New nationhood and political democracy have demands of their own to make upon the education of a nation. Any nation overlooks such demands at its peril.3
For newly independent African nations, the failure to heed Ikejiani's warning led to devastating reality when all experienced political upheavals, some of them resulting in bloody and costly civil wars. Some African social studies educators have suggested that the political turmoil of the 1960s may have occurred because of the failure of uninformed politicians to understand the democratic process.4
Put simply, colonial education, before and after independence, failed to promote national consciousness, integration, and unity within nations. One of the major legacies of colonial administration was the sowing of seeds of ethnic discord. The Berlin Conference and Treaty of 1884-85 formally shared out "spheres of influence" in Africa to European scramblers who had little or no sensitivity to the sociological composition of groups. To compound the situation, colonial administrators used a "divide and conquer" strategy that heightened ethnic groups' differences and contributed to the rivalries that have plagued many African nations over the years. Developments resulting from the changing character of these nations have also compounded the situation.5
A Case in Point: Nigeria
Nigeria is a complex multiethnic nation with great diversity in language, religion, value systems, lifestyle and traditions among its people. Nigerians tend to have a greater psychological identification with their ethnic groups than with their nation-state. They identify themselves as northerners, easterners, and westerners, or more specifically, as Hausas, Ibos, Yorubas, Efriks, and Edos.
The we-they syndrome is a pervasive manifestation in every aspect of Nigerian society, and this ethnic chauvinism takes root at an early age. Children are socialized within their ethnic enclaves, where they learn primarily about their own cultures and develop stereotypes about other ethnic groups. Consequently, they grow up to be ethnocentric, and to care only for those who come from their world. Ethnicity is also a strong factor in the political process, in hiring practices, and in individual social and upward mobility. The "brother me" syndrome, also known as "parapoism" or "tribalism" and analagous to use of the "grandfather clause" in the United States, is a continuing reality.
Numerous early studies of Africans' nationalistic attitudes revealed high levels of ethnocentrism.6 These attitudes remain basically unchanged today. For instance, when Nigeria attempted to make a transition from a decade-long autocracy to democracy in 1993, its presidential election fueled ethnic feuding. In the resulting chaotic atmosphere, erratic movements of peoples back to their places of origin for safety became rampant. The situations in Rwanda and Burundi are similarly rooted in ethnic rivalry.
Historians inform us that people who fail to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat the same behavior. As African nations move toward democracy, it is crucial that educators begin teaching the young ways to transcend ethnic chauvinism and become reflective and concerned citizens. A sound social studies education program for contemporary Africa must increase student understanding of the democratic process, strengthen respect for multiethnic diversity, and foster a value system that includes respect for human life and dignity. Such education must begin in the here and now and not wait upon the full attainment of democracy.
Social Studies for a Democratic Africa
The practice of communal socialization of the young is found in all African societies. Through formal and informal institutions-such as oral history, festivals, folklore, rites of passage, and other ceremonies-the young have traditionally learned the art of cultural citizenship. Nevertheless, for most Africans, social studies as a school curriculum is a post-independence phenomenon.
The foundation for a relevant social studies program for the nations of Africa was laid by the African Social Studies Programme (ASSP) in the late 1960s. An historic milestone in this endeavor was the Mombasa (Kenya) Conference of 1968, which gave birth to the ASSP. The Mombasa Conference addressed issues of social studies goals, definition, and instructional practices. Unfortunately, its overall outcome was to have little or no effect on schools.
Many factors have contributed to the ineffectiveness of social studies education in Africa. These include the lack of an integrated social studies curriculum, poorly prepared teachers and inappropriate instructional approaches, the lack of adequate materials, and the low priority generally given to education. Unless a major effort is made to remedy the above situation, African nations will be unable to educate students to participate in democracy.
Educating African students for democracy must be dramatically different from education for life in a traditional society. The nations of Africa today exist within an ever-broadening and interdependent human community. Social education for democratic and global citizenship must be transformative and address the challenges.
Implementing a Citizenship-based Curriculum
It is critical that African educators approach social studies as an interdisciplinary curriculum area. African nations are part of the new information age, which demands that educators everywhere jump disciplinary fences and develop broader perspectives. The social studies curriculum must draw upon the various social sciences, the arts, and the humanities, and allow for the integration of knowledge, skills, and values. Important concepts-such as unity, ethnicity, equity, diversity, nepotism, sexism, democracy, politics, justice, human dignity, tradition, and citizenship-must become the focus of social studies education. This is essential in order for students in new and emerging democracies to transcend their ethnic pespectives and to identify with the welfare of the nation-state.
An integrated social studies program must focus on cultural as well as democratic values. African children and youth need to be reawakened to the once-cherished values of integrity, hard work, communalism, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice that characterized pre-colonial Africa. Okafor, romanticizing the African values of generosity, hospitality, and communalism, observed that in traditional Africa it would be considered inappropriate for affluent Africans to live in luxury while poor Africans went to bed unfed.7 Unfortunately, in contemporary times, many Africans have been caught in the world of materialism and individualism, and as such have become thoughtless and uncaring. Social studies education must foster a curriculum that instills in the young a spirit of communalism and discourages the competitive spirit.
Preparing Teachers to Transform Society
Teachers in emerging democracies must become transformative intellectuals who are not only knowledgeable about the social studies, but committed to its role in societal change. Kaltsounis argues that it is crucial for teachers to understand and commit themselves to democracy if they are to promote democratic attitudes and behaviors in their students.8
The urgent need to overhaul teacher education programs cannot be overstated. Skills for developing conceptual/thematic/interdisciplinary units must become integral to the pedagogical repertoire. The approach to teacher training in countries like Nigeria, wherein student teachers take detailed courses in limited areas of study (e.g., history/geography, history/economics, or history/English) with no exposure to other social sciences and liberal arts discourse, must be reexamined.
Practicing teachers need access to educational scholarship about the social studies, the learning process, and human development. Most public school teachers in Nigeria see active learning as finished upon completion of an educational program, and make little or no effort to update themselves with new knowledge. This is my personal observation as an elementary and secondary social studies teacher in Nigeria. African social studies associations, including the ASSP, must make teacher quality a top priority in their agenda for democratic education.
Developing Innovative Teaching Strategies
Instructional strategies for helping students become effective citizens of a democracy must be drastically different from what Freire describes as "banking education," that is, education where students passively absorb, memorize, and regurgitate low-level information.9 The sedative approach of lecture-recitation that has dominated African classrooms since colonial times must change. Innovative strategies-such as inquiry-based teaching, hands-on experience, individual and group projects, cooperative learning, open discussions, simulations, debates, case studies, and community activity-are needed in the social studies classroom.
Given the present realities in most African nations, a pedagogical approach that stresses critical thinking is vital to helping students become conscious of their social environments and of knowledge itself. The rationale is that when students engage actively in the construction of knowledge, they become more understanding of themselves, of the complexities of social life, of the idea that society itself is a social construction. Hopefully, this new awareness will arouse both a sense of obligation to others, and a belief in the individual's capacity to create a more just and hospitable society.
In addition, students must be offered opportunities to engage in age-appropriate community issues and projects. Instruction in most African schools has disregarded the importance of community activity. While many factors account for this, a principal one is the undue pressure from administrators and parents who seriously believe that "doing activities" is a waste of students' time. Fafunwa, reflecting on his personal teaching experience, writes:
At one point, the course ran into trouble... some parents came to report to the principal that I was wasting their children's time, and I was utilizing the time their (children) should be boning up for the school certificate examination in purposeless (experiences); I then realized that many Nigerians' conception of education was myopic.10
Yet, the African environment is rich in opportunities for student involvement in citizenship projects.
Creating a Positive Classroom Climate
Traditionally, the climate in African classrooms is one characterized by rigidity, unilateral teacher authority, fear, sarcasm, repression, and intimidation designed to create passive and loyal students. Again, this observation is based on my personal experiences as a student and teacher.
African teachers have been socialized to believe that the classroom is their kingdom. Consequently, they demand absolute control of students' behavior and learning. Most teachers believe that to maintain order, they must strictly control the class. Moreover, in Africa, teachers have traditionally been regarded as the custodians of cultural values and attitudes. Reverence and deference toward elders and authority figures, teachers included, is a strong part of the African value system which teachers feel obliged to uphold.
African teachers are also guided by the popular adage that "familiarity breeds contempt." Teachers believe that if they develop close and positive relations with their students, they will lose the high respect and loyalty they are accorded. These beliefs or assumptions tend to prevent teachers from developing authentic relationships with their students, let alone creating conditions that are conducive to a psychologically and socially safe classroom environment.
To prepare students for emergent democracy, African teachers must act as transformative intellectuals who model democratic values and behaviors in their classrooms. Teachers must learn to communicate the openness, warmth, and respect for their students that can signal to students that they are valued.
Obtaining Adequate Resources
Educational goals may be sidetracked when necessary resources are not available. Most African teachers face classrooms with few or no instructional resources, from the basics of quality textbooks and supplemental references to newspapers and audio-visual resources. Ironically, while schools and libraries in Western societies are replete with children's literature about African cultures and values, such materials either are not available to African teachers or have not been recognized as useful in the classroom.
To facilitate student learning about democracy and global citizenship, teachers must learn to take advantage of such rich community resources as elders, traditional story tellers/historians, royal palaces and other historical sites, art galleries, and newspaper publishers. As African societies become transformed away from their traditional character, involving community members in the education of the young has the added advantage of rejuvenating traditional values and bridging the gap between school and community.
Designing Authentic Assessment Strategies
Historically, most African educational systems have placed great emphasis on formal testing of student knowledge of subject matter-a carry over from colonial education. The West African Examination Council's terminal, promotional, and exit exams are typical. These tests emphasize the regurgitation of low-level factual information. The grades that students earn are considered to reflect on the teacher's effectiveness and the school's academic image. Consequently, and quite understandably, teachers find themselves concentrating their energy on teaching to the test.
For instance, in Nigeria, the use of the West African Examination Council's "question and answer" pamphlet has become the curriculum. The pressure for high test scores affects the level of flexibility possible in both teaching and learning. The trend toward alternate authentic assessment-through use of individual and group research projects, written and oral presentations, discussions, checklists, portfolios, observation, and anecdotal reports-could free teachers from the rigidly structured pedagogical approach now dominant in most classrooms.
As we approach the twenty-first century, the winds of democracy are sweeping across the globe. African nations are looking forward to a second, or in some cases a third, chance at experimenting with democracy. Can thriving democracies become a reality in Africa? Only if there is an enlightened citizenry that supports them.
African governments need to make quality education a top priority. This commitment must be reflected in adequate funding to train pre-service, and to retrain incumbent, teachers. Governments must also provide quality books and supplemental materials for classrooms.
African educators must also demonstrate commitment. Social studies associations in the various African nations must make strong efforts to revamp the curriculum and to delineate realistic and positive goals for their subject. They must discover effective ways to educate classroom teachers in the concepts of democracy and global citizenship, and in teaching practices that are conducive to the development of democratic attitudes in their students. Most importantly, social studies educators at all levels need to recognize their own transformative roles in encouraging democracy in the nations of Africa.
1. J. Ramsey, "Africa Demos" in Global Studies: Africa (Connecticut: Dushkin Publishing, 1993).
2. F. Ogunsheye, "Nigeria" in J. Coleman, ed., Education in National Development (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965); M. Maryfield, Social Studies Education and National Development in Selected African Nations; A. Griffith, "Social Studies for Nation Building: A View from a Developing Society" in The Social Studies (July/August 1990), 161-165.
3. O. Ikejiani, Nigerian Education (Ikeja: Longmans of Nigeria, 1964), 27.
4. Ikejiana, Nigerian Education; P. Ekeh, "Citizenship and Political Conflict: A Sociological Interpretation of the Crisis in Nigeria" in J. Okhahu, ed., Dilemma of Nationhood (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Co., 1972); B. Fafunwa, New Perspectives in African Education (Lagos: Macmillan, 1967); Ogunsheye, "Nigeria."
5. W. Schmidt, "A Legacy of Hate Feeds Conflict in the Modern World" (New York: New York Times Service, 1994).
6. N. Onuoha, "The Role of Education in Nation Building: A Case Study of Nigeria" in West African Journal of Education 19, 3 (October, 1975); O. Klineberg and M. Zaralloni, Nationalism and Tribalism among African Students (Paris: Mouton, 1969).
7. F. Okafor, Africa at the Crossroad: Philosophical Approach to Education (New York: Vantage Press, 1974)
8. T. Kaltsounis, "Democracy's Challenge" in Theory and Research in Social Education 22, 2 (1994), 186.
9. P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury, 1970).
10. B. Fafunwa, Up and On: A Nigerian Teacher's Odyssey (Lagos: Academy Press Limited, 1990), 1990.
Nelly Ukpokodu is an Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. Originally from Nigeria, she has worked as a social studies educator in the public schools of Nigeria and Kansas.