The concept, “education” can be defined and interpreted in many fashions, styles and ways as per situations. For this article, let us borrow two definitions from two prominent scholars. Akinpelu (1981), a Nigerian philosopher maintains that in the African context, to talk of an educated person is to describe one who combines expertise with the soundness of character and wisdom and judgment and one who is equipped to handle successfully the problems of living in his or her immediate and extended family.
Africans had their education systems that were relevant to their needs and further developed tertiary education as this can be demonstrated by the establishment of Timbuktu University in Mali around 1200 A.D. The University produced scholars of high reputation and knowledge like Ahmed Baba Es Sudane who devoted his time to learning until he surpassed all his peers and contemporaries. He was a matchless Jurist, scholar and Imam of his time. His academic reputation spread all over Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. Like Socrates, he stood on truth in the face of the Amirs and Kings who persecuted him.
He had a library of 1600 manuscripts, which were plundered during the Moroccan invasion of Timbuktu when he was deported to Fez, Morocco in 1593. He authored sixty books on theology, grammar, history and Jurisprudence; more than what Shakespeare had written. This account demonstrates that there have been great thinkers at tertiary level in Africa too. The ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu University are proofs of the talents, creativity and ingenuity of the African people and serve as a living testimony of the highly advanced and refined civilisation in Sub-Sahara Africa, as Timbuktu flourished as the greatest academic institution before the European Renaissance. There could be factors that have brought some tertiary education systems into disrepute and phobia in the corridors of power:
The colonial legacy
Instead of continuing with the development of tertiary institutions, the colonisers saw education at that level as a challenge and threat to their exploitation of Africa and her resources. As a result, many African countries did not have universities, let alone graduates in important fields at the dawn of independence. Yes, there have been significant changes and numerous graduations in the tertiary curriculum and universities over the years from the dawn of independence, but the syllabus remains theoretical and to some degree irrelevant.
As Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1981) a renowned Kenyan scholar and world acclaimed writer, asserts that the process of colonial education annihilated people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves.
He added that colonial education made the colonised see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and wanted to distance themselves from that situation. Colonial education created a sense of wanting to disassociate with native heritage and affected the individual and his or her sense of self-confidence. But after so many years of nationhood, African education systems should have improved for the better and restore the image of the African.
The political stint
Bowles and Gintis (1977) argued that formal schools reproduce and serve the interests, values and personality characteristics necessary in a repressive capitalist society. They further assert that education systems reinforce class inequalities in societies. High school status communicates to their students the distinctive values and attitudes required by high-status occupations in both outmoded and modern capitalist societies. Students in poorly-funded schools end up in lowered collar jobs. They further maintain that formal schools have never created equality of opportunity nor to reform schools to cater to all classes of society.
In agreement that formal education is widening the gap between the rich and the poor is Illich (1971) who maintains that schools have become a serious social problem by giving futile promises to the poor of a technological age. This scenario epitomises the Namibia education situation, where the current elite who were in the forefront fighting for educational equality are sending their children to better schools in South Africa and abroad leaving the poor ones fending for themselves.
It becomes a vicious cycle where the better educated ones eventually take over the reins and positions of power previously held by their parents. The poor ones had to struggle to secure a bursary or scholarship and upon completion of their studies had to fight to get employed in their country of birth with abundant resources. Equally, one disturbing factor is the phobia against intellectuals by the power that be who fail to tap from the local tertiary expertise because of mistrust. Local intellectuals are always viewed as threats when they are supposed to be utilised to the benefit of the country. In addition, it has been a culture in Africa of universities to have presidents as chancellors for their unknown insecurity reasons. It has been so, even when the sitting presidents have never set their feet in tertiary institution lecture halls out of reasons beyond their control.
Tertiary institutions themselves
Many tertiary institutions are structured in such a way that they are forced to follow a well planned programme dictated by the power that be. The reason is clear, that these institutions are funded by governments. However, the missed point is that the funds governments allot to tertiary institutions are taxpayer’s money and should be appropriately accounted for. Therefore, dissertations and theses filling up spaces in the libraries should seek to address genuine African’s socio-economic and political challenges. Even the so-called sensitive areas which students are not allowed to venture into should be opened to students. It should not be reminiscent of the apartheid era where certain books were out of bounds for university students. Over the centuries, great thinkers challenged the then world order and took the bull by the horns and developed the world technologically. Time has come that the world should read African inventions and literature from all angles. However, this can be achieved if African governments prioritise by allotting more money to universities for research. Unfortunately, the funds intended for noble work of research sometimes end up in someone’s pocket.
In many universities across the globe, professors are treated with respect and rarely go on retirement because of their reservoir of research, knowledge and wisdom. These professors are referred to as emeritus professors. Local tertiary is losing professors as they force them to leave upon cloaking 65 years. In the process, the institutions lose continuity in research and publications of great value. Because of the loss of these academicians, institutions find it difficult to replace them and as a consequence delay the students’ supervision and graduation programmes. Academicians should not be treated like civil servants because tertiary institutions create knowledge through research, which assists in solving recurring challenges in Africa and beyond. Kenyatta University for example allows their intellectuals to retire at 75. Universities in Africa should have been at the forefront of research and development but because of double standards of the political leaders, have failed to achieve such undertaking. On one hand, the politicians are calling for developments but despise the intellectuals who can serve as the harbinger of development.