• July 16th, 2020

Reclaiming indigenous knowledge in Namibia’s post-colonial curriculum

Indigenous knowledge is what Burger (1993) defines as the local knowledge that is unique to a particular culture or society. It is also known as local knowledge, folk knowledge, people’s knowledge, traditional wisdom or traditional science passed from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals. It has been the basis for agriculture, food preparation, health care, education, conservation, moral values and the wide range of other activities that sustain a society and its environment in many parts of the world for many centuries. 

It is argued that the Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) in Africa has been lost and relegated to the social and political doldrums of history due to the Western education system. The main argument is that the Western education system has assisted in eroding IKS to such an extent that it is almost extinct.

Consequently many African theorists today believe that there is a grave risk and danger that much indigenous knowledge is being lost and, along with it, valuable knowledge about ways of living sustainably both ecologically and socially. This is brought about by the physical and psychological invasion which colonization brought about in many African countries. As a result many communities now hold that indigenous knowledge is outdated and irrelevant in the current situation in terms of developmental issues as Nyathi (2005) argues that Africans embrace European “official knowledge” without a qualm and because of its influence, they have lost their “identity” and are now “confused”. 

The confusion has been brought about by what Lamb (1990) and Hochschild (1998) lament as mistreatment, misunderstanding and misreporting of the African continent over many years by colonizers who felt it was just a piece of  land, occupied by worthless inhabitants. However, contrary to this mentality is that Europeans when arriving in Africa, encountered indigenous states with their own cultural settings, which they disrupted.  Equally, during the colonial period (1885 – 1989) Namibians witnessed many years in which their lives were dehumanized by the German and South African colonial masters in keeping with European racist arrogance.

Notwithstanding this negative attitude towards IKS, many African elders and indigenous knowledge practitioners view it as a sine qua non of imparting desirable values, attitudes and form a strong foundation of new knowledge acquisition. An important task undertaken by the new Namibian government in 1990 was to fast-track educational access for the majority of the Black population whose education had been largely ignored over time by the combined influence of missionary and colonial regimes that had imposed themselves and their values on African tribal life in the country. Given the background of education in Namibia, African indigenous knowledge was condemned and marginalized. This situation gave Westerners (i.e. missionaries, colonialists and settlers) not only political but also ideological power. Putting this differently, for over a century African children were denied the opportunity to receive a kind of education which was relevant to and consistent with their cultural setting. Yet, rather disappointingly, even after independence in 1990 and despite some attempts to reform education, the curriculum in Namibia has essentially remained Eurocentric. What this means is that sadly ideological power has not as yet completely been transferred to indigenous Africans in Namibia, similar to what Altbach (1977) has described as ‘servitude of the mind’. 

Altbach makes the convincing point that in post-independent Africa, education serves the neo-colonial interests of the political elite who, instead of transforming education, have merely adjusted it to suit their needs as a weapon of power and social control in tune with a Eurocentric framework. 
Bowles and Gintis (1977) equally argued that Western formal schools reproduce and serve the interests, values and personality characteristics necessary in a repressive capitalist society. They further maintain that a Western formal education system reinforces class inequalities in societies. Namibian schools have not been exceptions to this rule after thirty years of nationhood. Evidently, in line with the Foucauldian dictum that knowledge is power, there is need for fundamental reforms in Namibian education so that, ideologically, power can be returned to the African masses. This is an important point to emphasise because the current format of education in Namibia has failed to address the specific needs of the African masses. If indeed further curriculum reform is to be undertaken soon, indigenous knowledge should feature prominently in that reform agenda. 

In the context of further educational reform in the future there is need to acknowledge how perverse Eurocentric education has been to African education, particularly as far as the curriculum is framed and how schools, perhaps unwittingly, are the conduit of information, which promotes Western culture and the ideals it entails at the expense of African traditional culture. Educators, policymakers and educational technocrats need to make a conscious decision to nurture indigenous cultural knowledge by making fundamental changes to the curriculum and schooling (i.e. philosophy, pedagogy and practice) – only then will, real power return in the hands of indigenous communities. 

Staff Reporter
2020-03-02 07:38:48 | 4 months ago

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