Google+ Authentic Parenting: Unschooling Africa: a Viable Solution to sub-Saharan Africa’s Education Problem?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unschooling Africa: a Viable Solution to sub-Saharan Africa’s Education Problem?

When it comes to education, sub-Saharan Africa is tagging way behind. Education in these regions falls behind for numerous reasons, leaving a lot of people without the necessary skills to survive in an ever globalizing world.

The failing of sub-Saharan African’s schooling system is caused by many factors. Here are some of them, but there are a great deal more:

School in Gambia, Aurimas Rimsa on Flickr

  • unstable governments: politics for the betterment of the personal wallet instead of the people, which causes education to be inconsistent to say the least
  • lack of resources: Schools depend on the students to bring their own supplies, but since many of them are very poor, the supplies are very basic and few
  • lack of funds: Mostly schools are dependent on tuition to cover costs, but for the general population, these tuitions can’t be very hight, so teachers don’t get paid, there are no supplies and facilities are minimalist
  • No skilled teachers. The failing of Sub-Saharan’s school system is a sobering downward spiral, where you end up in a situation where there is no knowledge to pass along.
  • Based on inviable models. Sub-Saharan countries have often simply copied the school system that was installed by the colonist, without making the necessary changes to adapt to their country’s reality
  • Huge classrooms: since there are so little teachers, and so little money to go around, you end up with a huge student count per teacher, which leaves no room for individuality and generally ends with students just repeating what the teacher says.


From the perspective of the families, sending a kid to school can generate a number of problems:
Schools are often remote, causing children to walk for miles twice a day, or having to stay in boarding schools - which is a big cost for families. Some families resort to schooling only one of their children, most often the boys.
The schools do not offer supplies, so again schooling a child is a big bite from a family’s finances when they have to pay for tuition, books and supplies.
If after overcoming all these thresholds, a child does end up in school, teachers often do not turn up because very often they are not remunerated.
Families don’t see the use of schooling, they think it is best that their child learns to work the land and get more instant results from their efforts as a parent.

So far we have only talked about factors that limit children’s chances of getting to school, and reasons why the organization of the educational system causes trouble. We haven’t even started discussing the quality of education, or what exactly is being ‘taught’, because that would be too lengthy a discussion. Let’s just leave it at the fact that - considering all the above - quality of education is at an epic low.

Learning however is essential to survival in the word. A child should acquire the skills he needs later in life to eventually earn a living to sustain himself (and his family). How this learning occurs is completely open for discussion, but the fact remains that there are some skills the child needs to obtain.

Until colonization, African children were rarely schooled. Only a happy few - those chosen by faith or destiny - would be mentored by the sjaman - the local witch doctor. Other children would learn the skills needed to live from watching the elders of the tribe and from gradually participating in them, as soon as they were developmentally ready for it. Even though such traditional learning did not involve schooling, it cannot be compared to unschooling, because the question of freedom is one to be doubted, and a lot of the passing on of knowledge depended on gender, social class and other rigid structures, sprung out of tradition. It would have been a very continuous life, with little room for change, where young children ended up doing things exactly in the same way their ancestors did.

This worked perfectly until sub-Saharan Africa was first being raided for slaves and tradable goods and later colonized; and a window onto the wider world was opened. Suddenly, the village was disrupted and global economy lured. First, villages thrived from trade with merchants, with products such as Ivory, palm oil, wild rubber, spices and slaves.
Much later, many a young man and women got drawn into the cities into what seemed to be a better life, to the lure of wealth and stature and knowledge. Younger generations coveted jobs in firms and the traditional learning that had continued since the dawn of men suddenly found itself lacking. After the colonists had left, they had bereft the countries of a steady education system, often taking skilled and learned countrymen with them, thus robbing the country of the knowledge it needed to maintain the structures that had now been installed.
The village elders simply did not have the skills that were required in this newly introduced world. And often, tribes had become scattered due to the migration of people, the stealing and selling of slaves, and the acquisition of house personnel. Writing, foreign languages, computers, advanced maths, physics... you name it, they weren’t included in traditional learning before they were introduced by the colonists. Neither had they been necessary up until that day.

Now we can discuss the negative effect of colonization as much as you want, the fact is it happened, there is no way to turn it around again and the people of these regions find themselves highly affected and stuck in a situation with little hope for the future. Many Sub-Saharan countries are actually on a downward slope.

Image: hdpcar on Flickr
It becomes clear that unschooling the way it is applied in the Western World, with parents acting as guides and using existing resources is something that does not work in these parts of the world. Simply because parents do not have the skills or the resources necessary.
However, some parts of the unschooling idea seem very appealing when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa’s situation:

  • unschooling can basically be free or at least very low cost
  • there is no need for teachers
  • there is no government designed curriculum
  • unschooling can go on no matter the situation the country or the children are in (unless they are of course living in fear or danger)
  • children do not have to be grouped in a central point or school


So maybe an adapted version of unschooling may be the solution to sub-Saharan Africa’s problem.


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