Barbados should listen to Dr Rodney

Dr Walter Rodney in 1973 wrote,"Education is crucial in any type of society for the preservation of the lives of its members and the maintenance of the social structure. Under certain circumstances, education also promotes social change. The greater portion of that education is informal, being acquired by the young from the example and behaviour of elders in the society. Under normal circumstances, education grows out of the environment; the learning process being directly related to the pattern of work in the society. Among the Bemba of what was then Northern Rhodesia, children by the age of six could name fifty to sixty species of tree plants without hesitation, but they knew very little about ornamental flowers. The explanation is simply that knowledge of the trees was a necessity in an environment of ‘cut and burn’ agriculture and in a situation where numerous household needs were met by tree products. Flowers, however, were irrelevant to survival.

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Indeed, the most crucial aspect of pre-colonial African education was its relevance to Africans, in sharp contrast with what was later introduced. The following features of indigenous African education can be considered outstanding: its close links with social life, both in a material and spiritual sense; its collective nature; its many-sidedness; and its progressive development in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of the child. There was no separation of education and productive activity or any division between manual and intellectual education. Altogether, through mainly informal means, pre-colonial African education matched the realities of pre-colonial African society and produced well-rounded personalities to fit into that society.

Some aspects of African education were formal: that is to say, there was a specific programme and a conscious division between teachers and pupils. Formal education in pre-colonial Africa was also directly connected with the purposes of the society, just like informal education. The programmes of teaching were restricted to certain periods in the life of every individual, notably the period of initiation or ‘coming of age’.

The colonizers did not introduce education into Africa: they introduced a new set of formal educational institutions which partly supplemented and partly replaced those which were there before. The colonial system also stimulated values and practices which amounted to new informal education. The main purpose of the colonial school system was to train Africans to help man the local administration at the lowest ranks and to staff the private capitalist firms owned by Europeans. ( I would like to stick a pin in the article at this point and ask that the reader think about the education system in Barbados and what it has been and still is producing.)

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In effect, that meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole. It was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social resources. It was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instill a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist. Education in Europe was dominated by the capitalist class. The same class bias was automatically transferred to Africa; and to make matters worse the racism and cultural boastfulness harboured by capitalism were also included in the package of colonial education. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment."

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I was three years old when Dr Rodney published " How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" and for me this text still speaks volumes about our present situation in 2017. A number of Barbadians have read Dr Rodney's work, some have studied it at the university level, still this predominantly African descended society has failed to act upon the solutions presented within the problems clearly defined in this book. Have Black People really taken a hard look at their social and economic positions as African descended people in Barbados? Have they even tried to address on a national level the repercussions of an Eurocentric education and value system in Barbados? What exactly is the education system in Barbados doing for its people? This writer is of the opinion and suggesting that the work of Dr Rodney be introduced into Barbadian schools as early as possible.

It is hoped that those reading this article will be further inspired to read " How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" and I would add to that title, Africans internationally. If you have read it and know its value to Africans and African descended people today please encourage a young person to read it.

I am challenging you to get just one young person to read this book. Form a study group with your community youth groups and dive into the words of Dr Rodney. Teachers reading can form their own reading groups and introduce this literature to their students in many different ways.

Maybe if we turn on some lights, the coming generations may see their way better.

Walter Rodney 1973

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa



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