- Education in Africa is more advanced than we think, maybe even more advanced than that of Black America, and with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda pushing for Swahili to be Africa’s national language the sky is indeed the limit.
Let’s begin. Zimbabwe was regarded as having the best educational system in Africa in 2017 with an outstanding literacy rate of 90.7 percent, the highest in Africa. In the urban areas instructions are in English with Shona and Nadebele (a collection of different languages spoken by the various tribes) taught as subjects. In the rural areas, students are taught in their native tongues but transition to English by the third grade. The apartheid legacy had left its mark on Zimbabwe’s education system with formerly white, private Group A schools being far superior to Black schools but over the first 25 years of independence the country’s population of over 13 million have seen incredible strides in school expansions, teacher training and resource improvement. Today there are seven public universities as well as four church related universities that are fully internationally accredited. In South Africa now, education is compulsory through ninth grade. They have the National Senior Certificate exam (NSC) on completion of twelfth grade and this gives access to higher education. In 1953 the white South African government passed the Bantu Education Act which was meant to segregate education between whites on the one hand and Blacks, Indians and colored on the other. It’s purpose was to limit educational opportunities which would impede upward mobility and direct non-whites into unskilled labor. Today they say that the school system is still failing Black South Africans but the country’s end-of-school exam known as the Matric is steadily rising. The highest level of pass, the NSC, enables students to pursue a university degree. Despite its name though many students who have the top pass scores are still turned away from universities because they do not meet the minimum admission points for a degree program. This is a problem that they say needs to be rectified. Nearly all of the teachers in South Africa’s Black public schools have four year qualifications but a lack of teacher content knowledge remains an obstacle in the provision of quality education in South Africa. In Nigeria the basic educational system consists of six years elementary and three years junior secondary school. The basic curriculum include English, mathematics, Arabic studies, Nigerian languages, cultural and creative arts and pre-vocational studies. Because of colonial ties, the United Kingdom has been a favorite destination of study for Nigerians. Approximately 17,973 Nigerians studied in the U.K. in 2015 but with a regionalization in African student mobility Nigerian students are more likely to study in the African continent. Ghana has recently overtaken the U.S. as the second most popular destination for students attracting 13,919 Nigerian students in 2015.** It is recorded that in 2017, Senator Shehu Sani representing Kaduna Central in Nigeria wanted the inclusion of the history of the slave trade in Nigeria’s school curriculum. He said “we must teach the history of slavery to our young ones… It is distressful and disappointing to see our young people being taught history according to how Europeans wrote it.” His bill subsequently passed the first reading in the Upper House. In America. Despite gains in academic achievements the performance of African-American students still lag behind that of whites and Chinese. Black students did not begin to enter predominantly white schools until the late 50s to early 60s. The issue of civil rights and education made international headlines with the Little Rock Nine in 1957 where a group of nine African-American students enrolled in the Little Rock Central High School after the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Their attendance was a test of the Brown v Board of Education argued by the late Supreme Court stalwart Thurgood Marshall; a landmark Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. In 2010 then President Obama issued an executive order stating that the government, private sector, non profits and other groups would work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to provide high quality education to a greater number of Black students. Then in 2012 Obama signed another executive order creating the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans which was intended to improve the educational achievements of African-Americans and make sure they’re given the opportunity to complete high school and college and embark on a productive career. Sadly, too often Black students, especially males, have been placed in special education classes and school funding structures that lead to under funding and under resourcing and have further widened the achievement gap. Another problem is getting rid of the “school to prison” pipeline. Too many school administrators are aggressively and unfairly removing Black and Hispanic youth from their schools, labeling them as difficult and barely giving them a chance to learn from their mistakes. Also I remember speaking to a young African-American lady in 2018 here in downtown Long Beach while waiting for the bus and she told me that her son was studying from books dated as far back as 1985! In America! But behind every dark cloud there’s a silver lining. Billionaire investor Robert Smith offered to pay off the student debt for the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College estimated at a whopping US$40 million. Wonderful news because now the graduates can concentrate on getting top notch jobs without having the burden of working to pay off crippling student loans. There’s still a long way to go with improving the educational system for Blacks in America but with steady determination and hopefully next year a new government that’s willing to heed the cause of a disenfranchised section of the population, more lasting and most importantly PERMANENT headway will be made. **UNESCO Institute of Statistics Dorrette G. Young [Featured Image: NEW ORLEANS, LA – MAY 27: Students take the Terra Nova standardized test in the Ruby Bridges room of the Akili Academy in New Orleans on May 27, 2014. The room is named for the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in the south. Bridges attended the school when it was named William Frantz Elementary School. Akili Academy in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans will be absorbing some students from the city’s closing public schools. (Photo by Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post)]