Colonial residues in education

The pros and cons of colonial legacy in Africa and Asia. Was education the significant factor in sending the “Asian Tigers” on their way, while most of the African colonies sunk into poverty?

Discussing former colonies, Hassana Alidou’s (2004) states, “Political independence does not necessarily lead to educational or economic independence” (p. 195). We can especially see how former colonial powers has continued its economic influence through The World Bank’s structural adjustment programs in the 1980s and on. As the Human Capital Theory (HCT) linked education with economic growth, controlling and influencing national school system became more important. Not surprisingly, Tan (1997) notes that, “the first signs of a major reorientation in education policy appeared in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War” (p. 303). This was when the field of development truly accelerated, and as soon as education was seen in connection with national growth and development, schools became battlefields for power struggles. Now, several good things can be said both for HCT and Western influence on education in the Global South. For one, it brought legitimacy and validity to expansion of national education…

However, I see the (post)colonial influence on education as bittersweet: one on hand increased availability and the establishment of secondary and tertiary educational institutions, but on the other decreased local autonomy and relevance.

With roots in the colonial system, the school system is often hierarchical and didactic, undermining the value of local languages and ways of life

In Palestine, for example, the restriction of access to education has been a way to control the population, both through limiting access to higher forms of education, and by threatening teachers and students. The Israeli policy on targeting education as a method of punishment was first seen during the second Intifada (Abu-Saad & Champagne, 2006).

In much of post-colonial Africa, Western influence has brought about the establishment of universities, and a massive expansion of public schooling. However, as Alidou (2004) points out, all these improvements have been built with European templates and languages. With roots in the colonial system, the school system is often hierarchical and didactic, undermining the value of local languages and ways of life.

Unlike Africa, a lot of Asian school systems opted for national languages of instruction and locally relevant textbooks. Indeed, we learn from Tan’s (1997) article that Hong Kong and Singapore both made efforts to localize the curriculum. Could this choice be the reason “The Asian Tigers” prospered, while large parts of Africa suffered from negative economic growth?

Abu-Saad, I. & Champagne, D. (2006). Introduction: A historical context of Palestinian Arab education. American Behavioral Scientist, 49(9): pp. 1035-1051.

Alidou, H. (2004). Medium of instruction in post-colonial Africa. In J. W. Toellefson & A.B.M. Tsui, (Eds.), Medium of instruction policy: Which agenda? Whose agenda? NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum (pp. 195-214).

Tan, J. (1997). Education and colonial transition in Singapore and Hong Kong: Comparisons and contrasts. Comparative Education, 33(2), 303-312.