'It Brought Some Kind of Neatness to Mankind': Mass Literacy, Community Development and Democracy in 1950s Asante

By Skinner, Kate | Africa, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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'It Brought Some Kind of Neatness to Mankind': Mass Literacy, Community Development and Democracy in 1950s Asante


Skinner, Kate, Africa


ABSTRACT

This article is concerned with mass education in late colonial Ghana. The first part examines how people in the Ashanti Region interpreted and responded to a policy that was conceived in the period of power sharing between an African nationalist legislative assembly and a civil service that was still dominated by British expatriates. Literacy campaigns and related community development activities were shaped by the expectations and ideals of the Asantes who participated as learners, tutors, volunteer leaders and salaried employees. Mass education was popular partly because new skills, techniques and materials could be used to pursue older ideals about enlightenment, progress, cleanliness and good character. Government policy indicated that literacy campaigns and community development activities would help to build democracy from the grassroots, yet, in spite of its popularity, mass education remained beyond the control of elected local government. The later patt of this article focuses on the smalltown of Kwaso in order to establish why this was so and what one local resident was able to do about it.

RESUME

Cet article traite de l'enseignement de masse au Ghana a la fm de la periode coloniale. Dans une premiere partie, il examine l'interpretation et la reponse des populations de la region Ashanti a une politique concue au cours de la periode de partage du pouvoir entre une assemblee legislative nationaliste africaine et une fonction publique toujours dominee par des expatries britanniques. Les campagnes d'alphabetisation et activites communautaires connexes etaient determinees par les attentes et les ideaux des Ashanti qui participaient en tant qu'enseignants, tuteurs, animateurs benevoles et salaries. L'enseignement de masse recueillait une large adhesion populaire, en partie parce qu'il permettait d'utiliser des aptitudes, des techniques et des materiels nouveaux pour servir des anciens ideaux en matiere d'instruction, de progres, de proprete et d'integrite personnelle. La politique gouvernementale precisait que les campagnes d'alphabetisation et les activites de developpement communautaire contribueraient a batir une democratie de la base; pourtant, malgre sa popularite, l'enseignement de masse a toujours echappe au controle du gouvernement elu local. Dans sa derniere partie, l'article se concentre sur la petite ville de Kwaso pour etablir les raisons a cela et s'interesser a l'action d'un resident local en reaction.

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Upon its election victory of February 1951, the African nationalist Convention People's Party (CPP) set about implementing its manifesto commitment to 'a planned campaign to abolish illiteracy' (Austin 1964: 130). Unlike the CPP's plans for the extension of fee-free elementary schooling, the Plan for Mass Literacy and Social Welfare commanded cross-bench support from newly elected African politicians in the Legislative Assembly, and it was voted through unanimously, to the acclaim of both pro- and anti-CPP newspapers. The Plan was drafted largely by expatriate civil servants and it reiterated many of the orthodoxies on education, development and democracy that were expressed in Colonial Office blueprints for Africa (ACEC 1943, 1948). Mass mother-tongue literacy was seen as a vehicle for increasing the rationality of Gold Coast villagers, and thus their receptiveness to a range of expensive governmental interventions in public health and in the formal education of children. The Plan also anticipated that mass education campaigns would serve as a force for social cohesion. Young school leavers, it argued, were inclined to 'rebel against the dullness and squalor of village life' (Gold Coast 1951: 5) by drifting to the towns in search of scarce white collar jobs. The Plan envisaged that community development activities would reduce rural-urban migration by improving sanitation and infrastructure, and increasing villagers' opportunities for novel and educative leisure activities.

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