Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Educating the "Native": A Study of the Education Adaptation Strategy in British Colonial Africa, 1910-1936

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Educating the "Native": A Study of the Education Adaptation Strategy in British Colonial Africa, 1910-1936

Article excerpt

This essay discusses how examinations were used as an "adaptation strategy" beginning in 1910 when British examinations boards were invited to assist with the conduct of secondary school examinations in colonial territories in Africa. Although adaptation covered all aspects of formal schooling, this study focuses on secondary education because of its importance as the highest level of education available, and its significant impact on colonial society at the time. Much of recent literature on the adaptation question has focused on the various levels of schooling beyond basic village education in rural areas. (1) The essay examines the responses, particularly in Nigeria, to the suggestion that secondary education should be "adapted to local needs," and the results of the adaptation efforts, culminating in the introduction of the "Overseas School Certificate Examination" for Nigerian candidates in 1936.

The foundation of Western education in Africa was laid by Christian missionaries who were eager to use literacy training to introduce Christianity and win converts to their religion. (2) The missionaries also used Western education to train Africans as catechists, messengers, and other positions needed to assist them in realizing the social and economic development and transformations desired by the European missionaries and their agents. Merchants and traders also required qualified personnel to handle their business transactions. Thus after considerable consultations between the Church Missionary Society (CMS), founded by the Church of England to promote evangelization, and the local merchants and traders, the first secondary school in Nigeria, the Church Missionary Society Grammar School, was founded in Lagos in 1859. (3)

It is by no means surprising that the first secondary school in Nigeria was established by the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Its secretary from 1841 to 1872, Henry Venn, firmly believed in the development of adequate human resources, and that the school must be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating, and should employ African personnel. (4) The African commercial and business elite also required personnel that was well-trained and equipped to handle political and economic transactions between Africans and outsiders involving record keeping and correspondence regarding the exchange of European and African goods and services. (5) Africans also gradually began to recognize the advantages and the attractions of post-primary education, especially the increased salaries and wages, and improved conditions of service. Historian Andrew Paterson has observed that in South Africa, "Africans perceived education to be an alternative source for economic security in a time of land dispossession." (6)

In a quick succession, additional secondary schools were established by the CMS in various parts of Nigeria, and by other missionary organizations, including the Baptist Mission, the Catholic Mission, and the Wesleyan Methodist Mission, beginning in the 1870s. The Qua Iboe, the Primitive Methodist Society, established secondary schools mostly in Eastern Nigeria starting in 1922. Secondary schools also gradually began to spring up in various other parts of Africa, as community colleges, high schools, and secondary grammar schools, often in cooperation with Christian missions that provided the teachers, the curriculum, and the necessary contacts; however, the local communities provided the buildings and raised funds for these educational services. (7) This was the background to the establishment of various mission schools in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, ethnic-based secondary schools such as Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife; Edo College, Benin City; and Imade College, Owo began to sprout up to attend to the various needs of communities and individuals eager to take advantage of the new opportunities for advancement and promotion in the new society that emerged with the coming of the missionaries and the colonial administrative bureaucracy. …

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