Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times: The Case for Sierra Leone

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times: The Case for Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

Abstract: Critique of colonial and postcolonial education in Africa as perpetuating cultural and intellectual servitude and devaluation of traditional African cultures has led some African intellectuals to call for a re-appropriation of pre-colonial forms of education to rediscover the roots of African identity. But precisely how can African traditional forms of education be re-appropriated for this purpose while at the same time responding to the requirements of living successfully in postcolonial and global times? The author of this article posits that re-appropriation of African traditions should not be an appeal to an allegedly "better" past to which we nostalgically return instead of responding to the world as it comes to us. Tradition, it is argued, exists only in constant alteration; tradition can be rethought, transmuted, and recreated in novel ways in response to the meanings and demands of emergent situations. Drawing on the Akan concept of Sankofa (meaning "return to the past to move forward") and the postcolonial notion of hybridity, the author creatively re-appropriates some indigenous educational traditions of her ethnic group, the Mende of Sierra Leone, to theorize curriculum and pedagogy for Sierra Leone in postcolonial, post-war, and global times.

INTRODUCTION

Since the decade of independence in the 1960s, much has been written about how best to facilitate nation-building in Africa after European colonization. As education is generally regarded as the key to national development, proposals for nation building have included the reform of inherited educational systems which were erected to maintain the colonial social order and which continue to function to foster neo-colonial dependency, promote elitism, and inadequately prepare individuals for living successfully in their communities and in a rapidly changing world. Paramount among these reform proposals has been the call to re-appropriate African indigenous educational traditions that were marginalized or dismantled during colonial rule in Africa. Proponents of this call over the last forty years have included: Kofi Busia, who criticized colonial schooling in Ghana for separating students from the life and needs of their community; Ali Mazrui, who links contemporary education in Africa with a rural-urban divide; and more recently Elleni Tedla and Apollo Rhomire who describe both colonial and postcolonial education as perpetuating cultural and intellectual servitude and the devaluation of traditional African cultures. [1] But precisely how can African traditions be re-appropriated for education that is grounded in the continent's past while at the same time meeting the demands of living successfully in postcolonial and global contexts today?

In this article I attempt to address this question in the case of Sierra Leone. I draw creatively on the Akan concept of Sankofa (meaning "return to the past to move forward") and examples from the Mende ethnic group to re-think and re-appropriate some traditional African educational values and social organizations that were neglected or dismantled during the height of British colonial administration in Sierra Leone. This period is generally understood as spanning the late nineteenth century until the late 1950s when, for reasons of military and economic exploitation, British imperial grip on her African colonies tightened and education (curriculum and pedagogy) assumed greater significance as an arsenal in this exploitation. Sierra Leone and the Mende are the very country and ethnic group that comprised the cornerstone of British educational experimentation in Africa.

Sierra Leone was founded as a settlement for freed slaves in 1787 after the demise of legal slave trading. It was taken over as a British crown colony in 1808 but British control did not extend into the hinterland of the country until the closing years of the nineteenth century when a Protectorate was declared in Sierra Leone in 1896. …

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