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Jan 25, 2019 in Analysis

African Colonial Education


Indigenous African Education existed before the coming of missionaries who introduced the western type of education. According to these missionaries Africans, were uneducated. They forgot the fact they came from two different societies with different backgrounds, customs and values. What they considered of value was useless in the face of these Africans.African education was largely considered informal. Some missionaries went to the extent of concluding that Africa had no history on their traditions and customs since they lacked written records, and this was with the exception of Egypt, which had a rich history. This paper will discuss traditional Africa methods of education. It will also discuss their characteristics, strength, weakness and their five philosophical bases.

Since Africans had no written history, it was not convincing enough to say that they had no education, content and method to pass to the younger generation. Knowledge transcended from generation to generation.  Information was preserved in the form of songs, tales, poems, proverbs, games and dances (Mungazi 12). African Education was integrated with religious, social cultural and artistic way of life of the ethnic community. The learning was based on the occurrence of activities in the community.  One was taught how to operate within the political, social, economic and cultural realm of the society. The education process was initiated from birth and continued to adulthood, and it was a lifelong process where one progressed through the various stages to the end. The education that was given focused on a certain age set requirements; the youths were prepared to take up different roles and responsibilities in the community. 

Young girls were prepared take up the roles of a wife, mother and other sexual related responsibilities (Mungazi 46). Young boys were taught to be hardy as the roles played by a man were tough. They were expected to be future leaders, as well as security for the community. They learned to be hunters and gatherers, warriors, raiders and farmers depending on ethnic inclinations. There were no physical classes as it is the case with the colonial education system. The formal education system requires one to choose a specific field of study and concentrate on it (Mungazi 53). While African traditional education was more open to the social way of life. It used a more holistic approach in the upbringing of a child, that is; the education was all round in terms of nurturing and molding character, spiritual and moral upbringing. In this paper, we are going to deeper into the characteristics, methods of learning, strengths and weaknesses of traditional African education.

There are several characteristics of traditional Africa education. First and foremost, the indigenous African education was community oriented. It focused its efforts towards the well-being of the community (Summers 30). People of different age sets would be gathered together to receive knowledge that was meant to make them better people of the society. They were equipped with lifelong knowledge that would enable them tackle the different problems faced by the community. It was channeled for the common good of them all. It laid emphasis on the importance of acquiring knowledge useful for the wider society.

It imparted solid information on how to survive. Different members of the community were given survival tactics in different situations. The boys who were hunters and gatherers were taught on the different animals and birds that were edible. They were also given information on the kind of fruits and roots to look out for in the forest. The girls were taught on how to cook different meals, the kind of food to give to their children (Summers 27). They were also shown the kind of trees that produce the best firewood.

The education system was illiterate and was passed by word of mouth. Africans were not familiar with the art of writing before the coming of the colonialists. Everything that was taught was done informally by word of mouth. The knowledge was kept in the in the head and relied of the memory of elders. The instructions were delivered through songs, dances, proverbs and riddles. At other times, the young fellows would watch and follow what their elders did.

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The education was also practical. The young boys and girls learned by practicing what they were taught. The boys were taught on the different ways of holding and throwing weapons such as arrows, spears and other crude weapons (Summers 38). They would then follow suit and practice throwing the weapons. The girls were shown how to hold babies, build hats, tie firewood and cook. The best way they would become good in all these activities was through participation and execution of what they learned. The skills learned enable them to live and function well in the community.

African traditional education was functional. The values and skills that were imparted to the lives of these young ones were so relevant to their way of life. They reflected the current social, economic and political conditions of the community. The skills were applicable for a long and short term meaning they were learning what they experience every day. In some communities, for example, the Bena, they included compulsory subjects that were to be learned by everyone who is part and parcel of that community. They included topics on agriculture, animal husbandry, law, history, fighting and religion. Those who excelled were rewarded and appointed as teachers, warriors and guards.

The skills learned were not examinable. The young adults were considered as graduates once they are in a position of putting into practice the skills imparted on them. At times, this called for communal celebrations to encourage the young people. African Traditional Education was built on five philosophical bases which were:

1) Communalism - African education was built on fundamental principles of love for the community. They believed that everyone was responsible for making life happen in the community the way it should. Education brought people closer to one another. They had a common spirit for work. For example, they would cultivate a common piece of land and subdivide the harvest among themselves (Mungazi 86). A member of the community would instill discipline to someone’s child simply because he regards the child as his own. Children back then belonged to the society, and everyone had a role shaping the child.

2) Multiple learning - It was a holistic learning experience as a learner would come out with different skills. There were multiple skills to be learned and practiced. They believed in diversification, and there is no limit to what skills you can acquire.

3) Preparationism - The knowledge instilled to both boys and girls was to prepare them for responsibilities of the future. They were expected to undertake various roles as men and women of the community respectively. These are major tasks that require proper preparation to handle them. Tribes like the Maasai of Kenya and Wanyamwezi of Tanzania taught their girls to be good mothers by executing their roles to their children and husbands. The boys were prepared for various roles as husbands, fathers, Security for families and as breadwinners.

4) Functionalism - in here, education was offered for immediate absorption of the graduate into the real life of the community. This was evident in the subjects of fishing, canoe making, iron smelting and agriculture.

5) Perennialism - African traditional communities used education as s tool for maintaining the status quo of the community. To some extent it limited the thoughts of young people since they were conserved to the ideologies of their communities. They learned very little about other societies. The learners were expected to be passive as they listened from those who knew. They were not given the chance to contribute their ideas. This indeed hampered their creativity in a big way.

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People learned important lessons through what they lived. The methods that were used were similar as they were all action oriented (Summers 64). It was already planned right from childhood to adulthood for kids to acclimatize to their environments. Children mimic what their parents and so they would imitate the actions on their parents. Adults set examples to be emulated by the young people. Boys would learn fishing, hunting, games and dancing from elder men. Young women would learn how to perform different house chores from elder women. Oral literature was also used as a method to reach out to the children, in most evenings; they would sit around the fire as the elders narrate different stories. The stories would instill fear to the children and would help in shaping their attitudes and behavior. They would in turn follow instructions as directed. Social and initiation ceremonies were also used to teach the young generation. Boys or girls were put in seclusion after attaining puberty. Men were taught the value of hard work and fending for their families as women were taught to be submissive and how to take care of their families. They were also cautioned on different things and advised to abandon childhood behaviors as they were now adults.

Strengths of indigenous education

Indigenous education gave every member of the society some work to do, children were equipped with skills that would make them self-sufficient, and they would utilize their physical environment to reap maximum benefits from it. With the skills, they would become productive members of the society. African traditional education was important in maintaining the economic, political, economic and cultural structures of the society (Sen 70). People were taught to adhere and respect their culture; they were also cautioned against any external influences that would erode their loyalty. They were imparted with skills that would help in preserving their heritage. The system taught them to take pride in their culture and origin.

Learners acquired communal attitudes and behaviors that went a long way in promoting the spirit of working together. They would use the acquired skills and knowledge for the service of the society at large. In wars, warriors would fight to protect the entire community. They trained together and kept communal secrets of their clans. They would sing songs to encourage each other for a particular community affair.


African traditional education also had its limitations. It exposes women as a source of labor for the community. They are discriminated against and are never involved in decision making. During the initiation when there is segregation, men were taught home management skills while women learned skills that were considered less relevant (Sen 72). They were involved in activities like masonry, fishing and building. The women place in the society was the homestead as caretakers.

The education system was linear. It denied the young people the chance of deliberating on various discussions as they were considered inexperienced. They were supposed to listen and internalize the teachings. This led to slow growth of the society since their creativity, and innovative attitude was hindered (Mungazi 84). As a result, no major strides in terms of development would be realized. People brainstorm ideas that can have a great impact in any society.

It gave little or no space to cognitive intelligence; it limited the members of the society to what they know leaving very little room for that extra thought. To the Africans, every situation either good or bad was largely attributed to the will of God. If only they tried to be a little bit reasonable, they would have gotten some answers to so many unanswered questions.

The system lacked a proper method of storing accumulated knowledge and skills (Mungazi 89). It solely relied on the memory of the elders. Lack of documentation made it difficult to be transferred from one generation to another. The knowledge was strained for a particular clan. People would not go past the borders to enrich themselves with different information. It only taught relevance thought to the community. It also gave zero tolerance to challenges from the learners. It was against active participation of learners.

African Traditional Education played a pivotal role in laying the foundation for what is now modern education that was brought about by Colonialists. Learning by practice is encouraged by the modern education system. It is what gives them first-hand experience in a certain field. It also prepared learners for duties in the society. Modern education prepares students to enter into the job market in search of work (Summer 92). It played a great role in influencing the creation of a problem-solving and friendlier education system that gives room for creativity and innovativeness.


The African indigenous education system is an effective mode of learning that gives skills and knowledge that reflects the cultural, social, political and economic needs of the community. On the other hand, it had its woes, it was gender biased and limited the process of democracy. All in all, it managed to impart knowledge to members of different communities and made an impact in their livelihoods. As societies grew bigger, there was a need to adapt to the education system that reflected the needs and demands of the people. The African education system was gradually broken with the adoption of the colonial education system.

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