Here’s my Friday Tot for today. Ponder.
Africa is far behind the world in virtually all the indices that matter. This has not always been so. I did a quick scan of Europe before the year 1000 and compared to the existing African societies of that time. There was not much of a difference in the level of technology (especially evident in weaponry), the quality of life of the people and the level of bloodshed and warfare going on. However, from around the 12th century, a divide began to appear.
The greatest collection of books since the destruction of the Library of Alexandria was found in the Sankore University in Timbuktu before the 12th century. However, this university was more of an exception in Africa, and there was no formal way of passing on accumulated higher knowledge to the next generation of scholars in Africa. The first wave of universities in Europe appeared around the same time the Timbuktu University was founded – in the early 1000s. Between 1000 and 1300, there were fourteen universities started in Europe as opposed to the one in Africa. It is not surprising therefore that the first Renaissance in Europe started in the 12th Century, whereas there was no such thing in Africa.
A Renaissance basically involves the explosion of new knowledge in science, governance, the arts and other spheres of living that generally lifts the standard of living and the productive capacity of a people. Hence, there is usually a direct correlation between them and the flourishing of learning centers. The next renaissance in Europe started in the 14th century and lasted till the 17th century. It is not surprising that between 1400 and 1500 in Europe, forty universities were founded. In Africa, we still retained our single one in Timbuktu. It will not be surprising to the observant reader that the Renaissance started in Italy because fifteen of the fifty universities founded in this 700year period were in Italy.
By the 17th century, the gulf between Africa and Europe was even greater. But this was not the end. The accumulation of the wealth of practical knowledge in Europe for a 700year period from 1000 to 1700 culminated in the Industrial Revolution which began in 1760 in England. By this time, Europe had left Africa in the dust of ignorance, and we haven’t been able to catch up. It is one of the reasons why Africa is usually the last to get integrated into most things that the rest of the world has begun to take for granted. It is the reason degrees from Nigerian university aren’t recognized in many parts of the world.
The Asians learnt this lesson well, and were more interested in knowledge espionage from the West than anything else, sending their professors to camouflage as houseboys for erudite western professors in order to understudy them and get the precious knowledge.
We sadly are yet to understand that this is the genesis of our lagging behind the rest of the world today. We simply do not place a premium on education in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular. Our curriculum, faulty from the start (designed by colonial masters to produce low level workers) has barely evolved since then; it is a disgrace. When our young people graduate, it is with zero knowledge that is applicable to the real world in most cases. There is a huge disconnect between what is taught in schools in Africa and what the real society needs. Rarely do African universities solve real world African or world problems through research. Even our ancient University of Timbuktu of the 1000s was better than us in this regards. In those days, the Mansa of Mali would give the Islamic scholars in the university practical problems from ancient Malian society and the higher level students were given this as assignments which they then proffered solutions for, which their faculty would then present to the king. How many universities in Nigeria mirror such? How much of our budget goes to education? Why can we not pluck the low-hanging fruit of reviewing our curricula, from primary to tertiary levels to reflect current realities and actually equip students with knowledge that is applicable to society? Why don’t we recognize the value of our teachers on all levels and pay them accordingly? We should insist that the children of all those who have a responsibility for education directly or indirectly attend schools in Nigeria, not private schools, but public schools.
What is saddest is that this is not affecting only our now, but our future. As long as education is at the level it is, who exactly are we training to compete in a world that will continually to be super competitive as the years go by?
It doesn’t matter how many motivational conferences, Africa Rising conferences and so on we do, if our education in Africa remains as it is, the chasm with the rest of the world will only get wider.
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