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Opinions of Friday, 5 February 2010

Columnist: Acquaah, Samuel Jude

Can Our Education Be “Too Eurocentric”?

About a couple of months ago, K.B. Asante wrote an article questioning the extent to which our education is “Eurocentric”. He posed the question, “Is our education too Eurocentric?”, and concluded that it is. I disagree with him, and actually think that our education cannot be “too Eurocentric”.

Yes, each society is unique. Any society is defined by its history, its challenges to progress and the solutions it employs to meet those challenges. Education, as a national matter, is the training that a society gives its young to empower them to devise intelligent solutions to the society’s challenges, and thereby make progress. To that extent, it is necessary, indeed critical, that our education system takes into consideration our circumstances as a developing sub-Saharan African country. Our multi-ethnicity; the region in which we find ourselves, Africa; the strengths and weaknesses we have demonstrated over time; and the vision we have for our nation are all important things that should inform the content of our educational curriculum.

However, the general ideas and strategies for development that have shown to work over time have rarely discriminated against geography or race, and our education must account for them, whether they’ll derive from our heritage or other people’s. This is a planet of human beings, and when any people have adopted those right principles necessary to make progress, the results have rarely been different. Any student of history can discern that all successful societies through time have shown commonalities that no human society which wants to make progress can ignore: a strong and visionary leadership to create strong institutions and just laws, an effective enforcement of the laws, the efficient use of technology to create material wealth, and the development of a socio-cultural identity that binds the people together. Ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, Ming China, Elizabethan England and Meiji Japan all had these factors of progress. Indeed, what has become known as European ideas, and have influenced the world in the last 500 years more than any other set of ideas, are actually a set of brilliant ideas from far and wide that were synthesized by Europeans and applied cleverly to nation building. Throughout history, the Europeans have borrowed ideas from the Arabs, Egyptians, the Chinese, and nourished their own civilisation with these ideas. Armed with these ideas, when Europeans set out in the 15th century to look for wealth and Christians, no civilisation proved strong enough to stand their onslaught.

The content of Ghana’s educational curriculum can be improved upon. But the bigger problem with our education is logistics. We do not have enough adequately trained and sufficiently paid teachers. Additionally, most of our schools do not have sufficient teaching and learning materials nor facilities like libraries and laboratories. Some children who are privileged to attend well-resourced schools and complement it with private tuition and books from home actually demonstrate acceptable levels of intellectual and personal development. In fact, some brilliant ones are able to make it to some of the top universities in the world and excel. I personally know about several people who attended some of our well endowed basic schools, then proceeded to some of our few standard secondary schools and went to top universities in the US, excelled, and are now working for prominent organizations in respectable roles.

The biggest challenge to our education system is that, the basic and secondary education that such boys and girls enjoyed must be made the rule, not the exception. We must expand access to quality education for all our children irrespective of which part of the country they will find themselves or the wealth of their parents. All Ghanaian children must have the quality of basic education that children at Kabore School, Ho; Christ the King, Accra; Kanville Presby, Tamale; Holy Spirit, Sunyani or Chapel Hill, Takoradi receive. At the secondary school, all students must be provided with the kind of tuition and facilities students at Wesley Girls, Achimota and Opoku Ware enjoy. Regarding the content of our education, it is regrettable, for instance, that things like the geography of Africa and the empires of Western Sudan apparently receive less attention in the revised Social Studies curriculum for Junior Secondary (or High?) schools. However, while Mr. Asante may rightly want this important wrong rectified, I contend that Shakespeare’s plays, the French Revolution and Einstein’s ground-breaking theories should be given even more attention.

As a student of politics, I believe the stories of Osei Tutu, Na Gbewa and Ndewura Jakpa offer inspiring lessons for leadership. However, if Ghana will succeed, it must teach her young ones about critical ideas like the genius of Financial Accounting, the intricacies of industrialist entrepreneurship, the philosophical foundations of the common law, the historical and intellectual arguments behind liberal democracy etc. This will not mean discounting all things African, but it surely means names like Paccioli, Pereire, List, Bagehot, Mill and Blackstone must receive more attention in our education.

K. B. Asante may find it interesting to know that, a lot of our young ones (and adults too) who think, for instance, that Africans are inherently inferior to Europeans are usually not so much unaware of our great men. Rather, they often do not know about how any society can descend into decadence if it succumbs to blinding superstition and/or misguided leadership - be it Absolutist France, Weimar Germany or Amin’s Uganda. A “Eurocentric” education will demystify the white man, demystify the ideas that he has used to dominate the world in the last 500 years, and show that we can adopt - and it is no shame - these ideas to develop.

The fact is that, today’s world and contemporary Ghanaian society are largely constructed on the platform of elements of European civilization: the English language, the very concept of statehood, Genetic Engineering, the Olympic Games, the Stock Exchange, liberal democracy, the common law etc. We cannot, no matter the depth of our African pride, disregard the overwhelming importance of these things if we want to develop. This is the lesson that successful adoption of Western ideas by countries like Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and Singapore teaches us. We should be proud of our better history as a people and retain the good aspects of our culture, but we should also have the humility to learn from proven examples.

SAMUEL JUDE ACQUAAH atoacquaah@yahoo.com