By Serge Tiendrebeogo
Not a day goes by that the media does not focus on Africa’s development. Indeed, the continent remains at the heart of the debate on development fifty years after its independence. But what kind of development are we talking about? Is it based on growth and wealth? Or perhaps the improvement of the material and social condition of the people? Should we not talk as Africans about African development as the heart of our African values?
Development and growth are two of the most tenacious and confusing myths of our modern world. According to Hervé Keradec, Professor at the national school of commerce, Paris 17th, Editor in Chief of the journal Economics and Management, development differs from that of growth in that it is more qualitative. The growth of a country is measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), now associated with human development indices (HDI) ; development refers to economic development, the transfers of corporate and environmental changes it generates.
Development was initially associated with “third world” countries or underdeveloped nations and inferred the notion of progress. It was used to compare a country described as underdeveloped to others in the Western world. However, development has become much more than a concept. It now represents a “leading” model to those “left behind” with a firm direction to follow and objectives to be achieved – the “Millennium Development Goals”.
Many generations of Africans have been conditioned and doped with the ideas and aspirations of growth and development. People readily adopted them in the hopes that they would help them close the gap in the race to “catch up” with the West but neglected to ask the question about their final destination. Education has been used as the premier elixir for growth and development yet it is also one of the causes of the difficulties encountered by Africa. According to Jean-Claude Milner, education is the “process by which a subject is supposed to accomplish entirely: absolute perfection in all important areas”. However, in most African countries, in fact, excessive focus is given by parents to an education system that emphasizes perfect grades, relies heavily on memorization and repetition, poorly prepares students to integrate socially, and ill-equips them in a world where improvisation and problem-solving are necessary.
For over fifty years, education on African soil has been an avatar of colonialism that produces results that are “colonial”; formal education was and continues to be taught in foreign languages in most African countries. In taking away the tribal language, the cultural fabric of the people has been torn, creating a more disjointed society. And instead of functioning as a tool to assist people in absorbing the culture, modern African education tends to remove Africans from Africa and insert them into African imitations of western society. This creates a fundamental state of rupture with the local socio-cultural context.
As the saying goes, “When you do not know where you’re going, look where you came from.” If the criteria of development is the ability to produce wealth and not on wealth itself, then it is in developing that Africans can attempt to acquire material wealth. Development requires the reinvention of African schools, broadening of curriculum, embracing modernity but also valuing its roots in traditional education.
Unlike so-called modern education, traditional educational in Africa is essentially collective, functional, practical, oral, continuous, mystical, consistent, and versatile. In fact, education has a social and collective nature that makes it not only the responsibility of the family, but also one of the clan and the village. Learning is based on the active participation of children in various activities of the group. The lessons learned are related to the physical environment with socio-economic roots directly related to production tasks. Tasks are made suitable for each age group and range from simple to more complex and are defined in terms of levels of hierarchy. Education is also surrounded by prohibitions that make it a reality while inviolable, deep relations are established with nature, with the human community and with the invisible world.
Indeed, we live in a world where values deteriorate and disintegrate continuously, resulting in moral depravity, the crisis of authority, the breakdown of family unity, and the creation of the selfish and calculating individual mind. Our values have become anti-values, hence the growth of immorality, the devaluing of the person in favor of money, the promotion of the individual over the community, etc. There is no longer a moral code for our youth and this has ultimately led to the crisis of values in our societies and in our schools. This crisis has originated from the growing socio-economic importance of the mass media. It has invaded homes in form of cable television and entertainment trends.
Many Africans view media images as their social and cultural model. Thus ideas such as opulent wealth, the quest for fame, fast living, pleasure seeking, and self-preservation have become personal aspirations. Unfortunately these ideas directly oppose traditional ways of thinking and are the exact opposite of the way Africans should follow. The solution to this crisis of values has to be essentially political, economic, moral and educational. Although they were established since ancient times, the values of traditional education carry with them elements which will not only allow us to temper modern views, but also to reconsider the most sacred tenets of a humanist world and thereby save our African souls.
Serge Tiendrebeogo is an African development expert with a Bachelor of Science from University Cheik Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal and a Masters of Public Administration from Baruch College, New York. A native of Burkina Faso, he currently lives in New York.