Understanding the Call to Decolonize Education

By: Lesego Tanaka

During the fees must fall movement in South Africa, many students called for the decolonisation of education within the South African school curriculum with many arguing that African history is taught at a minimum compared to European history. Adding onto these arguments, students noted that the black history that is being taught in our schools has been white washed, meaning that the history of black people is being taught from a European perspective which underplays and often misrepresents the events that took place.

Defined vaguely, decolonisation of education means “confronting and challenging the colonising practices that have influenced education in the past and which are still present’’. In the broader perspective, it has to do with emancipating young black minds by teaching learners and students about an African history that is not only rooted around the oppression of black people but also around the great people, cultures, kingdoms, inventions and innovations that come from Africa so that future African generations are freed from the inferiority complex that “Africa would be stagnant without colonial rule’’.

Decolonisation of education is often misunderstood as the introduction of more African languages into the curriculum, although that forms a part of the process, the main idea is the reformation of the content.

Amongst various reasons pertaining to the issue, one of the dominant is to shift from an 80% focus on European history to an 80% focus on African and South African history and that the events of how the colonialists invaded Africa are taught in an in-depth and raw way, highlighting the many atrocities that happened to black South Africans like the killings and disappearances of many black men, dismantling of black family structures due to forced removals, the taking of the land from the indigenous people and black men being subjected to work in the mines under hazardous conditions as cheap labour in an honest, non-whitewashed manner. However, why would we want to include these gruesome accounts of history? Simply so that every South African never forgets what happened, so that history does not repeat itself.

Decolonisation of education does not simply end there, the many great facts about Africa such as that Africa is known as the continent that gave birth to basic and advanced mathematics, the stone structures of Great Zimbabwe that show that Africans could build shelter not only using mud and that ancient black Egyptians invented a concrete system of medicine that involved schooling for practitioners and written documentation of the methods of healing used, with Egyptians also being the first civilization to perform surgery. These facts about Africa and many others should be included in the school curriculum. Financial management and literacy is also gaining popularity amongst scholars and some are saying that it should be included in the education system as it will also emancipate young black minds economically.

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