Lesson to be learnt with African knowledge in curricula

Africa has rich and ample examples of poetry and oral histories accessed through izibongi (praise poets), such as Jessica Mbangeni, and elders, the writer says
Africa has rich and ample examples of poetry and oral histories accessed through izibongi (praise poets), such as Jessica Mbangeni, and elders, the writer says
Image: Thuli Dlamini

SA's higher education sector has experienced turmoil in recent years. Some of it stems from students' financial woes. Some relates to experiences of alienation in the country's universities.

Some students, most of them black, have also rebelled against what they see as Eurocentric instruction. As a result, SA's academic institutions are starting to recognise they can't exclude African knowledge traditions and histories from their curricula.

My research aimed to find sources of knowledge that help create more inclusive curricula and learning experiences. The goal was to help students feel they belong in SA's universities.

For example, pre-colonial social and economic organisation seldom features in commerce and political science curricula. And knowledge about trade, agriculture and economics during Africa's precolonial phase is overshadowed by models from the Global North.

I found a useful resource in a book by Ghanaian scholar George Ayittey. Ayittey is a rich source of African history and insights that can balance Eurocentric modes of knowledge generation. His book highlights African ways of using human and natural resources, from agriculture to communal governance, trade or medicine.

Social sciences: Africa has rich and ample examples of poetry and oral histories accessed through izibongi (praise poets) and elders.

Trade: Reviving pre-colonial and cross-border trading nodes could stimulate economic growth and reopen dormant African markets that were used for centuries.

Medicine: Traditional healers have ancient knowledge of plants which researchers can study.

Ayittey sets out the thinking behind social organisation as well as scientific and social pursuits in every region of the continent.

Exposing students to this knowledge will give them a greater appreciation of local systems. It will counter any idea of precolonial Africa as a continent that lacks philosophy, culture and systems of social organisation.

African universities have a responsibility to resurrect the continent's knowledge archives. Allowing students to incorporate their own languages into coursework can help access the African knowledge archive. Welcoming all SA languages can reduce experiences of alienation and cultivate an environment of community.

Ayittey's book is only one perspective of pre-colonial Africa. But it reintroduces principles of social and knowledge organisation that were lost in SA universities.

But Ayittey's text shouldn't be presented in an exclusive way. African knowledge should be taught alongside philosophies and theories used by established scholars worldwide.

*Eybers is a lecturer in academic literacy at the University of Pretoria. This article was first published in 'The Conversation'

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