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« Overcoming the Fear that Holds Africans Down, Part 2 | Main | Africans (Nigerians) and Addiction to mood-Altering Drugs »

August 20, 2005

A Realistic Educational Policy for African Countries

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. --- (Seatle, Washington) African countries, until recently, were ruled by European countries. By and large, the Europeans did not have the interests of Africans at heart. Europeans came to Africa to make profits. In pursuing their self interested businesses in Africa, the Europeans found it necessary to provide Africans with some sort of education so as to generate cheap source of labor. Thus, they encouraged their Christian missionaries to establish elementary and secondary schools in Africa.

Towards the tail end of colonialism, the Europeans found it necessary to establish a few universities in Africa. Perhaps, they intended to train those who would replace them and, in the process, make sure that they were the types of persons who would look after their self interests, while they were gone? Whatever were their motives, they established universities whose curricula had nothing to do with producing those capable of running modern industrial economies.

The universities the colonial masters bequeathed Africa produced persons trained in the classics (English, Latin, Greek and philosophy), history, political science, anthropology, sociology and other such prestige education that has no relevance to managing a modern industrial economy. It is clear that a modern industrial economy requires persons trained in the physical sciences: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and their applied forms in engineering and business studies (particularly finance, accounting, and marketing).

It would seem apparent that one of the first orders of business for African countries, upon independence, was to restructure the educational system they inherited from their colonial masters. This was not done and in those few instances where something seemed to have been done, Africans looked to America for guidance or copied the failed educational system of America.

Any one with eyes to see observes that K-12 education in the USA is a mess and needs revamping. In America, those not trained in particular subjects teach those subjects to students, persons without training in, say, physics teach physics at high schools. America’s teacher training programs are a shame. They have students go through four years of college, virtually learning only how to teach but not what to teach. These ill prepared students graduate and go pretend to teach students. Clearly, America needs to restructure her teacher training programs, so that prospective teachers first obtain a bachelors degree in one of the sciences, take one year of teaching methods and then go teach the subjects that they were trained in. You cannot have a person not trained in Chemistry teaching it, as is the case in American high schools, today.

On America’s college campuses, the worst students go to teacher education programs. The worst students become teachers. Teachers ought to be drawn from the best students.

Even America’s much vaunted university system: it is reputed to be the best in the world, is falling apart. It, too, needs to be changed and made realistic to modern technological times. Clearly, America’s universities need to emphasize the physical sciences and their applied forms and stop wasting young people’s time by providing them with education with which they are not going to be able to procure jobs. What exactly would a person do with a degree in sociology, anthropology, political science, history, philosophy, English and so on? Usually, graduates in these areas are hired and retrained by employers.

In trying to restructure her educational system, Africa should not look to America. What it should do is ask pertinent questions and answer them correctly.

We live in the age of science and technology. Therefore, educational systems must produce scientists and technologists.

What does this mean in the real world? It means designing an educational system that emphasizes science subjects.

I propose that we have six year elementary schools that are free and compulsory for all African pupils between the ages of six and twelve. These schools must teach science. All other subjects are to be adjunct.

(City Neighborhoods or villages are to provide nursery schools for those under age five. Each neighborhood pays for such nursery centers. Thus, working mothers drop off their children in the morning and pick them up in the evening, after work.)

I propose that we have free and compulsory six year secondary education for all graduates from elementary schools (ages 12-18), and that these schools emphasize the sciences. All students are to be required to take mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and calculus), physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, English, French and history. Other subjects are to be adjunct and taken by interested students, but not required for graduation.

At the end of secondary schooling, students are tracked to areas of their aptitudes and interests. Whereas all students can manage elementary and secondary education, experience shows that not all of them want to go to universities and or have aptitudes for it. Thus, a realistic educational system plans for one third of secondary school graduates to proceed to universities and makes other arrangements for the other two thirds.

I propose that 33% of all secondary school graduates (roughly those who made As and Bs in their school leaving examination) to proceed to universities. The emphasis at universities must be on the sciences and applied sciences.

At least, 33% of all university graduates ought to be in the applied sciences, and equal number in the physical sciences.

We can afford some redundant education in the social sciences and humanities, provided not too many students are allowed to waste their time in those unemployable areas.

The top ten percent of graduates ought to proceed to graduate schools. These ought to sit for their master’s degree after two years of graduate education, and the top ten percent allowed proceeding to the doctoral program. After another two years, they take the doctoral comprehensive examination and told to leave their university campuses and go get jobs. They are then free to submit their dissertations when they are able to do so. But under no circumstances should a student be permitted to malinger on campus and be a professional student. Considering that all education is paid for by the taxpayers of the country, no one has a right to abuse their generosity. Thus, by age twenty-six, after taking the doctoral examination; the individual goes fend for himself.

The terminal degree should be called Doctor of Science, DSC, not PhD (Doctor of philosophy…we do not need too many unproductive philosophers in a technological society).

The degrees conferred by African universities are to be BSC, MSC and DSC, reflecting the scientific education that we advocate for Africa. (Such degrees as BA, MA etc are, of course, to exist for those wasting their times on non scientific education. As long as we reduce such frivolous education to a minimum, we are doing fine.)

The two thirds of secondary school graduates who did not go to universities are to go to technical schools. By technical schools, one means where students are provided with hands on training in building and repairing things. We need Mechanics, Machinists, Electricians, Masons, Plumbers, carpenters and so on. One is not talking about “academic technicians,” as currently exist in Nigeria’s so-called Poly technical colleges; one is talking about training those who can actually fix things with their hands.

In case you have not noticed, in Africa, we build things and they quickly fall apart for lack of repair. We need those who can fix things more than we need social scientists, humanists and other talkers and not doers.

There is no use reinventing the wheel; we should borrow from those whose technical education system is the best in the world. I suggest that we model our technical education after the German system. Here, all students are provided with two years classroom/work shop training in their area of interests. They are then apprenticed off to where they would obtain practical experience in their areas of training. A mechanic goes to work at a mechanic shop for two year; an electrician goes to work for an electrical company for two years and so on. After two years of hands on experience, students take a national examination in their area of training.

In Africa, this examination is to be hands on, not academic. If students pass it, they are awarded a degree to be called TS, Technical Specialist. Such degrees are to have starting salaries that are the same as those with bachelors in science from universities. This policy emphasizes the importance of technical education. It is technicians that make the economy work.

It would be nice if all young persons were to be provided with education beyond secondary schooling. But in the nature of things, there are those who neither have the interest nor aptitude for more education beyond secondary school. Thus, realistically, at least ten percent of all secondary school graduates will drop out. These will not go to universities or technical colleges. These will enter the job market right after secondary school.

We need persons to perform lower order jobs and it is as well that some persons do not proceed to acquire more complex trainings.

Thus, we are talking about making room for 33% of our secondary school graduates to go to universities, and, at least 50% of secondary school graduates to go to technical schools.

All education: elementary, secondary, technical and university must be paid for by society, by the adult tax payers, that is, by government. It is a human right for society to train its young persons.

When there are wars, society conscripts its young persons into the military and have them go defend the nation and, perhaps, die. The least that society can do for young persons is to provide them with free and compulsory education.

It is the function of modern polities to pay for the education of all its young persons, until the terminal degree (which we expect to be after taking the doctoral comprehensive examination at age twenty six).


All over the world, experience shows that education is best delivered in a certain manner. It is the wisdom of mankind that elementary and secondary schooling is best provided by the local government.

I suggest that Local Government Authorities, LGA (Counties/Districts, as they may be called elsewhere) be responsible for providing elementary and secondary education. They are to do so through independent school Boards, headed by a superintendent of education. The school Board, however, is to be appointed by the county council.

The county council is responsible for financing the school system. (Property taxes, sales taxes etc are some of the means of financing local education.)

Technical colleges and universities are best provided by state governments. Thus, each state, in Nigeria, for example, sets up Boards for technical education and University education and those hire superintendents to organize their technical and university education. The state legislature and executive are responsible for funding these education elements.

Each state establishes sufficient technical colleges and universities to accommodate all young persons in need of such education: that is, each state must have enough technical colleges to accommodate at least 50% of its annual secondary school graduates, and sufficient universities to accommodate at least 33% of its annual secondary school graduates and enough graduate schools to accommodate at least 10% of its graduates.

In a country with the population of Nigeria, it is self evident that to implement the type of educational program envisaged here, that the country needs at least 700 technical colleges and 300 universities.

The national government is not to be directly involved in running schools but to provide educational policies and set up examination Boards to examine graduating classes at the elementary and secondary schools.

I recommend that we also have a national Board to examine university students before they graduate for their bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. This way, we ascertain that students learned something when they claim to have had university education.

Those who pass with all As are to be given first class honors, Bs second class honors, Cs third class honors, and finally, ordinary pass.


Those who call themselves realists are probably wondering where we shall obtain the resources to fund this seeming pipe dream.

It is useful to be realistic. But too much realism leads to lack of imagination, vision and creativity.

It is the common experience of mankind that where there is a will to do something, that, somehow, we find a way to do it. If we embrace the policy of educating all Africans, we shall find a way to pay for it.

For one thing, the billions of dollars stolen by African leaders and banked overseas could go a long way in defraying the cost of these educational ventures. The billions of dollars stashed in Europe by such African kleptocrats as Mobutu and Abacha could, for a few years, fund all elementary and secondary education in their respective countries.

How do we fund this seeming grandiose scheme? Taxes. There are individual taxes, corporate taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and other forms of taxes. This is not the place to elaborate on these sources of public revenue. Let us just say that adults ought to tax themselves and use the ensuing revenue to fund their social policies.

Africans, for too long, have been on a free ride, thinking that they could have governments without paying for them. Governments are set up by the people to protect them and to perform certain economic and social functions for them, such as providing all children with education and all citizens with medical insurance. These functions of governments have costs. Those costs are paid for through taxation. Therefore, it is about time Africans are made to pay taxes and those who try not to pay them get arrested and jailed and their properties seized.

It is appropriate for all adults above the age of eighteen to pay at least 25% of their annual incomes in taxes. Adults should also pay other forms of taxes, such as sales, property taxes etc. Altogether it makes sense for each citizen to expect at least 35% of his income to go to funding his various local, state and national governments.

When citizens pay taxes and know that their governments are funded by them, they tend to pay attention to how their political leaders spend their money. They form citizen committees to examine government books and where malfeasance is seen, insist that culprits be sent to jail. It is because, at present, Africans are largely not personally funding their governments that they do not find out how their leaders spend their money. In Nigeria, for example, the various governments obtain over 80% of their revenue from selling oil and the people do not fund their governments. Because the people are not directly funding their governments, they do not pay attention when their political leaders transform the national treasury into their personal bank accounts.

There ought to be laws so that stealing a penny from the public gets the individual ten years in jail. This prison term should be hard labor, that is, the inmate is made to work to feed himself while in prison; the public has no business paying to feed the detritus of humanity.


The ideas presented in this essay are meant as starting points in a necessary conversation on what African educational policies ought to be. If you disagree with them, please put your own ideas down on paper. It is about time Africans learned to share their ideas with all interested persons.

We all correct the mistakes in our thinking by having access to other people’s thinking. I say, let us have a vigorous conversation on African educational policies and, ultimately, establish educational systems that respond to African needs. Doing nothing, or doing the wrong things, as is currently the case in much of Africa, is self-defeating.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD

Africa Institute, Seattle

600-1 Avenue, Suite 325

Seattle Washington 98104

(206) 464-9004

Posted by Administrator at August 20, 2005 06:30 PM


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