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Adult education in Africa

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Adult education in Africa

Adult education in Africa, having experienced a comeback following the independence and increasing prosperity of many African nations, poses specific requirements on policymakers and planners to take into consideration indigenous cultural traits and characteristics. With a moderate backlash against Western ideals and educational traditions, many universities and other institutes of higher education take it upon themselves to develop a new approach to higher education and adult education.

Most contemporary analysts regard illiteracy as a development issue because of the link between poverty and illiteracy.[1] Funding is inadequate and inconsistent and is needed for priority areas such as educator training, monitoring, and evaluation.[2] There is a clear need for investment in capacity development, having a full, sufficiently paid and well qualified professionalized staff, and increasing the demands for adult education professionals. The majority of adult educators are untrained, especially in basic literacy. Governments often employ schoolteachers and others in adult education posts rather than experienced adult educators.[2] Many of the difficulties experienced could be solved by allocation of resources to meet the needs (adequate funds, more staff, appropriate training for staff and suitable material). Underfunding is a huge threat to the sustainability of these programs, and in some cases, to their continued existence.[3] The best-reported data on funding is about adult literacy and non-formal education programs. Funding for continuing education, either academic or vocational is provided and reported on, but little data is given on its financing. Funding may come from public or private sector sources. International and foreign aid is also likely to be important. The costs of much adult education seem to be kept artificially low by the use of state facilities and by the extremely low salaries paid to many adult education specialists.[4]

Public universities have not been successful in attracting older students onto mainstream degree programs and so the post-apartheid ideal of opening access to public higher education for growing numbers of non-traditional students is not yet a reality.[5] However, certain countries have reported some success rates in Adult Education programs. Between 1990 and 2007 Uganda enrolled over 2million participants in the functional adult literacy program. The Family Basic Education program was active in 18 schools by 2005, reaching over 3,300 children and 1,400 parents. This is a successful family literacy mediation whose impact at household, school and community level has been evaluated.[6]

Unfortunately, the national reports typically do not provide sufficient information on the content of the adult education programs that run in their countries. In the majority of cases the name of the program is as much detail as is given. Curriculum content does not seem to be a major issue.[7]

Cultural considerations

African communities are very close knit; activities, lifestyles, particularities of individuals are nearly always common knowledge. Because of this, it is difficult for any one member or group within an area to take a significantly different approach to any facet of life within the community. For this reason, program planners for adult learners in Africa find higher rates of success when they employ a participatory approach. Through open and honest dialogue about the fears, motivations, beliefs and ambitions of the community as a whole, there is less social strain concerning individual divergent behavior.

In addition to strong traditional beliefs, years of slavery through colonization have led to a sense of unity and common struggle in African communities. Therefore, lesson plans in these areas should reflect this cultural sensibility; collaboration and cooperation are key components of successful programs. Teaching techniques that utilize these ideas may include story-telling, experiential simulation, and the practice of indigenous traditions with slight modifications. Every program and lesson must be tailored to the particular community because they almost always learn, live, and achieve as a group or not at all.

Informal education plays a strong role within indigenous learning in African communities. This poses a significant challenge to western-style program planners that emphasize formal learning within a designated time-frame and setting. These requirements must often be abandoned in order to achieve success in communities that have no strong affinity for time and formal education. Programs must be planned that become ingrained into the daily life of participants, that reflects their values and add positive functionality to their lives. Successful programs often involve more long-term learning arrangements consisting of regular visits and the free, unforced offer of information.


The origins of African education may be found in Egypt in Northern Africa. One of the first convenient mediums for retaining information, papyrus, was used to develop systems for learning and developing new ideas. Well before contact with external cultures, Africans had developed pools of understanding and educational tools. In fact, the world’s first university was located in Timbuktu, opened in 2600 BC.

Indigenous knowledge systems, a tradition in which communities teach and learn from themselves through daily life rather than strict education, were also highly important and effective. The apprenticeship perspective was of particular use to ancient Africans; by modeling the necessary skills for others, junior members of the community learned to hunt, gather water, hold meetings, etc. The overall purpose of this task-orientation type of education was to both learn specific skills and "produce an individual who is honest, respectable, skilled, cooperative and conforms to the societal order of the day." [8]

The onset of the colonial period in the 19th century marked the beginning of the end for traditional African education. European forces, missionaries, and colonists all came ready and willing to change existing traditions to meet their own needs and ambitions. By demanding that communities create physical schools with strict curriculum, the foreign powers were able to dictate what the people learned, adjusting it to further their agenda. This not only forced new form and content to education, but abandoned the knowledge gained from the largely informal education. With less community awareness, efficiency in learning skills, and especially understanding of the past, African communities began to dwindle in education and prosperity.

Between the 1950s and 1990s, African countries finally regained their independence. With this recovered freedom, they began to rebuild their traditional forms of education. What had inevitably evolved, however, was a hybrid of the two models. Although children and adults may learn from their families and community, a sense of individuality has also developed that today both drives ingenuity and creates separation between groups and cultural tradition. African education programs have developed that involve both groups; an HIV/AIDS awareness program, for example, may involve members coming into communities and sharing their knowledge. Although this is a direct, cognitive approach, they also try to involve all members of the community, allowing for the creation of ownership and cultural acceptance.


African philosophy of adult education recognizes the western ideas such as liberalism, progressivism, humanism and behaviorism, while complementing them with native African perspectives.

  • Ethnophilosophy is the idea that the main purpose of adult education is to enable social harmony at all levels of society, from immediate family to community and country. It is of primary importance to ensure the retention of knowledge passed down from one generation to another concerning values, cultural understanding and beliefs. This philosophy promotes active learning – learning by doing, following, practicing the work of the elders. Particular lessons may be taught through activities such as role-play, practical demonstrations, exhibitions, discussions or competitions.[9]
  • The nationalist-ideological philosophy separates itself from ethnophilosophy in that it less concerned with the methods of learning and more with its use. As a philosophy born of the revolutionary movements of the 1950s, it is unsurprising that its main focus is to be able to apply knowledge to active participation in politics and civil society. Although it is important in this philosophy to retain the communal nature of traditional African society, functionalism for social understanding and change takes prime importance in its implementation.
  • Professional philosophy represents the strongest bridge between western and traditional African educational systems. It promotes a hybrid approach to adult programs, allowing for a wide range of learning techniques, even purely cognitive lecture, so long as community values are accounted for within the lesson. Finally, philosophic sagacity suggests that the only true African philosophies are those that have developed with no contact with the West whatsoever. Rather than a specific approach, this idea simply notes the huge range of educational techniques which may exist through the continent by a wide variety of people. It essentially states that there is no one correct method, and that the subject and activities should always be set by the participants.[10][11][12][13]

See also


[14] [15]

  1. ^ Nassimbeni, Mary and Bev May. "Adult education in South African public libraries: enabling conditions and inhibiting factors". University of Cape Town, p.3
  2. ^ a b Aitchison, John and Hassana Alidou. "The state and development of adult learning and education in Subsaharan Africa". UNESCO, 2009, p.3
  3. ^ Nassimbeni, Mary and Bev May. "Adult education in South African public libraries: enabling conditions and inhibiting factors". University of Cape Town, p.8
  4. ^ Aitchison, John and Hassana Alidou. "The state and development of adult learning and education in Subsaharan Africa". UNESCO, 2009, p.20
  5. ^ MacGregor, Karen. "Boom in Adult Basic Education". University World News, 16 March 2008
  6. ^ Aitchison, John and Hassana Alidou. "The state and development of adult learning and education in Subsaharan Africa". UNESCO, 2009, p.27
  7. ^ Aitchison, John and Hassana Alidou. "The state and development of adult learning and education in Subsaharan Africa". UNESCO, 2009, p.32
  8. ^ Fafunwa, A. Babs (1962). African education and social dynamics. Accra: University of Ghana. 
  9. ^ Nafukho, Fredrick; Amutabi, Maurice; Ruth Otango (2005). Foundations of Adult Education in Africa (Uie Studies). Geneva: UNESCO. 
  10. ^ Caffarella, Rosemary S. (2001). Planning Programs for Adult Learners: A Practical Guide for Educators, Trainers, and Staff Developers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  11. ^ Fasokun, Thomas; Anne Katahoire; Akpovire Oduaran (2005). The Psychology of Adult Learning in Africa (Uie Studies). Geneva: UNESCO. 
  12. ^ S., Indabawa; S. Mpofu (2005). The Social Context of Adult Learning in Africa (Uie Studies Series). Geneva: UNESCO. 
  13. ^ Developing Programmes for Adult Learners in Africa (Uil Studies Series). Montreal: United Nations Educational. 2007. 
  14. ^ Aitchison, John; Alidou, Hassana (2009). The state and development of adult learning and education in Subsaharan Africa. Hamburg: UNESCO. 
  15. ^ Nassimbeni, Mary; May, Bev. Adult education in South African public libraries enabling conditions and inhibiting factors. Cape Town: University of Cape Town. 
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