Africa, People, Inclusive Growth

Decolonising education – a prerequisite for inclusive growth in Africa

Manuel Brutus Simon | Aug 29, 2017


To highlight the upcoming Responsible Business Forum in South Africa, we set up an exciting writing competition open to students on the topic of “Inclusive Growth in Africa & Sustainable Development Goals”. All of the entries will be featured on our website.

First up is an article written by Manuel Brutus Simon which is titled “Decolonising education – a prerequisite for inclusive growth in Africa”.

Accelerating the inclusiveness of Africa’s economy is certainly no straightforward task and requires action on various fronts at the same time. In essence, however, inclusive growth is about ensuring that the society as a whole can benefit from the growth of the economy. This requires, first of all, an understanding among a society about what inclusive growth entails, ways to participate in and benefit from it, and ways to express dissatisfaction if the inclusiveness is not guaranteed. One way to arrive at such a level of understanding is through education – and the SDGs can contribute to improving education. Goal 4 of the SDGs states that “quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development”. The focus is thus not only on ensuring the provision of education, but also the quality of it.

Recent student protests in South Africa have called into question the quality of education in this country. Towards of the end of 2016, students at universities all over the country, next to demanding that “#FeesMustFall”, demanded the decolonisation of higher education. This demand has however been interpreted in various ways. In the following, I will present three different interpretations of decolonising education on the African continent as well as their implication for achieving inclusive economic growth. Although this article focuses on South Africa, its conclusions are equally valid for other parts of the continent.

Interpretation 1: Since African countries are independent, the education is decolonised.

Photo by Doug Linstedt

According to the Cambridge dictionary, decolonisation is “the process in which a country that was previously a colony controlled by another country becomes politically independent”. Thus, you could logically conclude that since South Africa has become politically independent, the educational system has become independent and thus decolonised as well. This conclusion is, however, problematic. After all, education played a major role in promoting Eurocentric views at the universities. Scholarly contributions by Africans were regarded as inferior to those by Westerners. According to the 2008 Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions, very little has changed after the end of apartheid. This Eurocentrism of curricula may consequentially exclude certain views on inclusive economic growth in Africa – and thus deprive South Africans from getting a complete understanding of how they can benefit from economic growth and how they can make their voices heard if they do not.

Interpretation 2: We need to overthrow the educational system and redefine it based on African values.

One student of the University of Cape Town explained what he understands as the decolonisation of education: “[…] [T]he existing system must be overthrown and the people it’s supposed to serve must define it for themselves.” Another group of students from Cape Town explained that decolonised education needs to advance the interest of Africans as opposed to the interests of Europeans. Thus, the students obviously demand an Afrocentric education. While this approach would certainly allow for the introduction of new perspectives, which might equip the population with new views on the inclusiveness of economic growth and opportunities to make their voices heard regarding the issue, it would exclude perspectives from other parts of the world, which can be equally advantageous for achieving the goal of inclusive economic growth.

Interpretation 3: We must include knowledge from all parts of the world.

This interpretation provides for the middle ground between the first two ones described. Advocators of this interpretation regard the process of making education politically independent, thus decolonising it, in a broader way. It should not only become independent from Eurocentrism, but also from Afrocentrism and any other ideology which serves to exclude knowledge from particular parts of the world to make it into the university curricula. As Brenda Wingfield from the University of Pretoria describes it, South African students should equally benefit from local knowledge and knowledge from other parts of the world. With this approach, they can benefit from all views on inclusive economic growth and opportunities for them to stand up for their rights if they are not satisfied with the level of inclusiveness.


The student protestors of 2016 have made a valid point. Yes, the education at many South African universities is based on Eurocentric curricula. And yes, this certainly reduces the quality of the country’s education as well as the possibilities for the population to benefit from inclusive economic growth. However, the demands of the students to overthrow the educational system and adopt an Afrocentric approach would hardly do any better. After all, this approach excludes certain views in the same way as Eurocentric curricula do. What we need in order to improve the educational quality and to accelerate the inclusiveness of economic growth is an approach to education which does not exclude the knowledge of any part of the world. What needs to count is the force of the better argument.


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