With this issue, we launch a new series focussing on education in Africa. If we had been a bit blasé about education before, the coronavirus pandemic has rudely shaken us awake: our very survival depends on the knowledge and application of science.
How we will fare when this disease is finally controlled will also depend on how much knowledge we can bring to bear on the situation as we find it. It will be the same for virtually every region and country in the world. Those that are armed with knowledge (and the equally crucial) ability to apply it to everyday situations will be the ones best equipped to survive and thrive.
But then hasn’t this always been the case? History shows us that in virtually all cases, power, prosperity and therefore dominance have always accrued to those who have greater knowledge.
History again shows us that societies that have a small stock of knowledge remain locked in a usually primitive time warp – unable to apply the multitude of innovation that mankind has forged over the centuries.
The power of knowledge is such that until the era of ‘universal education’ in some regions, it was regarded as an extremely valuable asset that was jealously guarded and passed on only to certain classes.
A knowledge based world
We sometimes tend to forget how bitter was the struggle to gain knowledge – especially in the colonised world. Enormous obstacles were laid in the path of anyone seeking education and even when it was doled out, it was given sparingly and only in order to satisfy the needs of the colonial masters.
Yet, there was a clear understanding that only knowledge could make you free and our communities and parents went to great lengths and made enormous sacrifices to secure education for their children.
It is no coincidence that countries like China, India, Korea and other Asian Tigers poured fortunes into education. They made education compulsory, they raised teachers to the level of heroes, they celebrated academic achievement, they rewarded research and originality, they scoured the world for specialised knowledge and adopted it and they acted confidently based on the ever growing store of knowledge they had accumulated. And the rewards are there for all to see. Our levels of knowledge are still far behind the global benchmarks.
The world of today, let alone tomorrow, is now totally knowledge based – technology is after all the application of knowledge. We can buy technology but unless we know how to create it and how to deploy it based on knowledge, our own long dreamt of Renaissance will remain a dream and we will remain dependent on others.
The first thing to do to break this deadlock is to map out exactly, on a continental level, where we are in terms of knowledge and the education systems deployed to provide it. We aim to do this by soliciting expert opinion and disseminating and encouraging dialogue and debate it through our new series on education in Africa both in print and online.
We are partnering with the Mastercard Foundation in this endeavour. It has already committed massive resources to working on ways to enable our youth to become fit for purpose in the knowledge based world. Together and with the help and support of our readers, we can crack this nut and over time, help make education in Africa one of the best in the world.