Colonial empires and education

Colonial empires are about domination, exploitation and control, and the key markers of imperial domination in Africa during the nineteenth century were those of brutal conquest and annexation. In many places trade and the missionary endeavor paved the way for the social and political changes that were to follow. By the 1830s there had been signs of a different commitment to the “civilization” of the colonized peoples - however that notion might be articulated. Despite the annexation of most of the continent, the actual degree of transformation of the lives of most rural peoples remained relatively limited by the early twentieth century. The degree of change or modernization outside of industrial hubs like South Africa was extremely limited beyond the missionary/ philanthropic experiments designed to bring indigenous peoples into the realm of colonial government and the capitalist labor market in the Cape Colony or in West Africa. Government action related to the modernization of African peoples or their inclusion within the body politic of core institutions of the colonial state was limited. The “civilization” or “modernization” or “Christianization” or education of the “natives” was in large measure to remain the exclusive domain of the missions until well into the twentieth century outside of the very specific context of the Cape Colony, where there was a Department of Education from as early as 1839 serving the whole population. Within that context there were some attempts to construct a nonracial society from the mid-nineteenth century in the context of the Anti-Slavery Movement,

Aborigines Protection Society and Ordinance 50, however fragile these might appear with hindsight.26

The earliest initiatives relating to the research in the field of education in Africa were located within an extensive research exercise based on the English Board of Education, mentioned previously. These Special Reports on Educational Subjects, compiled under the general editorship of Sir Michael Sadler, were published in numerous volumes between 1895 and 1913, included a variety of comparative studies of European and American educational systems,27 relied heavily on comparative research and were to set the standards for educational planning independent of state control and educational research. One volume of this epic undertaken was dedicated to “The Education System in the Chief Crown Colonies (including the Cape Colony and Natal)” and the “Training of the Native Races.”28 This initiative informed the debate about educational policy from the time of the Education Act of 1902 (the Balfour/Morant Act), which extended the scope of public education in Britain.

In South Africa, as part of post Anglo-Boer War reconstruction and “modernization,” the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC) initiated a major investigation of native policy which highlighted the system of education that existed and how it might be “modernized” and reformed.2'' A junior member of Milner’s Kindergarten, Edmund Sargant, produced a voluminous report on Education and the Law in relation to Native Education in South Africa and reports on education in Basutoland and Bechuanaland.'" The High Commissioner, Lord Selborne’s “Memo, on Education in South Africa”31 represented the policy outcome of this work and the beginning of a new system of educational policy formation which engaged with issues of language and culture, if only to accommodate the Dutch/Afrikaans traditions of the former Boer states.32 According to Malherbe, these measures also established for the first time in the Transvaal “a separate legal provision . . . for schooling for native children.”33

These initiatives point to an important and often forgotten issue in relation to colonial education in Africa - that in educational history South Africa is in part to be understood in terms of its double identity, as a settler colony or Dominion and as an African “dependency.” In the case of the former it can be identified as a modern capitalist industrial state. In the latter case it needs to be understood as essentially comparable to other African colonies or “dependencies” where government confronts the necessity of catering for the difficulties of colonial government relating to a large, heterogeneous population in a wide variety of social and economic circumstances at very different stages of development or assimilation into the mainstream of modern global society. The attempts by the Reconstruction government to grapple with these issues have not been adequately acknowledged or researched in relation to the education policy issues under investigation here. As Helen Tilley remarks, Milner and his Kindergarten/Round Table realized the importance of being able to offer coherent arguments for policy to the various audiences within South

Africa and in Britain and “the necessity to take greater notice of the competing claims of their various imperial subjects”34 - hence the need for more coherent policy planning and formulation.

The Education Act of 1902 formed the bedrock of the modern, state-sponsored education system in Britain, building on the 1870 Education Act and paving the way for the Hadow Report on The Education of the Adolescent (1926). The revival of an intense debate about the values of state planning in Britain during the 1930s culminated in the Beveridge Report in 1942 and the postwar social security measures on health and welfare, a prelude to the 1944 Butler Education Act, which finally secured mass secondary education. These events provided a backdrop to educational thinking and debate in Africa.3

It was only from the time of the great international ecumenical Protestant Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910 (see Chapter 1) that broader focus on issues relating to the welfare of African peoples came to be formally acknowledged as part of the function of the missions - and to be introduced to the agendas of government through Church/state cooperation. On the basis of these early initiatives, patriarchal networks began to be established between missionary agencies, imperial governments and philanthropic organizations with the goal of promoting what later came to be called “development" under the general umbrella of the League of Nations. As mandates of the former German African Empire (Schutzgebiete) came to be placed under the rule of Britain, France, Belgium and South Africa after the Treaty of Versailles (1919), those victorious powers were obliged to sign up to a long-term program which was committed not only to the rule of colonial peoples by a system of government constrained by international law but also “to promote to the utmost the material and moral well-being and social progress” of the inhabitants,” as part of a preparation for future self-government in keeping with the Charter of the League. This surveillance through the mandates system had the overall effect of internationalizing and institutionalizing the notion of trusteeship and “made a formal statement of what the international community regarded as the minimal requirements for European colonialism in Africa.”3*’ In that sense the mandates system set the fragile parameters for the wider framework of social change to be dealt with in this enquiry.

There is no disputing the continuation of the harsh nature of colonial rule in general. In relation to Kenya, the Fabian, Leonard Woolf s argument that “our professed principles (of ‘African paramouncy’) and our political practices have contradicted each other ever since the beginning of the century.” He argued that the notion of colonial rule as “a sacred trust” to ensure progress and prosperity for Africans was a “hypocritical lie.”3 Yet as Joanna Lewis38 and Joseph Hodge have demonstrated, between the passing of the 1929 Colonial Development Act under the short-lived Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald and the advent of its successor, the Colonial Development and Welfare Act (1940), it is possible to identify a variety of initiatives and networks of experts — whether they were comprised of government officials in Europe or the colonies, Church or mission personnel or activists, scientists and researchers, technical experts or commercial enterprises, which were rethinking policy in the colonial situation. As Nicholas Deakin points out, European and North American governments in the interwar era began to “engage in social politics but as yet they did not have social policy as such.” It was only from the mid-1930s that enthusiasm for planned expenditure and Keynesian view of social reform expanded to a broader political programme.In that context it should not be surprising that the ground for social planning in the fragile states of the African colonial world was hardly amenable to large-scale innovation in the interwar era. What we can explore are the elements of policy that emerged as points of focus and contestation at the time - thereby providing the platform for later changes or the planning for change — or, more soberly, the lack o f changes as it turned out!

This study focuses on the general climate of that debate that emerged during the interwar years and the gradual, if erratic, advances that were achieved in the fields of health care, welfare and education, tentatively reflecting the gradual emergence of welfare policies in the Europe. Despite the tensions that emerged between those who sought political solutions that would constrain and contain radical politics in the colonial sphere and those who embraced the policies that sought to strengthening traditionally liberal and welfarist politics in the face of challenges from Fascism and Communism, and resurgent African nationalism, a new climate emerged in the form of patchy policies which set the foundation for a degree of welfare research and provision in Britain’s African colonies by the late 1930s.

In the interwar era the vague policy of Indirect Rule had dominated CO policy thinking. It was initially fashioned by Lord Lugard in relation to the specific problems of government in West Africa.'1" The focus was on rural communities or tribal units as a mechanism for stabilizing colonial society in order to prevent what was referred to as the immanent “breakdown” of traditional society with the erosion of customs and traditions that were held to provide for social cohesion. That search for stability was linked to notions of population decline, the dangers of urbanization and the rise of a class of “detribalized” subjects who would pose a threat not only to the traditional tribal order but to the colonial order itself where African nationalism was emerging as a significant force.

The stress on adaptation to the “needs” of the tribal/rural community environment in the field of education, endorsed by the Phelps-Stokes Commissions on African Education in the early 1920s,41 reflected the translation of the political agendas of Indirect Rule into the policy realm of education. These recommendations reflected a subtle blend of Progressive Education, with its focus on the lived world of child and the immediate physical and cultural environment, in the consideration of curriculum choice in Africa. The positive side of these recommendations, informed by the emergence of social anthropology and linguistics as fields of scientific enquiry, was the emphasis on mother-tongue education and on African culture. There was also a focus on the need to “understand the African mind” in order to frame appropriate policy and practice in education.42 The curriculum was to be crafted to demonstrate an appropriate match with the future of African children in relation to the rural context, which was deemed to be the “natural environment” in which they were destined to live and work.

Hodge sees the tentative and sporadic “scientific” policies that were developed for various sectors at this time as “in many ways . . . forming the nucleus of a whole new way of thinking about the nature of colonial development.43 Although he sees many of these ideas as being “paved with good intentions” and often “lost in translation,” he acknowledges in his chapter on the “Human Side of Development” that in the course of the bumpy road to understanding the relationship between science and government some achievements can be recorded. This collection attempts to chart an understanding of these.

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