University of Lagos 54th Convocation Lecture: Why decolonizing higher education curriculum matters

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The University of Lagos is wise to have selected for its 2024 Convocation Lecture an excellent topic titled “Decolonization of Higher Educational Curriculum: Road for African Institutions.” The choice of this theme is inevitable in a world where continuous research engagements reveal that the highest form of imprisonment that a country can suffer is to be an accessory to the programming of itself as an extension of another. This suggests, for example, that when people are involved in calibrating themselves with the abstract and theoretical tools offered by others to function as everything but themselves, they would have no purposeful impact as humans.

The idea that some have proposed that many Africans, from the time of colonization, have been moulded to think and be like Europeans is a difficult end to come to terms with, but it cannot be excused. It has been argued at various times that such Africans moulded in Western philosophy argue in support of ideas that are rooted in a universalist ideological framework regardless of how these ideas are committed forces against the realization of their own identity and history. Africans have an established way of knowledge generation, and they used that to advance themselves before Europeans came to sabotage that procedural development and constructed their identities. Africans had established their knowledge systems for centuries. However, because these bodies of knowledge did not match with the foreign accepted codes of science, technologies, and developments, they are often disregarded while there is proven evidence that there have been technological breakthroughs in the continent. The delimiting perception of what Africans could do diffused into the mental constructions of the people and persisting colonial predominance in social tenets.

Of course, efforts at decolonization began immediately after the conferment of independence on many African countries, which by design was supposed to check and even challenge the crucibles of knowledge systems inherited from the colonial imperialists. And since it is an ongoing activity, it explains why we continue to do that in the current time despite decades after independence. The resurgence of the Europe-invested academic tradition cannot be overemphasized in a world where the Global-North epistemic tradition is forcefully territorializing the knowledge jungle by which condition is chasing others to the margin. Hence, the demystification of the colonial holds of the academic and general system of the continent has been an arduous task.

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In the face of these problems that form clogs to the wheels of the decolonization efforts of the African knowledge system, especially in the higher institutions of learning, the efforts must persist and resist the strong wills of the whirlpools of subversive foreign influence and culture. In fact, the benefits of these decolonization efforts transcend the African dynamics but attain global significance. The contributions that the supposed subaltern can make to the promotion of global advancement cannot be undermined, considering the understanding that alternative perspectives always offer something unique and novel that would catalyze growth. Locally, the decolonization of African knowledge allows for the attainment of conscientious freedom that breeds free mechanisms and systems strengthened by original processes of information and contextualization. The implication is that a person must be epistemologically free to think before heralding innovative ideas that would transform desired development, and the above alludes to both the global and continental significance of this phenomenon. The recognition of this significance must chart a course for the contemporary Higher Institutions in Africa and the trajectory of the kind of products, research endeavours, and graduates from them.

Incidentally, epistemological liberation breeds mental, emotional, and psychological freedom, and that gives humans the opportunity for self-determination. The efforts of decolonization of African knowledge in the Higher Institution systems can only be evidentially subscribed to if the students are taught how to tap into the wells of originality and think from the vantage point of providing particular and peculiar solutions to African situations. We need to show that the institutions are subscribed to the promotion of African materials in pedagogical endeavours and trajectories of research.

The contemporary state of things is that the curriculum in several of the African institutions does not fully reflect the realities of the African perspectives or knowledge of its problems. The predominant systems in colonial Africa trained Africans to become “foreigners” or test their civilization from the pedestal of acceptable Western parameters. It is quite unfortunate that because of passing through the walls of African Higher institutions of learning, some Africans tend to distance themselves from the materials and properties of African philosophies and values. At best, some try to westernize the bits and shreds of African values that remain in them. While it is easy to point at the errors of the higher institutions that have driven us this far, other agencies of African values and epistemology have failed significantly. Homes, in the modern sense, are themselves a refraction of colonial thoughts as they ideologically and culturally depart from what we used to know in Africa.

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One of the many ways the Higher Institutions of learning have lost their grasp of African dynamics is the failure to develop African languages to accommodate novel knowledge and the failure to institutionalize these languages in the teaching and usage of concrete and abstract intellectual endeavours. There is evidence to support the suggestion that many of the countries making impressive leaps in technological advancement, who are progressing in medical education and inventions, are breaking boundaries in necessary areas of academic excellence, and others are those who have adapted their educational curriculum to their needs, promote knowledge engagement in such a way that they interpret science and concepts in ways suited to them. The African institutions must follow in these footsteps.

Aside from the alignment of African culture and their incorporation into contemporary research and ideological realities, the Universities in Africa must be able and ready to expand the already existing general courses and programs to earnestly portray African ingenuities and epistemologies. The courses must be able to query and expand on the hidden logic and reasonings behind African worldviews. These courses must be able to draw the interest of the students and the people in a way that would not be mere formalities but invoke the consciousness of self and national identities. This must be followed by the proliferation of African scholarship and concepts in a way that they would be able to take on challenges of the dominant paradigms for the projection of our needs. To further solidify this endeavour, the steps of decolonization must dive into socio-cultural initiatives for people-focused actions.

Higher education curriculum, therefore, needs to breathe a new life through the implementation of novel ideas which we believe would birth their emancipation from the ways of old. We must reiterate here that it is necessary to take such steps because we understand that it promises to reshape the philosophical and ideological constructs that have been responsible for the condition of Africans in the global community. It is a thing of worry, for example, that despite the number of economists that the continent has produced, we have still been unable to create a radically different economic system that would transform capitalism to push us forward in the centre of things. It is either we have located our thinking within the confines that Western education has limited us or that we are not curious enough to find working and replicable alternatives. Whichever one it is, the immersion in Eurocentric knowledge models has continued to enhance the colonization of our ideas, and this would always impede efforts at development. It remains obvious that once we establish a foundation for decolonization, our graduates will use their influence in different areas where they are found and implement ideas that would strengthen the African knowledge epistemologies.

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I dream of a continent where knowledge is produced by everyone regardless of their status. Informal knowledge is to be harnessed and harmonized with formal ones so that the force of advancement can be felt across the continent. We cannot underplay the critical importance of such academic direction, and that explains my invitation to do justice to this important topic. The curriculum is like the engine that supplies power to the systems to function.

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