Exodus

Education stimulates people to want what they do not have. In an African village, like the one I grew up in, the effects of western education on the inhabitants is evident everywhere. From the growth in modern communications media to the infiltration of western cultures and mannerisms; the gulf created by western education between the literate and illiterate (in the western curriculum) is indeed great.

Growing up, I remember village life as some kind of paradise. A place where you felt life was never going to end, but would go on forever. Amid the forest trees, the gardens, the warmth, the rain, the smell of damp earth, the comfort of family, and a sense of life without need we were raised, not by a parent but by a village.

But my father, like many of his compatriots had decided that his children would not remain tied to the life of a village farmer. Education will be the means of our escape. The peanut he plants, along with the generosity of a Swedish lady whom I have never meet to this day, I was able to attend high school. The rest like they say is history.

Education is widely respected in Africa. I read somewhere that among the Fang people of Gabon, parents who in the past would have dipped a spear in the water which was used to wash a new born son, began using a pencil instead. But while a pencil may indeed be mightier than the spear in the long term, the short term effects of education in rural African communities is not wholly favorable. Schools emptied the villages and filled the cities. At the end of each school year thousands of able bodied youngsters leave the sparsely populated villages where labor is short and move to urban areas where jobs are scarce.

Statistics aside, because they are not readily available in Africa, I will estimate that ninety four percent of children with no schooling stay in their villages, but about that same percentage of primary and secondary school graduates leave for urban centers. Of the secondary and high school graduates, 10% moved on to higher education, 31% become apprentices, and skilled laborers or were self employed modou, modous (street vendors). The remaining 59% are either unskilled laborers or unemployed. This out migration of the “educated” from farming communities represents a major hindrance to the agricultural sector.

There can be little doubt that the 59% (if you go by my estimate) who were either unemployed or working as laborers in urban centers could have made a very useful contribution to the improvement of resource utilization in the villages they have left behind. But education has given them a glimpse of broader horizons and policy makers have in effect declared that national development could not begin in the village. A literate middle class they envision is required to run the country and run a market economy. “Let it be remembered”, my sixth form business teacher quoting John Galbraith in a commentary he wrote on the challenges facing underdeveloped countries, “there is no literate population on this planet that is poor, no illiterate population that is otherwise than poor”.

And to paraphrase another commentator on development in Africa: “children should be equipped with basic literacy, and stimulated to want what they do not have”. That is more or less the concept that a great many parents like my father have in mind when they sent us to school. The effects it will have on their community never cross their mind. Policy makers were either short sighted or ineptitude in their formulation of policies. The consequences is densely populated cities with semi literate youths who came to look down on farming but were not educated enough to get themselves out of the hell hole that an unemployed African youth is destined for.

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