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Call: Education policies, schools and pupils in Africa from the mid - 19th C. to the end of the 1970s

Paris, 9th May 2019

The CEPED and the CESSMA would like to invite researchers on the history of education in Africa, from the Maghreb to South Africa, to an international workshop to be held in Paris, Thursday, 9thMay 2019 on education policies, schools and pupils from colonization to independence in Africa (mid-19th century -1970s)

This call for proposals will help to identify the researchers working on the history of education in Africain order to establish an international network.

The history of education brings a unique perspective to understand imperialism, the processes of nation-building and the shaping of societies; and sheds a new light onthe political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics of colonial and post-colonial Africa. While outstanding research does exist, the field of history of education in Africa is not well structured and lacks the stimulation of intensive scientific discussions. That is why scholars need to foster international collaborations through a structured network, that this workshop wishes to initiate. The focus on history does not exclude collaborations with colleagues from other disciplines, as long as a strong historical perspective characterize their work.

Thinking African colonial societies, independence and national constructions through schooling will enrich a comparatist perspective because issues related to education and schooling had critical roles in the constitution of the colonial empires, the social and intellectual networks which structured them and in the debates which animated them. The creation of schools first involved missionaries throughout the nineteenth century and the relationships between missionary societies and colonial powers have been well studied. Soon after the establishment of colonial domination and European imperial structures, basic primary education became the substitute for and the continuation of political violence designed to ensure the control on territories and populations. At the interface of the colonial power, its educational agents (either Africans or Europeans) and the colonized populations, the school is a particularly relevant institution to observe and to understand the colonial "encounter", the contradictions, conflicts, negotiations and domestication processes at work. Since Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventure,or The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, we also know that education participated in the nascent awareness that led to the decolonization movements, and that colonial schools trained the future nationalist elites, party leaders and independentist parties.

Since the 1960s, the history of education has grasped a variety of topics. Research has often focused on educational policies but has also looked upon the ways colonized societies have appropriated schools by adapting them to their own interests. The contents of courses, the pedagogical relationships and the forms of sociability within schools have been researched as well. These pieces of research have given us a better understanding of how education was enshrined in and participated in the racialisation of colonised societies, the shaping of new gender orders, and the building of new groups and hierarchies. The studies on the decolonisation movements and the processes of nation-building have demonstrated that the newly independent countries inherited schooling systems that were unequal, underdeveloped and disorganised. From that point, they moved on to examine the part of schooling in the training of new African executives,in the birth of senses of nationhood and in the attempts at decolonizing knowledge.

While these questions need to be deepened by new field-research and case-studies, others still have to be addressed. For instance, deep research has been done on the role of schools in the training of the nationalist and independentist elites, but we know little about the collaboration and arrangements with the colonial and neo-colonial powers which allowed for the reproduction, beyond independence, of elitist forms of power which benefited the nationalist elites, at the expense of the people. Furthermore, the history of the subaltern actors of the schooling system has barely been outlined. Thus, while there are many pieces of research on the European teachers and on the African elites trained in the most prestigious schools, we still have to write a social history of African teachers, especially in rural settings. We also need to focus on the pupils, boys and girls, who did not go beyond primary school. Finally, there is a lack of research on African claims and actions in the field of schooling. These claims were expressed in petitions to the governments and asked for an expansion of educational facilities, but more research needs to be done to understand them fully. Africans also opened their own schools or schooling systems,including during the colonial period,either to compensate for a lack of schools or to promote alternative schooling models. This was the case with koranic schools, more or less integrated within the state system of education, but many other initiatives existed. Up to now, these claims and initiatives have been studied mainly from the perspectives of nationalism and activism. They would be usefully integrated into the field of history of education.

The workshop will promote the widest possible approaches of the history of education. Proposals can deal with the history of educational institutions, schools as places of training and identity building, their actors and audiences, teaching aids, the reception of the idea of schooling, of compulsory free education and the "desire for schooling" in Africa under colonization and during the first decades of independence. From examples anchored in a particular period, context, event or country (from the Maghreb to South Africa), communications will help to understand to what extent school policies and practices, training institutions, the individual or collective investment of the actors in the school’s life and their experiences are inseparable from the shaping of the colonial societies but also of the young independent nations.

We will also discuss methodological and theoretical aspects in order to question our research practices and try to renew them. Missionary sources, documents produced by colonial or postcolonial administrations, papers kept in schools, oral sources, textbooks, schools’ maps, letters, pictures: what sources do we use first and foremost? What history can we write with them? How can we ask new questions to these sources and broaden our body of documentation? We can also reflect upon the dialogues that, as historians of education in Africa, we try to create with other fields of research. How do we use the conceptual apparatus forged by historians of education on the one hand, and by historians of Africa, colonisation and decolonisation on the other hand? How concepts such as “Grammar of schooling” (Tabulawa; Depaepe et al.) or “pédagogisation”are used and transformed in our studies on Africa? How do we incorporate the great debates of imperial history within our research on education? The use of indigenous categories and notions, such as “ubuntu” (Makalela) could be questioned. The recent criticisms from African philosophers of education (Mazrui), written from a theoretical standpoint, could also challenge our empirical studies. Similarly, how do we work in the field of education with the criticisms of Western feminism by African feminists? To finish with, to what extent the history of education in Africa does dialogue with theoretical apparatuses developed from other continents, such as the Subaltern Studies from India or the South-American theories of decoloniality?

Many possible themes could be submitted:

  • circulation of policies (aims, concepts, and practices) between colonial headquarters, universities, institutes of education, and colonies.
  • quantitative approach of schools’ equipment in Africa since the mid-19thcentury.
  • male and female actors of education policies in Africa and their training in Africa or abroad.
  • impacts on individual and collective identities and on local/regional politics.
  • social and economic changes for people before and after independence upto the end of the 1970s.
  • theoretical and methodological considerations about concepts and sources

Further information: Call for workshop