How to Link our educational system to our culture

Posted by By at 24 February, at 18 : 00 PM Print

“EDUCATION is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their own particular civilization, and the advancement and glory of their own race.” Marcus Garvey

First, a working definition.

According to the Webster Dictionary, “culture is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought typical of a population or community at a given time.”

Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.” – Albert Camus

As one expert puts it: “Culture is an integral part of every society. It is a learned pattern of behavior and ways in which a person lives his or her life. Culture is essential for the existence of a society because it binds people together. In the explicit sense of the term, culture constitutes the music, food, arts and literature of a society. However, these are only the products of culture followed by society and cannot be defined as culture.”

And according to English Anthropologist Edward B Taylor, culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

According to Deepa Kharta, “Culture is something that a person learns from his family and surroundings, and is not ingrained in him from birth. It does not have any biological connection because even if a person is brought up in a culture different from that in which he was born, he imbibes the culture of the society where he grows up. It is also not a hidden fact that some people feel the need to follow the beliefs and traditions of their own culture, even though they might be not subscribing to certain ideologies within.”

The role that culture plays in society is as vast as they are complex. For example, it can be argued that the health of a society depends on its culture, as this determines what people eat, how they prepare their food and how they treat themselves. Culture also determines how a people relate to their environment and shape how they commune with their ancestors and their gods. Culture is not only a means of communication between people, but it helps, through shared identities, to create a feeling of belonging and togetherness among people in society. It is also through a culture that the entire knowledge-base of a people is transmitted from generation to generation.

It is often forgotten that traditional African societies were among the few in the world that created harmonious environments that had no standing armies, police or prisons yet where the security of lives and properties were to a large extent guaranteed.

Let us take a look at five areas where we can benefit directly by linking our culture to our educational system.

FOOD: Many professionals in the health sector have had occasions to bemoan the dreadful increase in hitherto relatively unknown crippling diseases that is now overwhelming our health service. They often cite diabetes, heart problems, obesity and stroke which are assuming epidemic proportions.

These professionals also pointed out that the increases are directly linked to our changing eating habits.

According to these experts, our people are committing what they term ‘Nutricide,’ (Suicide through nutrition). Sadly no one is taking them seriously; there are no policies in place to stem the tide.

It is said that we are what we eat. And it ought to be a great concern to us that we spend our scarce resources to import foreign eating habits, which tend to give us crippling diseases, we then look for more scarce money to import foreign pharmaceutical products to treat these diseases.

Our president has also had occasion to complain about the huge amount we spend on rice import.

The ‘chop bars’ that used to serve our traditional foods are fast disappearing, and they are being replaced by ‘Fast Food’ joints, which continue to serve fatty dishes with little or no nutritional value whatever.

It is often argued that we live in a globalized world and we have to follow WTO and other International treaties, but this is an erroneous and disingenuous argument.

We are practically the only one that is obeying WTO rules when it comes to opening our ports to every form of imports, especially food items. It is impossible to import food items into Japan, the EU, and the USA without following very stringent rules and regulations. These regulations are often too daunting to prospective exporters that they simply give up.

We can also add that the WTO is not helping us with a subsidy when it comes of treating our sick patients.

We shouldn’t also forget that people in the technically advanced countries are moving towards producing organic food, simply because they have realized that the food they have been eating is what is making them sick. It also should be remembered that most of the chemicals we use as fertilizers in our farms are BANNED in their countries of manufacture!

We have an abundant labour pool in the form of our children, we have a good climate, and our land is also, for the most part, very fertile. And also luckily for us, we have elders who still have traditional knowledge to transmit on how to go produce our traditional staple foods.

It should be noted that almost every country that we called developed today strives first for food sufficiency and security before everything else.

What is needed is the policy to directly link us back to producing and consuming the traditional food our bodies are evolved to process. It does not mean that we say goodbye to eating imported foods, but that these should only serve to complement our indigenous foods.

We should remember that in years back, every school from primary to secondary, maintained farms and gardens. The first hours of every morning were devoted to tending the farms and students got grades for their efforts. It is not too late to revive this.

Our universities and other tertiary institutions are unfortunately not being mobilized in a coherent way to contribute tangibly to our national development?

Rather than our universities students sitting down in classrooms gobbling down theory upon theory, our syllabus and curriculum should be re-structured to make practical work form the biggest percentage of their grades. Every human being has to eat, it makes eminent sense therefore for everyone to have a basic knowledge of agriculture.

We should be concerned that our educational system is geared towards producing graduates who are totally alienated from their society. It is time we develop policies to make graduates contribute to our development in very practical ways.

There should a policy formulated to make agriculture, once again, become the bedrock of our economy and not only in the production of cash crops but in the foodstuffs that we need for our survival.

FASHION: It is sad that our dear country is never mentioned wherever and whenever the fashion of Haute Courtier is discussed, yet our fashion-designers are among the most creative in the world.

We just have to look at the gorgeous designs our women folks wear, and the types of head-gear they tie on their heads to recognize the incredible amount of untapped creative energies abounding around us. Their creativity is also well evidenced in the incredible array of weaving, plaiting styles our womenfolk sprout on their heads.

Most of the creators of this tasteful fashion designs are self-taught or are those taught by seamstresses who are, in turn, mostly self-taught. They function outside all our formal institutions and so are unrecognized.

The country can benefit immensely by formulating a cultural policy that firmly put Ghana’s fashion at the center of official policy. We need to make conscious efforts to actively promote our own and all that is needed is to formulate the proper policy framework. In the very shortest time, we shall start to reap bountiful fruits.

The rest of the world is bound to recognize and respect us when they see that we take pride in whom we are and that we take pride in our own products. The policy whereby civil servants wear Ghana-made material on Fridays should be extended to cover the whole week. We got our independence more than half a century ago, so it makes little sense for our officials to continue to dress like colonial overlords.

We could, for example, have a policy whereby only Ghanaian-designed dresses are to be worn by all state officials at every state function. Food and drinks served at official occasions must also be Ghana-made. So must the furniture and other paraphernalia that decorates our official functions.

Again, the sight of Ghanaian children going to school in uniforms designed during the colonial times is something that should irritate our senses. We have been independent for more than half a century and there is absolutely no reason why our fashion-designers should not be tasked, through official policy, to design appropriately-suited uniforms for our children.

The same policy could be extended to our Military, para-military and police force.

Also, our judicial service and the legislature should also be covered by this policy that promotes the wearing of Ghana-designed and Ghana-made uniforms and attires. It is patently ludicrous to see our magistrates and judges dressed up like they do in England; the weather alone makes it totally incongruous.

The benefits from such a policy are just too numerous to enumerate here. But suffice it to say that it will boost agriculture and employment.

LITERATURE OR ORATURE: For those of us lucky enough to have been born more than three decades ago, one of the best things to happen to us was the sheer corpus of stories we learned from our grandparents and elders in our villages.

Some of our writers have tried their best to chronicle some of these stories in their books, but the largest bodies of these stories remain unknown, especially to our children who, sadly, continue to be fed on foreign culture disseminated by televisions and the Internet.

Like most things, we have simply abandoned this old practice in the name of modernity. It is not too late to formulate policies to bring this noble tradition of story-telling back to our lives.

We can still call upon our parents to come to our schools to teach stories once or twice a week. Most of our parents and elders are just sitting down at home the whole day with little or nothing to occupy their time. They will also be glad to see that we stop neglecting them and see them as a useful and relevant part of our new society.

Once again, the services of the media should be brought into play. Telling indigenous stories should become part of the staple of our media organisations.

Again, we can learn from other societies that have successfully brought their tradition into the computer age by using ICT tools to create indigenous games based on local stories. Our children could be stimulated to improve their ICT skills by transforming our Ananse’s stories into computer games which they can play instead of the violent Hollywood stuff that impart to them zero moral values. Our traditional sports could also be transformed into computer games.

We can also learn from Ethiopia, an African country that has successfully transformed one of its traditional stories into an award-winning computer game.

Our ceremonies like marriages, births, naming ceremonies, deaths and funerals are also areas where we can benefit from the knowledge of our parents and elders.

Whilst we bemoan the moral decadence in our society and the high child pregnancy rates, we could mobilise our elders to come to our rescue.

ART: Art is another very important area that remains largely disconnected from official state policy. Yet, all around us, we see ordinary Ghanaian creating impressive works of art. Most of the artists are self-taught with absolutely no formal education and with absolutely no support or recognition from the state.

We can talk about the Coffin-makers at Teshie-Nungua and other places, the street boys that could perform incredible acrobatic feats, the woodcarvers, sculptors and weavers on our roadsides are also actively participating in the creation of vivid and dynamic at works.

Again sadly, these men and women, boys and girls remain largely unnoticed by our policy-makers. Only the tourists pay them the scantiest attention.

Of course, our students continue to be thought all the theories of art with very little attention paid to the practical side of things.

What is needed is needed here is to directly link this informally-educated roadside education to the schools where they can impact their practical knowledge and experience to complement the theoretical side of things.

It is time to have a policy that recognizes art and try to directly help artists. In the Netherlands for example, a certain percentage of the budget of building a state’s office is devoted to purchasing artworks from Dutch artists.

The Ministry of Culture can start a small loan scheme to help upcoming artists who will be gainfully employed, stopped being burdens on parents societies, pay taxes, help their families and create works that could sell to earn foreign exchange for the nation.

These efforts taken together will also redound very positively as the country will benefit immensely from the creative energies that would be released by this combination.

MUSIC: Sadly, Ghana music is dying. That’s the only conclusion one can draw despite all the glamorous razzmatazz awards that are being doled out yearly.

In years past, Ghanaian music dominated the West African music scene. People in Nigeria grew up with Kpalongo, Adgbaza and High Life tunes from Ghana. Ghanaian musicians were the toast of the West Coast. Today, there is hardly a band worth the name in the whole of Ghana. The older generations of musicians are passing away and the new ones refuse to learn skills that will perpetuate the rich musical heritage of the nation. Our youth are contended to call themselves musicians as long as they can use computers to generate beats.

It is easy to blame globalization but the failure to develop and consciously promote a coherent Cultural Policy is also partly to blame.

Why, for example, are there no regulations governing the percentage of indigenous contents in our media? Many of our radio stations play foreign music the whole day because they are not obliged to have local content. We cannot afford not to make a conscious effort to promote our own thing and expect to reap something in return.

We are happily promoting tourism, yet we are busily promoting foreign ways of life – eating, singing, dancing etc, etc.

Whilst artistes from our neighboring countries (Mali, Senegal, La Cote d’Ivoire) are earning good money for themselves and their countries by show-casing their indigenous culture to the outside world, Ghanaian artistes are making mockeries of themselves by the crass imitation of American rap artists.

Jamaica is a small country that has firmly stamped its authority on the world’s musical scene by evolving and promoting the Reggae genre of music. In the month of February 2011, one of the biggest TV stations in the UK, BBC4, devoted whole weekends to playing Jamaica Reggae music. That’s the sort of advertisement from which any country can benefit. Because of Reggae, Jamaica cannot cope with the number of tourists who are ‘dying’ to see the Island country.

Ghana can also develop and promote a musical genre that will come to define the country. Our self-dignity alone demands that we proudly promote indigenous music that the world will identify with our beloved country. We had solid HighLife tradition but we allow it to wither away.

Our neighbor to the North, Burkina Faso, holds the FESPACO festival that draws film and video makers from all over the world. Mali has a world-class Ballet group, we can also think of a big Art or Fashion event that will also bring the world to our shore?
We should put policies in place where we call upon our elders to become active participants in imparting their vast knowledge to us and also to our children. We can set two days in the week whereby old people will go to the schools in their area to teach traditional things like herbal medicine, singing, dancing, stories etc, etc.

There also should be a policy in place whereby our media should also set aside a percentage of their air-time to allow our elders to teach some of these things.

HEALTH: It is sad that we seem to have forgotten the old wise saying that “Health is wealth.”

In years of yore, our parents treat every manner of illness and sickness and injuries with herbal medicines they mixed from the leaves, roots, and barks of the plants in their forest.

Not only were our parents sensible enough to eat wholesome food from their surroundings, but they also pay particular attention to the type of medicines they take. That is the reason why we today have Octogenarians in our villages that are still sprightly but yet have never seen the inside of a hospital.

Sadly, the herbal knowledge of our parents remains untapped whilst the whole nation is going gaga over Chinese medicines. The Chinese and the Indians take great pride in their indigenous herbal knowledge; they formulated policies to link these into their school curriculum. The result is that they are leading the world in trado-medicinal products.

Our parents are dying away slowly and the experiences they have accumulated over the eons are perishing with them.

We should try and collect as much of this knowledge before it is too late. We should have a policy whereby our parents should be invited to impart their knowledge at our school of medicines. They could work in tandem with the Western-trained medical specialists to formulate new methods of medical treatment that are uniquely Ghanaian.

The media should also be mobilized in this campaign.

About the Author

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and Correspondent for the New African magazine. Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the CEO of Alaye Dot Biz Limited Dot Biz, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organisation that specialises in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

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