Colonial Education in South Africa: Creation Of Society That Would Lost Their Cultural Identity

Categories: Success in Education

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela

Education during Colonial Rule Previously as the Colonials got involved, education in South Africa was arranged with tribal needs. You would master the skills that kept you and your tribe alive which indicated that you were given responsibilities for certain tasks depending on your age and gender. There were no writing systems, no advanced technology nor any form of advanced mathematics or science. By no means is this a comment on the ability of the tribes to be successful.

Success among the tribes was measured in terms of power over people, and wealth in terms of heads of cattle. Taking King Shaka (Zulu) as an example, he was a true revolutionary when it came to warfare. The tribes didn’t need what the colonials were offering. The colonials and specifically different churches from various European countries established formal education as an effort to “civilize” the tribes.

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Being able to read and write made it easier to spread religion after all. European economy and power systems worked in vastly different ways. Education was combined to create what was initially the colonial and eventually the capitalist, economy. Colonial education brought different ways such as property ownership employment/ labor and money.

Masked to these were complicated laws, advanced sciences and assembled religion. The influence was that the creation of a society that lost their cultural identity, whilst concurrently operating on African societal norms. It is the unsustainable conflict that brings about the opportunity for corruption from a Western perspective and allows for the general decline of the educational systems put in place by those of European origin.

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Initially, through colonization, there was no formal education in Southern Africa. Education was more a form of hands-on skill training for survival and verbal stories and cultural beliefs and superstitions. Practical training was for survival. As colonization progressed white towns and settlements grew, the need for blacks to learn other skills and knowledge increased, and if they were to participate in an entirely different way of survival in the “modern” white world of technology, trade, industry, and economy. So this was probably very positive and fast-tracked blacks were many centuries behind in mentality (this does not mean stupidity). Taking the issue of Bantu education, you were only heard one popular narrative… and that was whites wanted to suppress black learning with poor education with an agenda to keep blacks uneducated so that a cheap labor force could be cultivated. No facts justify that opinion.

Yet everyone just nods their head in agreement because that is the only rhetoric they have heard. The Apartheid era Bantu education replaced the previous Missionary education, which dated back from the 17th and 18th Century, and which was quite good but was largely unsuccessful and unsuitable in educating the masses of blacks. When the Nationalist Party came into power (1948) they decided to fund and standardize formal black education. The school curriculum up to high school level was pretty similar to white schools, but with a logical emphasis on more useful and comprehensible subjects. The differences in black schools were that language of instruction was mostly in mother tongue and also teaching of mother tongue language and written language was given more priority to blacks. This meant that other subject time allocation suffered. Science, for example, was not seen as being helpful or practical to blacks when they left school. Most black schools were in rural areas and blacks leaving school simply looked for immediate work… and did not look to higher tertiary education. Mathematics was only introduced into the white school curriculum years later. Education in the Cape Colony under British control As the British colonized Africa and South Africa, the government introduced various measures without success.

One of the possible reasons was the hatred of the colonists against involvement with a right to manage their own affairs. When 1920 British settlers, arrived in South Africa the need arouses to provide education that was comparable with the British education system. In 1821 it was accepted that “the children to be taught are those of the Dutch colonists chiefly, or young persons and heathen if required.” – Education in Historical Context page 122 -128. Voortrekker Education The Bible was the only available written text and was used as textbooks. The children were taught to read the Bible, recite the ‘Our Father’, the ‘Ten Commandments’, the ‘Twelve Articles of Faith’ and the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’. – Education in Historical Context page 130 - 131

Education for Black people in South Africa Bantu Education led education from black people under the control of central government. This meant that most church and other independent schools were nationalized or closed down. “The education structure involved convincing in the ruling parties beliefs, and also that black pupils were taught with the aim of their being employed by white people.” – Hartshorne, K. 1992. Crisis and challenge: Black education 1910-1990. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

The quality of education did not decrease suddenly, nevertheless many teachers who had been trained under the previous system, but as new teachers were trained they were also trained under the Bantu Education structure. – Education in Historical Context page 138 -142. The outcomes of this are still experienced today. There are many Zimbabwean refugees and immigrants from other countries in South Africa, and they are far better educated than South Africans.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Colonial Education in South Africa: Creation Of Society That Would Lost Their Cultural Identity. (2024, Feb 03). Retrieved from

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