It's OK to Re-Discover

Posted 4 months ago | Originally written on 25 May 2010

I had a heated debate with a friend yesterday. It centred on something I consider quite sensitive yet immensely pivotal. We had previously touched on it in another argument but yesterday's argument brought things to a head.

My argument is that Africa needs to discover things for herself. When I said this, his first reaction was that much of what we'd discover has already been discovered. Every time we read books on the great innovators we see English, French, Dutch and American names. We are impressed by the great civilisations of the Chinese, Japanese and Indians - that they discovered amazing scientific, mathematical and medical facts. We learn of the advanced societies that they had thousands of years ago. Nay, even the Bible gives formidable accounts of what Israel achieved thousands of years before Christ.

While all these are impressive and serve to give initial credit where it's due they also perform an additional (probably unintended) role of intimidating Africa (and anyone else) from ever trying. We accept it as dogma that there is no place for number two. You'll never find a book that says 'Mr./Ms. so-and-so was the second person to discover X'. But why should it matter so much? Why should we be intimidated to silence? Particularly, what is wrong with rediscovery?

My argument is that re-discovery and self-discovery is just as, if not more, important as discovery. Fine, we give all these nations the right to brag that they discovered all these fancy ideas. But simply acknowledging this fact does not lead to proliferation of those ideas into Africa. Just because we accept that Watson and Crick assembled the first coherent and persistent model of DNA does not have any impact for us as Africans. In fact, I claim that all those discoveries, as presently reported, serve primarily to assert those nations right-to-dominance. Africa should totally reject this!

We need to advance our education by rediscovering solutions that will solve our problems. Even re-inventing the basic transitor radio (even the transitor) should be taken seriously. We need to encourage students to publish their work within the continent to show what we are capable of. Who said that all research must be original? Why do we bind ourselves to implied law?

This is truly difficult because it is a pervasive mindset. It needs to be a gradual process. Frankly, competing with the West is like a kindergarten student competing with PhD candidates for the top position in class. It adds little value to Africa to have experts in nanotechnology when even basic agrarian reform is still pending. We need to be faithful to our condition for therein lies our salvation from hunger, ignorance, disease and war.

Our education systems need to change in two fundamental ways. One, we need to kill the mentality of educating for employment. Jobs do not provide liberty. Most employees do what they have to do and not what they want to do. They spend significant parts of their lives doing what someone else would rather have them do. How can you be productive when you don't like what you do? Why should you be surprised when you are hate your job and just can't rise and you only do the work for the money? Jobs are not the solution to an economy but meaningful work. Can we maximise the number of people doing what they like? It doesn't mean that everyone will do that; certainly, there are jobs that have to be done just as there are people who just have to work but having people do what they'd like to do is more productive.

The alternative to education for employment is educating for practice. From early on, we should empower people to begin their own trade. The hallmark of such a system will be independence of thought. If one went to a school that champions entrepreneurship and inventiveness they would graduate without the need for an employer. The will have ideas ripe for implementation. Presently, we get so hang up that there are no jobs and that stifles all that we've learned. What a waste!

Two, our education system needs to be oriented towards solving problems not accumulating meaningless facts. While a certain part of our education system (primary) is geared towards acquiring basic skills, the latter parts should be committed towards teaching students to think on their own two feet. Education should be riddled with objectives that should be tested sincerely. Let mathematics show students that it is a necessary tool in many disciplines, it's a language by which we may understand Mother Nature; students need to see language courses as opportunities to refine their abilities to express themselves; science courses need to show students the beauty of Mother Nature as well as our ability to employ her laws to improve our lives. There is so much wealth in a good education and very few students every come to this realisation. Unfortunately, most students vow never to return and only do so for the papers they can get. What a waste!

Let's make full use of our God-given minds to tackle our problems and improve our condition. Let us delve deeper into understanding the splendour of Mother Nature. We need to keenly listen to Her for secrets that we can apply to make our existence worthwhile. Only when we realise the tremendous freedom at our disposal will we be able to live lives of abundance and happiness.