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Why knowledge not found in formal education deserve more attention

Opinion & Analysis
THE widening gap between graduate unemployment and increase unresolved challenges in most African countries can be traced to irrelevant education from primary school all the way to university.

THE widening gap between graduate unemployment and increase unresolved challenges in most African countries can be traced to irrelevant education from primary school all the way to university.

For example, science laboratories in the whole education system are barely equipped to solve challenges faced by communities in which schools are located.

If that was the case, laboratories in rural schools would be equipped to solve local challenges like food waste, pests and diseases that are always a menace for local farmers.

Likewise, laboratories in urban schools would be mini-industrial parks reflecting construction work, food markets and industrial work typical of urban areas.

Knowledge generated in formal education systems is not a true reflection of society and daily life.

Towards an education system that helps communities to benefit from natural resources

So that it does not look like African education continues to be like a Ponzi scheme from which parents and guardians do not get any return on investment, the education system should speak to local contexts right from primary level.

That means instead of promoting generic education that cannot be applied to local contexts, schools and universities in agricultural districts or provinces should intensively study local food systems, pests and diseases for the benefit of local communities first before thinking about external markets.

When that happens, local farmers will be able use natural pesticides and herbicides without resorting to imported chemicals that damage the local ecosystem including water sources.

While the efficacy of some integrated pest management systems has been proven, such knowledge is missing in local schools and universities.

Using schools and universities to develop state-of-the-art knowledge systems will enable African local communities to extract value from their natural resources.

For instance, communities can establish plantations of natural herbicides and other indigenous inputs that have been proven to work in diverse communities.

In Zimbabwe, Gava-kava (aloe vera) has been proven effective in treating indigenous poultry suffering from certain diseases.

What stops policymakers from setting up plantations for Gava-kava so that it is always available?

Instead of promoting exotic herbs and pastures like lab-lab, non-governmental organisations and government programmes should support communities to grow plantations of natural grasses that are good for all diverse livestock. This will increase the preservation of indigenous livestock breeds and natural grasses that are becoming extinct.

Using indigenous knowledge to broaden education curricula

With the right political will, indigenous knowledge can be used to broaden knowledge bases within formal education systems and communities in practical ways.

Diverse indigenous plants, grasses and fruits can be identified and production boosted so that they can be available at scale for value addition enterprises.

By now, the continued absence of technologies for mechanising the production of indigenous food should have been addressed if the formal education system was relevant to local challenges.

Efforts to advance African food can be promoted, but as long as key barriers like absence of appropriate mechanisation in producing and processing the food are not addressed, consumers will continue complaining about the presence of soil in the grain.

That will constrain adoption in comparison to industrial food which is available in a state acceptable to most consumers.

Adapting Western knowledge to local contexts

It is unfortunate that African universities have not been able to adapt Western knowledge and use it to advance industrial growth of indigenous food systems and medicines, starting from production all the way to the market.

At production, inadequate inputs remain a challenge for indigenous food. Compost is often recommended, but in most cases, materials for making compost are not available.

For instance, maize husks have multi-purpose uses in supporting the ecosystems, including livestock production and cannot be used only for making compost.

The corporate industrial food system has invested in producing industrial livestock feed but there is no such effort for indigenous food-based livestock feed made from small grains, for instance.

Rather than getting communities involved in gruelling studies through farmer field schools trying to produce compost and other inputs at individual level, these initiatives should be institutionalised at community level in order to achieve economies of scale.

That way, farming communities become implementers of bigger initiatives at industrial level.

Not every farmer has to be involved in manufacturing a processing machine or a tractor in order to use it.

In the same vein, not every farmer should be involved in manufacturing fertiliser at individual household level if massive growth and adoption is to be achieved.

Some things are better done at community or district level than individual level.

That is why it is important to think about bigger investments that support large-scale production so that communities enjoy economies of scale.

African schools and universities can be part of this positive trajectory if they move away from vanity research that does not solve real African challenges.

Instead, universities should be working with communities in identifying local resources and guiding industrial development so that science is used to enable communities to combat uncertainties against all kinds of shocks including droughts.

A major competitive advantage for conventional industrial agriculture is ready availability of inputs.

While industrial inputs may not be ideal, being readily available increases their utilisation.

This is because the industrial system has ensured the same inputs are available throughout the country.

However, that is not the case with indigenous seed and other related inputs that remain localised and not properly packaged to be easily accessible.

Formal education systems should also assist with ensuring indigenous seed and related inputs have guarantees in terms of performance, shelf-life and other valuable quality aspects which are currently not aggressively promoted.

Consistent accessibility of indigenous inputs will increase adoption and utilisation.

The role of universities in advancing adaptive leaderships

One of the major reasons parents and guardians send their children to school and university is to harness the power of knowledge in achieving better lives at both individual and community levels.

Unfortunately, the African formal education system has not been good at generating approaches that adequately transition communities beyond solutions that replicate the status quo.

Otherwise, food insecurity and malnutrition would be a thing of the past if formal education systems focused on generating relevant knowledge to address these age-old African challenges.

It appears the formal education system is designed for learners to regurgitate information obtained in textbooks with such information not translatable to local contexts in which most challenges are becoming more adaptive than technical.

Adaptive challenges like climate change, geopolitical tensions and economic disruptions demand that schools and universities lead communities in learning, experimenting, collaborating and finding fresh consciousness that is more adaptive and resilient.

  • Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge broker and management specialist

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