Postcolonialism and Education
Summary and Keywords
Education was a strategy in the colonization of large parts of the globe by European colonial powers. Postcolonialism, a diverse school of thought, demands that the ongoing destructive consequences of the colonial era be exposed, analyzed, and addressed through action. Postcolonial literature, while illuminating the dehumanizing effects of colonization, has understandably focused on the hegemony of Western culture and its effects on education, but it has been vulnerable to criticism that it ought also to pay attention to colonialism as the capitalist exploitation of colonies and former colonies, for their wealth and labor and as markets for manufactured goods. Postcolonial education addresses cultural imperialism by recognizing and unsettling its legacy in the school curriculum and the Western assumptions about knowledge and the world that underpin it, fostering a pedagogy of critique and transformation in the metropole and the periphery. Globalization in the 21st century has intensified interactions between the metropole and former colonies, in an increasingly integrated world system in which neo-liberal influences have created a new form of empire that embraces education. While demands for the restoration of indigenous forms of education are understandable as a response to cultural dispossession, new directions in postcolonial educational thought will also need to accommodate hybridity and to attend to the material conditions of global inequality.
Introduction: Education as a Tool of Colonialism
Postcolonialism refers to a broad and diverse school of thought that seeks, in the first instance, to analyze the effects and significance of the colonization of large parts of Africa, Asia, South America, Australasia, Canada, and the Middle East, mainly by European states.1 While the processes of colonization took place over some centuries, starting in the 16th century in South America, the colonial era was at its height in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it included as much as 80% of the world’s population. The colonial era was marked by enforced trade on terms favorable to the metropole, as well as military occupation and administrative control, plundering of resources, settlement and dispossession of land. Although the period of colonial rule over large parts of the globe formally came to an end with the achievement of titular, political independence by most of the colonized states of Africa and Asia in the decades after the Second World War, and much earlier in South America, a central claim made by postcolonial theorists is that the destructive effects of colonialism persist long after political decolonization. Postcolonialism demands that the ongoing consequences of the colonial era—social and cultural, political, economic, and psychological, as well as educational—be exposed, analyzed, and addressed through action.
While the origins of postcolonial thought and action lie in the post-World War II liberation movements’ struggles for independence from the European powers, the emergence of postcolonial theory to prominence can be traced largely to an upsurge of writings in cultural studies and comparative literary theory, dating from the 1970s. Many of these texts focused on portrayals of colonial interactions in literature and the novel. Robert Young observes that the novel’s central importance in postcolonial thought is explained by the importance of subjective experience to postcolonial ideas.2 Postcolonial perspectives have subsequently been developed across various disciplines, such as history and political thought—and crucially for the purposes of this entry—in the study of education. For education was a prominent aspect, indeed a strategy in colonization of large swathes of territory outside Europe. Hence education became a key theme in postcolonial theory and an enduring challenge in the ongoing pursuit of decolonization and postcoloniality.
Although its form and availability varied according to context, in all its aspects—curriculum, organization and ethos—colonial schooling was designed primarily to serve the interests of the colonizing powers (Kelly & Altbach, 1978). Its content, language, and conceptions of knowledge were both unreflectively European and dismissive of indigenous culture,3 languages, knowledge, and traditions of upbringing and education. Moral education, especially that provided by missionaries, aimed to convert indigenous learners from their traditional beliefs, to save, civilize, and improve them, while also discouraging any possible forms of unruliness that might result from providing them with educational opportunities beyond those that served the needs of the colonizer. Insofar as colonial schools equipped their pupils for the world after school, this was confined to meeting the colonizers’ labor needs for clerks, administrators, manual laborers, and domestic servants—for limited employment opportunities outside of traditional indigenous occupations like subsistence farming and fishing, for which colonial schooling tended to provide no preparation. They were to produce materials and goods needed for metropolitan markets and to fit in with social structures and understandings of work and its purpose that matched the colonizers’ requirements (Carnoy, 1974).
In its most extreme practices, colonial schooling involved taking children from their communities and placing them in boarding schools to reduce the influence of their parents and the communities from which they came. Even when it took less drastic forms of intervention, colonial education was both alien and alienating to its recipients, who played no part in deciding its direction and content. Those who were successful in deriving individual benefits from it had to overcome substantial cultural obstacles beyond those also faced by their Western working class counterparts. Colonial schooling was mainly restricted to primary education, and even that was with limited access, confined to a minority of the indigenous population, poorly resourced, and with a restricted curriculum inferior to that of the metropolitan school on which it was modeled. Like schooling in the metropole, it was not intended to foster the agency of its recipients, but its effects were arguably more damaging to its subjects’ agency than to the recipients of metropolitan mass education.
Yet recipients of colonial education were not merely dupes who simply succumbed to a Western curriculum that persuaded them to accept the dilution of their own traditions as inferior, meekly becoming cheap labor, or co-opted as bureaucrats. Just as there were many local variations in the forms taken by colonial education, so too the uptake by indigenous recipients of colonial schooling also varied, ranging from alienation and dislocation for many, to opportunities for employment and influence for the few, particularly for the offspring of local elites. Although many in the indigenous populations of the colonies were initially indifferent or even hostile to colonial schooling, demand did generally grow as the advantages it gave to some became clear. Gail Kelly and Philip Altbach observe the ambiguities of the dilemma posed between the undermining of indigenous culture by Western education and the part it might play in resisting colonialism: “The fact of foreign rule and its seeming permanence shook the faith of many of the indigenous people in the viability of their culture and institutions as they were. Learning Western technology and science seemed the key to revitalization of their own societies and their return to autonomy” (Kelly & Altbach, 1978, p. 17).
Opinion varies about the political consequences of colonial schooling in the colonies. While the colonizers may have been intent to ensure that the schooling provided to the minority of the colonized avoided fostering subversive tendencies, colonial education did in some contexts inadvertently promote the emergence of nationalist leaders who resisted colonization, led independence movements, and saw expanded provision of education as a means to develop newly independent states’ autonomy from colonial rule and influences. Although the extent to which colonialism prompted forms of nationalist resistance that were to the ultimate benefit of the colonized masses is unclear, some recipients of colonial schooling were able to use it in the struggle for independence, while in some cases also smoothing the path towards postcolonial dependency (Carnoy, 1974).
Against this historical background, this entry poses the question: how can postcolonialist thought address the educational consequences of colonialism? Comprising two main sections, in the first it will present an overview of the themes developed in a selection of key postcolonialist texts. In doing so, a tension will be highlighted between analyzing colonialism as cultural on the one hand, contrasted on the other hand with the Marxist insistence on interpreting colonialism as fundamentally the imposition of capitalism on indigenous peoples across the globe by the colonizing powers. Emphasizing the changing character of colonialism, and how formal decolonization and then neo-colonialism have been followed by a phase of accelerating globalization, the second section will consider possible 21st century strategies in education. In doing so, this section will discuss the need to pursue postcoloniality in both the metropole and the former colonies or periphery, and also the case for promoting indigenous education in the former colonies as well as other states on the periphery. An underlying assumption in developing these themes will be that although education has been a tool of subjugation and domination in the metropole, and even more destructively so in the colonies that bore the brunt of colonization, postcolonial educational thought also emphasizes that it has the capacity to foster critique and agency. This goal, it will be argued, ought to be regarded as common to the populations of the former colonizing powers and to the subjects of coloniality, given the effects of globalization and the present day characteristics of empire.
Before proceeding, it is important to clarify some terms that are commonly used in discussions about postcolonialism and education. In the postcolonial literature a set of highly contested concepts are in play, including the very word postcolonialism itself, the “post,” which some would regard as misleading and indeed dangerous, implying that colonialism and its consequences have been left behind. However, while acknowledging that the terms of postcolonialism are so contested, this article uses the word postcolonial without suggesting a clear break between colonial history and the subsequent period in which its effects have persisted after the former colonies achieved their independence from colonizing powers. For these reasons the term coloniality, which might be used in a way similar to the idea of the postcolonial condition, is useful in designating the continuing conditions and effects of colonialism, as a relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, in which the institutions and very sense of self of the colonized have been destructively transformed. A feature of coloniality or the postcolonial condition is neo-colonialism, a term that can be invoked in referring to tendencies to restore and reproduce colonial relationships and exploitation after independence, albeit in new guises. As a critical response to the lingering effects of colonial conquest after political decolonization and the advent of formal sovereignty, then, the idea of the postcolonial can encompass a period, a condition, a project, a process, a body of theory, and even an academic discipline. Given the harms of colonialism and the difficulties in overcoming its effects, some would prefer the stronger term anti-colonial when referring to postcolonial action, to actively rejecting and resisting colonialism, restoring local control in all institutions, including educational ones.4
Although the terms colonialism and imperialism are sometimes used as if they are interchangeable, there is a significant difference at stake between these two related notions, which has been the subject of considerable debate. For Edward Said, “imperialism means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory; colonialism, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on a distant territory” Said (1993, p. 8). Martin Carnoy’s account of Education as Cultural Imperialism(1974) observes that, although older forms of imperialism had given way by the late 20th century, the educational systems they created remained little changed after independence.
The field of postcolonial thought can be so controversial that even naming places on the globe when describing processes of colonization and decolonization is contentious. Distinguishing between poor and rich, or developing and developed countries, while sometimes unavoidable, can be read as either simplistically assuming superiority or as dismissively pejorative. The complex history of colonialism and the changing nature of imperialism can render terms like the West and Europe crude and problematic, for not all European states engaged in colonialism, and some rich industrialized states of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are former colonies, while Japan is not a Western power. For some purposes, it is more useful to refer to the global North and the global South, as respectively designating the beneficiaries and the subjects of past colonialism and present day imperialism. For these reasons this entry favors the terms metropole and periphery. While using this problematic distinction is necessary to the discussion that follows, to signify a persisting imbalance in wealth, autonomy, and power, postcolonial thought demands that every opportunity be taken to decenter the metropole.
Postcolonial Theory and Postcolonial Education: Key Texts and Ideas
The postcolonial literature is large and diverse, and here a selection will be briefly considered. This selection refers to two authors who have expressed the most prominent critiques of colonialism and its consequences, and two who have written specifically about education from a postcolonial perspective. Frantz Fanon’s powerful analysis of racism’s alienating effects on the black man in Black Skin, White Masks (1967)5 has been an influential account of the psychology of racism and the dehumanizing effects of colonialism. Its title’s metaphorical depiction of the colonized wearing a white mask while having a black skin suggests forcefully how colonial subjects bear their subjection internally, psychologically, desiring whiteness itself. Fanon uses this metaphor of color to raise the question of how the colonized subject can resist being constituted as inferior to the colonizer. Hence, in The Wretched of the Earth (Fanon, 1965), he argues that decolonization, as the product of the violence of the colonial situation, is always violent. This most controversial aspect of his work, which needs to be understood in the context of the liberation struggle in Algeria, has tended to be misinterpreted as a recommendation for violence. His aim, however, was to explain violence as abnormal, provoked by the colonial conditions in which those engaged in the liberation struggle are forced to react to the violence that defines colonialism.
Fanon’s analysis of colonialism combines this attention to its destructive effects on the very sense of self of the colonized, with attention to the additional, competing thread in postcolonial thought. Displaying the influence of Marxist thought on his ideas, Fanon’s account of colonialism is also strongly anti-capitalist and focused on what he saw as the colonists’ sole concern with pursuing wealth by acquiring the colonies’ resources for use in European markets. Fanon observes: “The colonies have become a market. The colonial population is a customer who is ready to buy goods” (Fanon, 1965, p. 51). But Fanon reserved some of his most biting critique for his analysis of the role of the emerging indigenous middle class in the decolonization process. An educated bourgeoisie, he warned, would be content to take on the role of business agent for the West, accumulating wealth, supporting ethnic interests, and behaving like the former colonizer, complicit in neo-colonialism.
While his Culture and Imperialism (Said, 1993) acknowledged Fanon’s insights into the close relationship between capitalism and imperialism, Edward Said’s landmark writings ushered in the growth and influence of postcolonial theory focused largely on literary and cultural studies, especially in Western universities. His Orientalism (Said, 1978) is a groundbreaking and widely influential text, credited by many with initiating the development of postcolonial theory. Drawing on Foucault’s fundamental claim6 that knowledge and power are closely related, Said describes Orientalism as a discourse, “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient,” and a “systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period” (Said, 1978, p. 3). In doing so, Orientalism was able to exercise power over the Orient by casting the West as rational and superior, by contrast to its construction of the Orient as exotic, alien, violent, sensuous, irrational, and lacking in cultural achievements. Said’s description of how the Western gaze constructs the Orient as other, as both distant and different, opened the way to a much wider understanding of how the colonized elsewhere have been constructed as outside and as Other. His reference (Said, 1978, p. 152) to Lord Macaulay’s declaration that the native Indian subjects of the British Empire had more to learn from their colonial masters than the imperial power did from them, in his infamous Minute of 1835, exposes a widely held assumption about knowledge in the Orient as requiring correction by means of Western education. For all its influential insights, however, Said’s work has been a target of Marxist criticisms (see for example, Lazarus, 2007, pp. 3–27), which have objected to a tendency in postcolonial writings to interpret imperialism as a cultural category rather than framing it within the history of capitalism as the imposition of commodity production for exchange in a market system that drew all into capitalist class relations to the benefit of the metropole.
As Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard observe, Said “viewed formal education as a key institution through which colonial modes of thinking were produced and reproduced and where postcolonial aspirations could also be worked towards” (Rizvi & Lingard, 2006, p. 294). Yet, although he mentioned education at times in his many writings, Said’s work was not in the first instance about education. Said’s critique of Orientalism has been most tellingly extended to an analysis of the educational legacy of imperialism in John Willinsky’s acclaimed 1998 book, Learning to Divide the World: Education at Empire’s End. Writing from within the metropole as a Canadian educator, Willinsky demonstrates how the knowledge of the world that has been fostered by education is constituted by imperialism and conquest; imperialism as an educational project “afforded lessons in how to divide the world” (Willinsky, 1998, p. 13). Willinsky’s account of the standard school curriculum potentially enables students to develop critical awareness of how their own education has been shaped by the legacy of imperialism through the disciplines of science, history, geography, language, and literature. He also analyses how discovery and exploration, the collection and classification of objects, and their display in museums, have influenced representations of the other. Asking what kind of response is called for once the legacy of imperialism is recognized and unsettled, Willinsky observes that a form of education able to deal with the boundaries that still exist has to be developed, and he recommends that the continuing influence of imperialism on learning about the world should be an explicit topic in education, “a postcolonial supplement to the curriculum” (Willinsky, 1998, p. 255).
Willinsky’s postcolonial critique of colonial education addresses the question of how to disrupt the legacy of colonialism largely from within the classroom of both the metropole and a former colony with a diverse school population that reflects Canada’s past. Paulo Freire, author of the celebrated Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), on the other hand, writes largely from within Brazil as a former colony, vividly describing colonial education though the metaphor of banking. His account of education as narration by the teacher as the knowing subject, to the students as listening objects, filling them like containers with knowledge that is detached from their lives, a gift bestowed on its recipients, has inspired educators seeking a pedagogy of transformation in both the periphery and the metropole. A fundamental purpose of Freire’s problem-posing education is that it must equip those subjected to domination to struggle for emancipation. Literacy and developing critical awareness through reflection and action are central to his postcolonial educational strategies.
Freire’s manifesto for problem-posing, humanizing, liberating education, intent on fostering active cognition as against mere transfers of information, has been widely influential among educators seeking to disrupt the effects of colonial education. Yet Henry Giroux, while rightly describing Freire’s work as representing both the very idea of critical pedagogy and its practice (Giroux, 2006), has found it necessary to warn against its appropriation in the metropole in ways that that might dilute its profoundly radical nature as a response to imperialism. Giroux’s insistence that Freire’s ideas be read as postcolonial, provocatively demands that those working in North America, and by implication elsewhere in the metropole, act as “border crossers,” addressing through dialogue the politics of power and privilege in the West. For educators to respond to the silencing of the other, they need to reject home as a middle-class, white space of familiarity and safety. The metaphors of home and border crossing, alluding to the territorial quality of colonial domination, raise a profound set of questions about how to respond to colonial domination through education. If colonialism’s most destructive effect is to undermine agency by dislocating its subject’s very sense of self, postcolonial education, too, requires forms of disruption and dislocation, most obviously among educators, but also among students and pupils, as Willinsky suggests. The pursuit of postcolonialism in education is as much a project in the metropole as it is in the periphery.
Postcolonial Education in a Globalized World
Globalization and Imperialism in Education
Although a plausible case might be made for tracing the origins of globalization to the start of the colonial era or even before that, its contemporary features are primarily a result of the accelerated global integration that has taken place since the late 20th century, after the period of decolonization. These features have comprised the transnational economic, cultural, and political interconnectedness manifested in movements of information, capital, goods, and people. As communication has become instantaneous and has reduced distances between parts of the world that might previously have separated the metropole from its far-flung colonies, so space and time are compressed, and interactions between former colonies and colonizer states as well as the wider global system have intensified. With the increased power of global corporations and the growth of transnational agreements and organizations, the power of the nation state has been reduced, though by no means removed. Local activities of many types, including the economic and the educational, are more easily influenced and controlled from a distance, further reducing the viability of remaining local traditions, practices, and values. Commodification and the consumerist culture that originated in the metropole have been dispersed by the global spread of capitalism from its previous predominantly Western location. Powerful global corporations are no longer solely based and controlled in the West, reflecting the changing character of imperialism as framing 21st century forms of coloniality. Neo-liberal influences are a new form of empire, less visible, more globally dispersed, and no longer wielding a kind of domination exercised solely as the preserve of the Western powers. Imperialism is no longer usefully understood as comprising old forms of colonialism, exercised by metropolitan states using their power to visibly subjugate other states. Rather, the old empires have given way to a new form of more adaptable and dispersed global domination that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri call Empire, an order that relies on “the global market and global circuits of production” (Hardt & Negri, 2000).
Although opinions might vary about its nature, extent, relative destructive, and beneficial effects, a globally integrated economy and accelerating cultural and institutional integration have had far-reaching consequences for education. Contemporary critiques of neo-liberalism confirm and elaborate on the significance of globalization. Even if the wealth of the global North was built by unidirectional colonial and neo-colonial exploitation of the colonized, both the global North and the global South have been embraced by neo-liberal policies. Placing market competition at the heart of all activity, neo-liberal forces have been driven by conceptions of persons everywhere as human capital, and of education as preparation for a competitive labor market. In a global knowledge economy intellectual labor is both highly valued and mobile. Yet the rules of the global market, while supposedly neutrally fostering competition to the benefit of all, continue to support a global framework that favors the metropolitan economies at the core to out-compete those of the periphery, while not necessarily benefitting all people in the core economies. These features of globalization tend to confirm the insistence of Marxist critics of postcolonial theory, that the fundamentally material, rather than cultural, character of the postcolonial condition should be borne in mind in considering the significance of globalization for postcolonial education.
The complex relationship between postcolonialism and globalization signifies profound implications for education. Although education remained located within imperial power structures after decolonization, in some respects coloniality in education has intensified, as educational practices and polices continue to be dominated by neo-liberal conceptions of knowledge, learning, curriculum, authority, school organization, pedagogy, and assessment. The dominant critical interpretation is that the spread of global policies and systems that comprise globalization undermine the sovereignty of nation states and also the autonomy of their educational systems, drawing them into the demands of the global economy while detaching them from local needs and control. National educational systems have been dominated by supranational entities, the most notorious example being the Structural Adjustment Programs promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Africa and South America in the 1980s and 1990s, which reduced educational budgets with devastating consequences for education and the growth of poverty. As educational policies and practices have become globalized through the influence of bodies like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a critical response to globalization objects that external actors set an agenda in developing countries that prioritizes competitiveness and does not act in the interests of their citizens. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) standardized tests, as well as competitive international university rankings, favor wealthy countries in a contest that those with less well-funded educational systems cannot win. These global systems and policies, alongside forces like the dominance of the English language (Huddart, 2014), should be recognized as forms of recolonization of education.
However, more optimistic interpretations of globalization recognize initiatives like the Global Campaign for Education as counter-hegemonic and as fostering a degree of local benefit and autonomy in educational provision. The central place of education in UNESCO’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) should also be recognized as supporting educational benefits that empower the most marginalized, especially women and girls. These competing perspectives suggest a global educational order that offers both locally empowering opportunities and elements of neo-colonialism. Despite Fanon’s warnings, the commitment of governments in developing countries to the MDGs cannot be dismissed as a form of false consciousness or as mere corrupt self-interest on the part of their leaders.
Yet it would be a mistake to restrict critical discussion of the effects of globalization on education to the periphery that comprises the former colonies as well as parts of the globe not actually colonized but still marginalized by enduring conditions of coloniality, in two ways. First, the fact of globalization suggests that the marginalized in the metropole may have more in common with those on the global periphery than is often assumed, with Blauner (1969) arguing influentially that the classical colonization of African and other colonized peoples shared some common features with the subjugation of black Americans. The question: “Who has education colonized in the 21st century?” was addressed in a debate about colonialism and imperialism in education conducted in the 1970s. Kelly and Altbach responded to Carnoy’s view that blacks and the American working class experienced the same basic relationship to schooling as Asians and Africans during colonialism. While emphasizing that blacks, women, and the working class had also undoubtedly been oppressed and exploited, Kelly and Altbach questioned whether they can be considered to have been colonized in the same ways as nations colonized by others nations were. While there may be some institutional similarities in the experience of school, Kelly and Altbach argued (1978, pp. 25–27) that these gender, racial, and class inequalities were not substantively the same as the inequalities fostered by colonialism. In its most clear-cut characterization, colonialism in education is indeed the imposition and control of education from without on a population that profits the colonizer, not the colonized. Yet globalization has sufficiently altered these relationships for there to be some analytical advantage in recognizing increasingly similar kinds of inequalities across and between societies differently affected by colonialism. Carnoy concluded that “all children are in some sense colonized by the schools because of the understanding of the society the school teaches them. This colonizing knowledge is, however, more detrimental to the lower classes than to the upper” (Carnoy, 1974, p. 365). Several decades later, the internally colonized and those most adversely affected by globalization, in the global North, have even more in common with the previously colonized than was the case in the early decades after political decolonization.
Second, the dismantling of the former Western empires subsequently led to huge population movements and changes in the demography of the colonizing powers themselves. Migration to the metropole from former colonies in the Caribbean, South and East Asia, parts of Africa, and more recently, states in the Middle East destabilized by imperialist strategies of the United States and its European allies has created multicultural school populations, especially in the larger European and American cities. Coloniality has been globalized, and postcolonial ideas are as relevant to the metropole as to former colonies, as attested in the discussion of Willinsky and Giroux’s interpretations of postcolonial education. Internal colonization may also be evident in the common experiences of, for example, lower class Asian and African American students (Lew, 2006).
Implementing Postcolonial Education
The still accelerating effects of globalization in the early 21st century have created conditions that are both similar to and qualitatively different from those that prevailed at the time of political independence from colonial rule in the second half of the 20th century. If education remains a tool of neo-colonialism and a means of resisting it, what form should it take under contemporary conditions? At the heart of postcolonial thought and strategy is the importance of restoring the agency of the colonized; and we have seen how Freire’s pedagogy and Willinsky’s recommendations for education to confront the end of empire offer some crucial elements of postcolonial educational practice. But there is more to be said, and two issues require attention in this concluding section: to what extent does globalization now make shared educational experiences between the metropole and the periphery an inescapable part of postcolonial education; and from a contrary perspective, to what extent should postcolonial education in the periphery return to indigenous traditions?
On the assumption that progressive education can foster agency and serve the interests of the marginalized, might the global integration fostered by factors like the movement of people and the spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs) bring students across the globe together in common learning experiences? The history of colonial education and of ongoing neo-colonial influences clearly indicate the need for curricula in the metropole and on the margins to both remove and explicitly address Western hegemony in curricula and textbooks, alongside initiatives to incorporate multicultural and inter-cultural perspectives, critical- and multi-literacies, and to address race, class, and gender biases and inequalities in curricula and pedagogy. While ICTs make possible the seemingly inexorable spread of materialist values and consumerism among young people across former colonies and former colonizer states who are at home in social and educational digital media, they also create opportunities for contact, partnerships, and exchanges with distant others. Common curriculum activities thus supported can address the shared ecological problems and challenges of sustainable development that were less obvious in the immediate period after political decolonization. Learning about distant others can be a means to better understanding the problems and location of students’ own society in a global context that avoids assuming that their own ways are the norm, especially in the metropole. Such learning requires teaching about the colonial past and the ongoing unequal relationships between former colonizers and colonized, with clear requirements for multi-lingualism and the teaching of post-nationalist histories and global literatures. By identifying issues of language, Eurocentric content, competitive and exclusionary systems of assessment, and the very relationship between the colonized and the former colonizing power, postcolonial strategies in education can disrupt the globalized neo-liberal education and the neo-colonial forces, beliefs, and practices that underpin it. Yet even such initiatives can pose a danger of reproducing old patterns of domination and subordination. By fostering critique, learners in under-resourced schools, in former colonies with already fractured local identities, remain more vulnerable to ongoing damage to their sense of self and their place in the world than their counterparts in developed former colonies in well-resourced schools. Western learners in more privileged schooling systems are more likely to acquire the tools of easy criticality without experiencing the homelessness of those coping with less familiar educational experiences. Though one should not assume that all in western countries are “at home” in education, even attempts to teach global citizenship that emphasize shared interests can lead to their adopting patronizing attitudes and so new expressions of colonialism, because of their privileged inheritance from the colonial era, including greater wealth.
Such considerations point to the importance of ensuring that the interests, wishes, and views of the previously colonized receive greater attention in planning and practicing postcolonial education. This should be done in institutions where they have control over forms of education that no longer serve the interests of others and that misrepresent their selves in the texts and disciplines that comprise the curriculum. Does ensuring that the viewpoints of the marginalized are properly recovered and recognized require that education in the periphery should turn mainly to localized solutions and to the retrieval of indigenous traditions? Indigenous education could set out to retrieve indigenous knowledge, traditional forms of moral education that prioritize communal values, connectedness with the land and the ancestors, a strong focus on education as vocational preparation, and the restoration of traditional authority structures that respect the elders. Demands for indigenous forms of education in which participants feel at home should be taken into account in reconstructing education and its postcolonial provision. But there are limitations on the extent to which postcolonial education could viably be a retrieval of indigeneity, and its potential pitfalls ought to be recognized. As Ania Loomba observes, postcolonial critics tend to be engaged with “the shades of the colonial past much more than with the difficulties of the colonial present” (Loomba, 2005, p. 256). The contemporary world and its institutions and practices are now so defined by globalization that some skepticism is inevitable about the feasibility of and the inherent dangers in defending indigeneity as a solution to present-day educational coloniality.
An interpretation of postcolonial ideas as requiring a retreat from modernity to retrieve pre-colonial ways would be difficult to implement in educational practice, because of the extent of the destruction wrought by colonialism and because, if attempted wholesale, it could subvert the present-day interests of learners in former colonies. Thus Michael Adeyemi and August Adeyinka’s sympathetic account of indigenous education in Africa concludes by recommending that “a balance should be struck between the practice of traditional and modern-day education in a continuing attempt to produce all-round citizens: people who are able and willing to appreciate and utilise the values of both traditional and modern educational systems” (Adeyemi & Adeyinka, 2003, p. 439). They also emphasize that investigation of the features of pre-colonial indigenous education will be necessary in different African countries to establish how the utilization of the traditional and the modern might be achieved, attending to both local and national conditions. Writing about moral education in Zimbabwe since independence, Pascah Mungwini argues that, although it is understandable that people should desire what is their own, the changes that modernity has effected make revitalizing traditional values difficult (Mungwini, 2011, p. 774).
Such revitalization, and the investigation and negotiation it would require, would need to pay particular attention to the views and wishes of those who would traditionally have had less say in making communal decisions, especially young women. But a pre-occupation with indigeneity, understandable though it is as a response to colonialism and cultural dispossession, may also open the way to nationalistic appropriation and reinterpretation of supposedly authentic traditions and identities by elites seeking to pursue their own interests. Nationalism should be acknowledged to have been an inspiration for decolonization movements and independence struggles as well as post-independence state building. But how far should nationalism determine ongoing postcolonial strategies long after independence, especially in education? Leela Gandhi’s account of the synthesis between postcolonialism and nationalism considers the idea that there could be “some grounds for a postcolonial defense of the anti-colonial nation” (Gandhi, 1983, p. 102), and she sides convincingly with the position that, despite the contribution it made to the achievement of decolonization, the place of nationalism in the colonial era’s archive should ultimately be a transitional one.
Writing about attempts to reinstate indigeneity in moral education in Zimbabwean schools, Mungwini warns of the danger that ubuntu, the African ethic of interdependence and humaneness, could be used by those in positions of power as a pretext to encourage unanimity of thought and acceptance of what they portray as the community’s view. Suggesting a postcolonial notion of hybridity, Mungwini proposes instead an educational system that sets out to foster an African who is at home in Africa and in Europe: “an admirable supple African” who does not exhibit “tendencies traceable to tradition under the pretext of defending or attempting to exhibit the so-called African cultural values …” (Mungwini, 2011, p. 785).
If education is to develop new directions in postcolonial thought that recognize the limitations of a strategy based on retrieving past traditions, the work of Homi Bhabha will be instructive. Invoking the metaphor of space that alludes to the territorial features of colonialism, and also urging a relocation of Western culture, Bhabha describes the negotiation of cultural difference in terms of borderline engagements, in spaces in between, developing interstitial perspectives. While these exchanges may involve conflict as well as consensus, and recognizing that neo-colonial relations persist in a neo-colonial world, Bhabha argues that such engagements are likely to overturn assumptions about both the traditional and the modern. This struggle for power Bhabha describes as a struggle that takes place in a space that “opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy…” (Bhabha, 1994, p. 4). Bhabha endorses Fanon’s recognition that the subordinated will likely wish to retrieve their repressed traditions and histories. But he reiterates Fanon’s warnings about the dangers of defending fetishized identities.
If a task of postcolonial theory is a “political obligation to assist the subjects of postcoloniality to live with the gaps and fissures of their condition, and thereby to learn to proceed with self understanding” (Gandhi, 1983, p. 8), then education is as central to 21st century postcolonial thought and practice as it was to colonialism. To a considerable extent, that task will need to attend to issues of culture and difference, but not exclusively so, and not only by retrieving past traditions. Given the globalization of capitalism and the huge persisting inequalities in educational provision across the globe, attention to the cultural dimensions of coloniality, even if it assumes cultural hybridity, will not be enough. Contemporary postcolonial thought and future research on postcolonial education need to pay attention to the material conditions of global inequality, reconsidering their relationship to the Marxist tradition.
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(1.) While the Roman, Russian, and Ottoman empires were also expressions of imperialism, their characteristics are not relevant to this entry, whose focus is on the modern age of imperialism and its educational effects and significance.
(2.) R. Young (2009), What is the postcolonial? Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 40(1). Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (London: Blackwood’s Magazine, 1899) is often cited as the novel that marks the start of a now huge postcolonial literature. Recent novels in this tradition that include refection on the varying uptake by and impact of western education on key characters in their narratives are Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (London: Flamingo, 1988) and K. Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (New York: Grove Press, 2006).
(3.) Lord Macaulay’s notorious “Minute on Indian education,” in B. Ashcroft & H. Tiffin (Eds.), The postcolonial studies reader (London: Routledge, 1999) is a stark example of such assumptions.
(4.) Anti-colonialism (2007), in B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths, & H. Tiffin (Eds.), Postcolonial studies: The key concepts (London: Routledge), 15.
(6.) Said refers to M. Foucault (1969), The archaeology of knowledge (Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge) and to Foucault (1977), Discipline and punish (London: Penguin).