I have been doing some work with some really amazing NGOs lately. Part of what I am helping them with is strategic planning. I have found a pattern in the few NGOs that I’ve worked with so far. These organizations lack an alignment between short- and medium-term goals and their long-range goals. In fact, many don’t have short- or medium-term goals at all! Those that do, often don’t have a defined sense of how to determine whether these goals were reached. For example: if you want to spread awareness about sexual and reproductive health you know your end goal –- that everyone in a given community can make informed and empowered choices about their own health. However, what might your intermediary steps be? Perhaps it is to forge a certain number of new partnerships with organizations or schools per time interval, or perhaps it is a certain amount of increased foot traffic at a health clinic or increased attendance at a peer-education group.
If we haven’t conceptualized how to measure progress, it is hard to make any progress at all. I have found the people who found and run NGOs to be very ambitious and have big ideas. They are inspired by a particular vision. This is great, but it needs to be accompanied by a nuts-and-bolts sense of how to achieve this vision. If you have large and abstract goals, ask yourself the following questions:
I am a big proponent of these indicators being measurable, but by that I don’t mean necessarily in quantitative terms. There is a danger in putting too much trust in numbers, since not all meaningful things can be measured quantitatively. So, I recommend a combination of qualitative and quantitative means to assess an organization’s interim indicators.
Walking into a school in an African country today, you can likely tell more about its colonial past than its present. What do I mean by that? On the most superficial level, students are learning in the language of their former colonial power, either English or French. Yet this goes beyond the language of learning. The curricula remains largely Eurocentric rather than grounded in African realities and histories. In former French colonial West Africa for instance, in my own research I found that French is not just the language of instruction, but rather is also the language one needs to master in order to get a good-paying job.
Long after the French and British empires fell, their schools in Africa remained standing. Beyond the physical infrastructure lay an intellectual one, based on Western ideas from what constitutes legitimate knowledge to how one performs being “educated.” Colonial schools were built to subdue the masses, and create a small, local elite who would be capable but subservient intermediaries to the colonial regime.
Colonial schools were not meant to serve the needs of an independent country. Indeed, they were meant to prevent this very independence from happening. It is no wonder, then, that these schools struggle to provide what African students need for the 21st century.
In the United States, we talk about 21st century skills such as collaboration and critical thinking. Most schools in Africa follow a top-down curriculum and school culture that is at odds with progressive pedagogy as well as the science of teaching and learning. Rote memorization is still the main means of learning in most schools, as it the case across much of the Global South. The message this sends is that critical thinking is a privilege of the few, rather than the right of all.
Students in a Senegalese village memorize the dates that gothic cathedrals were built in France, as they did fifty years ago. They do this because this is still deemed to be important knowledge, and what it means to be well educated has not changed much since independence.
But it should.
African countries, as much as anywhere else, need to be teaching students entrepreneurial skills, teamwork, to be engaged in their communities and mitigate brain drain, and to learn that questions are as important as answers. Students need to learn the stories from their own cultures, not just read Molière.
The move to “Africanize” the curriculum has deep roots. Colonial authorities sought to make the curriculum reflect the local context so as not to create “déracinés” or uprooted intellectuals who were not content with their own milieu. Instead, we must ask what a liberatory schooling would look like, to use Paolo Freire’s term, or a decolonized education, as Achille Mbembe articulated in the midst of the #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa.
I'm a writer and freelance consultant based in Providence, RI. I also am the managing editor of the peer-reviewed, academic journal, the Journal of African History. When not writing, you can find me spending time outdoors, playing music, or drinking copious amounts of coffee.