How Dumbed Down are Africa's Education Systems?

Posted on January 10, 2011 By Lyndall Beddy

The dumbing down of education did not start in Africa. It appears to have started in the USA as a spin off from White Guilt for American Slavery, going hand-in-hand with American Affirmative Action policies, which started in California.

Which is why Zimbabwe, when it still was Rhodesia, had the best educated blacks in Southern Africa – all education in Rhodesia in those days followed the old British system, with the final school leaving exams set externally in Britain. More and more of the children I now know in South Africa are being schooled through a similar Cambridge system, either through Home Schooling or through Private Schools.

I, for one, find the latest South African matric results a typical example of the unbelievable. South Africa has been “adjusting” matric results for decades, either up or down. Even when I was at school, I was originally told by my school that I had an A for Maths in Matric, but the Maths marks were obviously too high that year, so I was marked down to a B. Which is why the private schools in Cape Town, even then, wrote the eternal matriculation examination set in Britain. These last matric results for South Africa need investigation - I suspect heavy “marking up” of results – in other words dumbing down of the value of the final certificate. Only the Western Cape’s results appear credible to me.

An example of the result of dumbing down education in Africa is given in the book “French Lessons in Africa” by Peter Biddlecombe. This incident happened in a bar in the casino in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. To quote:

“Three German sailors came in, whom I had met a couple of times in Lome. They were on their way from the Far East to the States, delivering more Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean products for the booming American market. They were in Abidjan for repairs. They were all old Africa hands; the captain, the bursar and the mate. Between them they said they ran the ship, one of those sophisticated, purpose- built ones.

‘So life is easy,’ I said. ‘No problems, just press a button.’

They fell about. ‘Mein Gott,’ they said. ‘Never had more problems. More danger. You forget the crew.’

‘What’s wrong with the crew?’

‘They know nothing,’ said the captain.

‘Who are the crew?’


‘Aren’t they trained?’

‘Sure they are trained,’ said the captain. ‘In African training schools.’

‘So what’s wrong?’ I said.

The captain shuffled his chair. ‘I will tell you,’ he said. ‘We are lucky to be here. It is terrifying. We picked up a big load in Japan. An 800-ton reactor for America. Straightforward. Done it hundreds of times. Sophisticated ship. As you say, a piece of gateau. I ask the second mate to use the sextant. He has no idea. I ask the third mate. Useless. And they are both trained.’

‘You’ll never believe this,’ said the bosun. ‘The duty engineer makes a mistake. He takes the main valve off the fuel-oil tanks. Floods the whole engineroom. Could have easily caused a fire. Could have sunk the whole ship.’

‘Well, everyone makes mistakes,’ I said….

‘Then we tried our emergency procedures,’ said the mate. ‘We thought if the crew are as bad as this we had better be ready. Nobody knew what to do. They just wandered around.’

‘On German boats everyone knows what to do. They are trained,’ said the captain. ‘In German training schools.’

‘And maintenance,’ said the mate. ‘Disaster.’

‘There was no maintenance on that ship at all,’ said the captain. ‘There was grease on the runners. It was a disgrace.’

‘And when we come into port here, what happens?’ said the bosun. I was frightened to ask. ‘The pilot hits the berth and damages the bridge.’ He sinks his head in his hands. ‘I ask you. Even the pilots can’t get it right.’

‘The crew couldn’t even offload,’ said the captain. ‘We had to operate all the controls, had to do everything otherwise we’d still be there.’

‘African training schools,’ they sighed together.

‘But why don’t you complain?’ I asked…

They all laughed. ‘Mein Herr,’ said the captain, leaning towards me, ‘who shall we complain to?’……..

‘You want me to tell African training schools they are not doing their job properly,’ said the captain. ‘I thought you knew Africa. Do you think any African is going to believe me if I tell them their schools are not turning out qualified graduates? And me a European? As far as they are concerned their graduates are better than ours. The fact is that even the teachers don’t know as much as our students. But they all have their colleges, their diplomas, their big cars. That’s all that counts.’

‘And if we complained,’ said the bosun, what do you think would happen to us? Where would we get another job?’”

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