Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Humanities in the contemporary world - Part 2

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Professor Waibinte Wariboko

Last week we highlighted that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is being embraced as a means of internally generating the socioeconomic and technological conditions for development. Critical and relevant humanities education and the social sciences are critically necessary to help postcolonial societies more fully understand the underlying historical causes of their underdevelopment and the technological divide between rich and poor countries.

STEM education for genuine socioeconomic, political, and cultural development in postcolonial societies, I wish to reiterate, cannot do without humanities education and the social sciences. This is because real or genuine development, informed by true education, is only achievable through the internal efforts of the people rather than through external influences that are ideologically divorced from their socio-historical experiences.

This week we look into indigenised education that enhances the practice of freedom and the promotion of sustainable socioeconomic development.

Education as a socialising force will either be for the practice and enhancement of human freedom, or for human domestication (including enslavement). This is because, as social by-products of society, all educational systems are constructed to function as props to sustain the values of the dominant class in society. Let me put this point a little differently for greater emphasis. Education in the erstwhile colonial societies, which was informed by the idea of the 'civilising mission' or the 'white man's burden', essentially functioned to facilitate the integration of subjugated populations into the logic of the prevailing global capitalist system.

Ultimately, colonial education largely produced persons for the preservation of colonial relations of production, which promoted the underdevelopment of colonialised societies after decolonisation. In essence, colonial education was not designed to encourage the practice of freedom nor real socioeconomic development. It was intended to support the exploitative superstructure.

This situation, in varying degrees depending on the particular society, has persisted into the 21st century, so that many postcolonial societies in Africa, Asia, South America, as well as the Caribbean, are characterised by conditions of paralysing poverty marked by urban overpopulation and decay, rural stagnation, intolerably high levels of unemployment and underemployment, and growing income disparities that threaten social stability.

With the challenges and adverse effects of globalisation compounding the above problems, there is a new sense of urgency among postcolonial societies to search for solutions. It is my opinion this new sense of urgency and search for solutions must also emphasise and incorporate the age-old call for education that would facilitate the practice of freedom and real socioeconomic development.




Humanities education facilitates the practice of freedom by emancipating its beneficiaries from 'false consciousness'.

True humanities education can promote the practise of freedom, because it can provide the means whereby people can deal critically and creatively with their reality. True humanities education teaches its beneficiaries how to participate effectively as citizens in the transformation of their countries and worldviews.

True humanities education will provide the analytical and critical skills of knowing, which include, among other things, the dialectical movement of thought that goes from action to reflection and from reflection upon action to a new action.

In the erstwhile colonial societies, true humanities education, as an authentic act of knowing that generates 'true consciousness', as opposed to "false consciousness," would be more readily and rapidly accomplished through the indigenisation of education.

Indigenising education, among other benefits, would afford postcolonial societies the opportunity to critically think about the perceived and real causes of their socioeconomic woes and to more fully appreciate their 'hidden realities'. This exercise is needed because the development of every society has to be determined first and foremost by what that society is that is, its internal composition and structure.

Externally generated ideas, no matter how powerful, can only act on what that society is, and can only change it in directions predetermined by its internal structures and dynamics. Some governments have often behaved as if the conditions in their countries were culturally similar to those either in western Europe, Canada, or the United States of America. Consequently, it has not been uncommon to find those postcolonial states with this worldview also embracing development theories that are not well suited to their local conditions and experiences. But externally driven theories of development, as well as externally driven educational philosophies, are without question, barren of the kinds of internal energies that only the indigenous people can supply for sustainable intellectual development.

Given what has been said about the need to indigenise education for sustainable development and the practice of freedom, I want to pose another question regarding STEM education: To what extent has STEM education, as a concept and approach to learning and teaching, been indigenised to reflect the realities of Caribbean political economy, while also empowering the Caribbean people as citizens who can act individually and collectively to broaden social and political change?

This is why STEM education in the Caribbean, and indeed anywhere else in the former colonial societies, should be well-grounded in humanities education and the social sciences. As students of society, we should know that there are no people without their own characteristic mind and spirit. The mind is the basis for everything and only a truly emancipated population can undertake to build a new society. If former colonial societies are to succeed in getting a cohesive ideology of development, they cannot ignore their cultures and histories as they compete in the globalised environment of the 21st century.

- Waibinte Wariboko is Professor of African Social History, and Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Education, Mona Campus. This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the Arts and Humanities on the individual's personal development and career path. Please send feedback to