Colonial Education

Colonial Education


John Southard, Fall 1997 (


What is colonial education?

The process of colonization involves one nation or territory taking control of another nation or territory either through the use of force or by acquisition. As a by-product of colonization, the colonizing nation implements its own form of schooling within their colonies. Two scholars on colonial education, Gail P. Kelly and Philip G. Altbach, help define the process as an attempt “to assist in the consolidation of foreign rule” (Kelly and Altbach 1).



The purpose of colonial education

The idea of assimilation is important when dealing with colonial education. Assimilation involves those who are colonized being forced to conform to the cultures and traditions of the colonizers. Gauri Viswanathan points out that “cultural assimilation (is)…the most effective form of political action” (Viswanthan 85). She continues with the argument that “cultural domination works by consent and often precedes conquest by force” (85). Colonizing governments realize that they gain strength not necessarily through physical control, but through mental control. This mental control is implemented through a central intellectual location, the school system. Kelly and Altbach state that “colonial schools,…sought to extend foreign domination and economic exploitation of the colony” (2). They find that “education in…colonies seems directed at absorption into the metropole and not separate and dependent development of the colonized in their own society and culture” (4). The process is an attempt to strip the colonized people away from their indigenous learning structures and draw them toward the structures of the colonizers.

Much of the reasoning that favors such a learning system comes from supremacist ideas of leader colonizers. Thomas B. Macaulay asserts his viewpoints about a British colony, India, in an early nineteenth century speech. Macaulay insists that he has “never found one among them [Orientalists, an opposing political group] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”. He continues stating, “It is, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England”. The ultimate goal of colonial education might be deduced from the following statement by Macaulay: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” While all colonizers may not have shared Macaulay’s lack of respect for the existing systems of the colonized, they do share the idea that education is important in facilitating the assimilation process.



The impact of colonial education

Often, the implementation of a new education system leaves those who are colonized with a lack of identity and a limited sense of their past. The indigenous history and customs once practiced and observed slowly slip away. The colonized become hybrids of two vastly different cultural systems. Colonial education creates a blurring that makes it difficult to differentiate between the new, enforced ideas of the colonizers and the formerly accepted native practices. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, a citizen of the once colonized Kenya, displays his anger toward the isolationist feelings colonial education causes. He asserts that the process “annihilate(s) a peopleÕs belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves” (Decolonising the Mind 3).

Not only does colonial education eventually create a sense of wanting to disassociate with native heritage, but it affects the individual and the sense of self-confidence. Thiong’o believes that “…education, far from giving people the confidence in their ability and capacities to overcome obstacles or to become masters of the laws governing external nature as human beings tends to make them feel their inadequacies and their ability to do anything about the condition of their lives” (The Global Education Process).



The decolonization process

In order to eliminate the harmful, lasting effects of colonial education, post-colonial nations or territories must remove the sense of nothingness that is often present. Thiong’o insists that “To decolonize our minds we must not see our own experiences as little islands that are not connected with other processes” (The Global Education Process). Post-colonial education must reverse the former reality of “education as a means of mystifying knowledge and hence reality” (The Global Education Process). A new education structure boosts the identity of a liberated people and unites previously isolated individuals.



Case study

Kelly and Altbach define “classical colonialism” as the process when one separate nation controls another separate nation (3). However, another form of colonization has been present in America for many years. The treatment of the Native Americans falls into the category of “internal colonization,” which can be described as the control of an independent group by another independent group of the same nation-state (Kelly and Altbach 3). Although the context of the situation is different, the intent of the “colonizers” is identical. This includes the way in which the educational system is structured. Katherine Jensen indicates that “the organization, curriculum, and language medium of these schools has aimed consistently at Americanizing the American Indian” (Jensen 155). She proceeds and asks, “If education was intended to permit native people mobility into the mainstream, we must ask why in over three centuries it has been so remarkably unsuccessful” (155). In a supporting study of 1990, Census statistics indicate that American Indians have a significantly lower graduation rate at the high school, bachelor, and graduate level than the rest of Americans

( .html Census statistics comparing Native Americans to the rest of the nation).



Works Cited

Jensen, Katherine. “Civilization and Assimilation in the Colonized Schooling of Native Americans.” Education and the Colonial Experience. Ed. Gail P. Kelly and Philip G. Altbach. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1984. 117-36.

Kelly, Gail P. and Philip G. Altbach. Introduction: “The Four Faces of Colonialism.” Education and the Colonial Experience. Ed. Gail P. Kelly and Philip G. Altbach. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1984. 1-5.

Macaulay, Thomas B. “Minute on Indian Education.”

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Portsmith, NH: Heinemann, 1981.

—.”The Global Education Process.” 18 par. Online. Internet. nd. Available: http://ultrix.

Viswanathan, Gauri. “Currying Favor: The Politics of British Educational and Cultural Policy in India, 1813-1854.” The Oxford Literary Review 85-104. (unknown volume and date)

“American Indians/Native Americans: Education” 1990. npag. Online. Internet. Available:



Author: John Southard, Fall 1997 (


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