Decolonization(s) and Education

New Polities and New Men

by Marcelo Caruso (Author) Daniel Maul (Author)
Edited Collection 238 Pages
Series: Studia Educationis Historica , Volume 5

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Decolonization(s) and Education: New Polities and New Men (Marcelo Caruso & Daniel Maul)
  • ‘To Forget Everything and to Learn Again.’ Post-colonial Republican Order, ‘Colonial Education’ and Legitimacy in Nineteenth Century Latin America (Marcelo Caruso)
  • Imperial Roots of Nationalist Education Model in India 1880–1947 (Parimala V. Rao)
  • Climbing the Coconut Tree: Three South Indians Use Their Personal Memories of Colonial Education to Influence the Decolonisation of Education after Independence (Catriona Ellis)
  • Education, Nation-Building and the Quest for Legitimacy in South Korea (Michael J. Seth)
  • Nigerianization as Decolonization. Human Capacity Development in Nigeria 1945–1960 (Hakeem Ibikunle Tijani)
  • The Effects of Decolonization on Colonial Governance: A Case Study of the Polytechnic in Colonial Hong Kong (Ting-Hong Wong)
  • Delineating Youth between the Old and the New. The Youth Magazine Blufo during the Liberation Struggle in Guinea-Bissau (1966–1973) (Sónia Vaz Borges)
  • Educational Transfers as Means of Decolonization in Vietnam and Mozambique (Tim Kaiser, Ingrid Miethe, Alexandra Piepiorka)
  • Decolonization and Difference in the Context of the German Democratic Republic’s Educational Co-operation Programs (Jane Weiß)
  • List of Figures
  • Authors
  • Series index

Marcelo Caruso & Daniel Maul1

Decolonization(s) and Education New Polities and New Men

In “Education for self-reliance” from 1967, the now famous policy paper about the educational challenges of the young state of Tanzania, President Julius Nyerere (1922–1999) pointed out the key importance he and many other independence leaders attributed to education in their project to radically break with the colonial past. There was “no use our educational system stressing values and knowledge appropriate to the past or to the citizens in other countries” Nyerere insisted. According to him it was “wrong if it even contributes to the continuation of those inequalities and privileges that still exist in our society because of our inheritance. Let our students be educated to be members and servants of the kind of just and egalitarian future to which this country aspires”.2

When, some 150 years earlier, the Venezuelan educator Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854) published his considerations about the new “American societies” emerging from the fallen Spanish colonial order after 1808, he followed a similar rationale. Rodriguez, an early liberal and socialist thinker and one of Simón Bolivar’s most influential teachers, expressed the same sense of newness in dramatic words in his discussion about the future of politics, culture, and education in Latin America: “Where should we search for models? Hispanic America is original; her institutions and governments have to be original; and the means for establishing both have to be original as well. Either we invent something new, or we will fail” (inventamos o erramos).3

To be sure, there were significant differences between the processes that led to the independence of the Latin American Republics in the early 19th century on the one hand and the liberation struggles surrounding the dissolution of the European colonial empires in Asia and Africa after World War II on the other. ←7 | 8→What Nyerere and Rodriguez shared however, was the project of creating new societies ridded of all remnants of the colonial past and in the key role they attributed to educational practices as a tool to reach this goal.4 Nationalist leaders in both cases placed education at the heart of their quests to construct a new political order from scratch. In this sense, the following collection of essays tries to address this nexus by establishing a dialogue over time and across the space between these two historical experiences with a focus on its educational implications.

Locating educational discourses in decolonization – Building new polities and new men

Many nationalist leaders portrayed the necessity of a new political order as the culmination of the struggle for independence, and in doing so, they surpassed the mere political concept of decolonization and expanded the project of decolonization to the social and cultural realms. A quest for radical changes in politics and culture emerged after independence and fostered a sense of novelty and innovation with regard to education. The break with the colonial past was not only to be a political one. The break with the colonial political order would rather necessarily, as many independence leaders agreed, have to lead to new forms of education and schooling which, for their part, would have to be accompanied by and embedded in a profound revision of inherited institutions and practices. In many respects, new men had to build new polities and both, in turn, would be the result of educational practices. This sense of newness was by no means exclusive to utopian socialist thinking after World War II. Rather it was embedded in the particular dynamics that the quest for a post-colonial order unleashed, across geographical as well as ideological boundaries.

While conventional wisdom defines education as a field of action reproducing society in time, decolonization places broader and more radical demands on the field. New states perceived themselves as having a special need for education: given that independence and decolonization invariably implied to some degree a delegitimization of the existing social and political order, the reform of education was intrinsically connected to ideas of “revolution” and/or deep-running ←8 | 9→“modernization” projects.5 When “new societies” had to be designed, established and consolidated, education acquired the role of a tool to both speed up and deepen these processes. Education had to do many things at the same time: it had to bridge the uncertainty associated with the new time, it had to strengthen the acceptance for new polities - often frail and contested - among its citizens. The need for such stabilizing practices was apparent. On yet a different level, education was also regarded as a major tool of emancipation in an international context. From the perspective of post-colonial elites, the building of new educational systems held a very practical meaning: the purposeful (re)integration of ex-colonies as independent states in the world market required at the very least well-trained citizens fit for competition.6

The outcome of these struggles that affected the educational sector – the primary institution of particular new polities – was neither evident nor necessary. On the contrary, it was to a high degree historically contingent. Even where nationalist movements had a clear ideologically founded concept of political independence, some of the basic features of the post-colonial societies remained highly controversial. Fainthearted attempts to build up a Spanish American confederation of republics well into the 1820s, later Pan-Africanism, Pan-Asianism and Pan-Arabism signaled that issues such as common identities and shared political projects, at least within some elites, were powerful forces in shaping decolonization(s).7 This however did not necessarily unite those same elites in the nation-building process. In sum, during the process of decolonization, the very emergence of new polities had to be managed through measures of state building. Accordingly, education had not only a ‘reproductive’ function but also a ‘productive’ one: the invention of new polities. The urgent task of contouring ←9 | 10→new political entities and giving them new forms of government invested education with an almost Messianic significance.

Focusing on the creation of new polities addresses an extremely important concern for actors at that time: It brings to light the hopes and anxieties by which people react to political and territorial rearrangements and the shifting societal patterns that accompany them. In a last grip on power, colonial powers often depicted autonomist and national liberation movements as a threat to security and prosperity and to associated independence with chaos and disorder. And indeed, in many cases, these dystopian views turned into threatening realities for the masses, when changing borders, loyalties and alliances marked the decolonization processes. We can see how the frequently traumatic experience of decolonization became in itself a powerful determinant in the elaboration of new educational policies. It was here, within the often-painful transition, that concepts of “liberation” and “self-determination” gained broader meaning, reaching far beyond mere political independence from the respective colonial powers. Whereas colonial education related to territory it had to stabilize, preserve and pacify, a new kind of social regime demanded cultural transformations of the utmost importance, such as general literacy, the creation of a modern citizenry, the imposition of new institutional rules, the contouring of a new kind of public sphere, etc. Education added substance and support to the lofty rhetoric that carried national liberation struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. While phraseology of the most exalted liberalism accompanied the Latin American declarations of independence, socialist representations of society marked many of the liberation fights in the period after World War II. What both shared was the experience that proclamations were not enough: in order for the projects of liberation to succeed, the vocabulary had to take root in popular cultures. Educational efforts to make this language accessible and understandable affected both the education of the elites and common people.

Closely associated with polity building and societal change, the issue of the cultural and ethnic plurality of some of the new countries should also be taken into consideration. Many of the new polities faced the challenge of populations widely differentiated along ethnic, social or other lines. Post-colonial elites acted with a sense of urgency, launching ambitious programs of political and cultural homogenization in which education once again occupied a central role. While colonial rule had often privileged certain ethnic groups over others, the aspiration of the new political order was to re-shape collective identities under the new imperative of the “people”. In the beginning an educational optimism dominated, and the redemption of certain groups within the new polities by means of the universal remedy of education was repeatedly propounded.

←10 |

Although there is a consensus that post-colonial educational systems followed a path of institutionalization that in many ways resembled the Western and colonial approaches to schooling,8 transformations in post-colonial education were by no means insignificant.

The noticeable focus on mass literacy was not the only aspect to constitute a qualitatively different approach from the more ambivalent strategies of colonial regimes.9 Changes in curriculum content were considerable10 as well as the re-arrangement of links between ethnic groups and schooling.11 Moreover, the orientation of many post-colonial polities towards the socialist countries promoted changes in structure and prioritization that clearly marked breaks with colonial policies. The combination of new policies and new orientations also motivated a shift of perspectives on educational cooperation and aid on behalf of the former metropoles12. Most importantly, it attracted the attention of new actors such as the United States, which began to take a keen interest in gaining ←11 | 12→influence in the education of the new post-colonial elites.13 Their educational choices were invariably informed by an anti-colonial impetus and, at the same time, influenced – either by deliberate choice or necessity – by outside influences. After the Second World War, the Cold war served as a powerful force in this regard but international organizations like UNESCO equally provided an (in itself politically contested) international yardstick.14

Surely the timespan of decolonization is too long, the range of the problems too broad, and the geographical and political settings too different to capture all the richness of these different transformations in the present volume?15 What the contributions collected in this book do instead, is to offer a novel and panoramic view on the multi-faceted role of education in decolonization processes over two centuries.

Filling a gap, advancing an agenda? The contributions

The contributions in this volume provide a diachronic perspective on decolonization and education spanning the 19th and 20th 18 centuries. They assemble local histories from places as varied as Argentina and India, Hong Kong and Mozambique and place them in their broader historical context. Connecting the local and the global, the contributions highlight the manifold transnational interactions that characterize educational discourses against the background of decolonization. Accordingly, decolonization in this volume features not as a concrete moment in time but rather as a process in which the quest to establish new cultural and political norms constitutes a common denominator in both time and space. The book addresses decolonizations, in a plural form, in order to grasp the diversity of historical situations in which the political and cultural dynamics of the nexus between education and the invention of new polities became apparent.16 We argue that these processes were invariably complex and ←12 | 13→far-reaching – going beyond the mere delegitimization of foreign rule.17 At the very least, by highlighting these attempts to create new men and new polities by means of educational reform, a process that reaches well into our own time, the articles in this volume open a window to the present.

All contributions point to the complexity of decolonization, exposing the tension between a fundamental break with the past and the continuities transcending the transfer of power. They emphasize various shades of transformation, adaptation and resilience enacted in these processes. They also capture both internal and external contexts when addressing education as a means of construction and renewal of polities and men. Beyond these common traits, some of the contributions look particularly at the entanglements between the colonial and the post-colonial, whereas a second group puts more attention on specific meanings and strategies used by particular actors. We briefly introduce the individual contributions following a chronological approach.

In his contribution about the discourse on ‘colonial education’ in 19th century Latin America, Marcelo Caruso shows the legitimizing role of the question of educational heritance in the decades after independence from Spanish colonial rule. In this earliest process of de-colonization, ‘colonial education’ became a common thread in public discourse in which at least two types of arguments were advanced. First, colonial education was added to the long list of colonial grievances that, in the view of the Latin Americans, made independence necessary and legitimate. Second, colonial education became a consistent argument when discussing why the new independent polities found such serious difficulties in consolidating a new political order. He concludes that this referencing to the educational past became a feature of scholarly and political discourses.

Certainly, the roots of decolonial projects reach far back to the colonial policies and experiences, as two contributions on India show. Parimala Rao analyses the strong links between the colonial and the post-colonial in her analysis of the history of nationalist educational proposals. In her account, the emergence of the first nationalist educational discourses – particularly from Bal Gangadhar Tilak – appear as a re-elaboration of an ‘imperial idea’ that critically continued ←13 | 14→the practice of establishing modern education along the lines of class and gender hierarchization. The author shows that its underlying aim was the (re)construction of an imagined pre-colonial social order disrupted by British colonial rule. Moreover, Gandhi’s famous educational proposals represented the spiritualization of this very imperial idea and did not pose an emancipatory alternative with regard to the questions of hierarchy and discrimination. Rao’s contribution points to many key aspects of post-colonial education. It highlights its character as an elite project. Her argument about continuity directs our attention to the fact that anti-colonial movements as modern political forces partly resulted from the very educational schemes of colonial rule. Education constituted a primary tool in the fabric of independence and liberation. But this tool was still, following her reasoning, both imperial and socially conservative in outlook and purpose.

Catriona Ellis’ contribution in turn addresses strategies and attached meanings in late colonial schooling through the lens of the autobiographical accounts of three different Southern Indian authors. Her analytical approach highlights the potential of autobiographical sources in recovering marginalized voices. Without ignoring the problematic side of this type of source, Ellis shows how self-testimonies, beyond simplistic concepts of authenticity, can help to open a ‘ground-level’ dimension of liberation struggles and decolonization. Within her sample of auto-biographies, Ellis’ careful analysis brings to light common traits as well as differences: the experience of late colonial schooling, including questions of discrimination, as well as the dichotomization of time - between ‘those days’ and the present - all appear as resources used by the authors to strategically position their narratives in the post-colonial context. Ellis proposes a double approach to these critical sources: accordingly, one should consider not only their referential value with regard to late colonial education. Rather, she convincingly argues that it is their character as carriers of meaning that defines their high strategic value as an indicator for educational discourses in a post-colonial context.

Despite the diachronic view of decolonization taken in this volume, the end of World War II remains a unique turning point in many respects. This is certainly the case for countries like Korea, for which 1945 marked the end of a long period of Japanese colonial domination. Michael J. Seth presents the story of the run-up to the crucial Education Law in 1951, a landmark educational reference in the context of the emergence of a post-colonial South Korea. He depicts the key controversy between adherents of a single-track system and multi-track system as a reflection of a deeper-lying conflict. This conflict, Seth argues, pitched elitist/conservative ideas centered on basic education against progressive reformers inspired by American ideas of an educational system that promoted greater ←14 | 15→social mobility. As the author shows, decolonization featured prominently in these debates, in as much as the conflict played out in parts as a struggle for post-colonial legitimacy. One reason why the reformers eventually prevailed despite a parallel conservative and authoritarian turn in South Korean politics was that the elitist position was deeply tainted by many of its protagonists’ collaborationist past under Japanese rule. The additional fact that their ideas were perceived by many as a mere reproduction of colonial educational realities under the Japanese significantly compromised their legitimacy.

In other parts of the world, World War II marked a watershed too. In Africa, for instance, it helped to foster a change in colonial policy that in the long run favored decolonization. Hakeem Ibikunle Tijani’s article on ‘Nigerianization’ of the educational system in the British West-African colony provides a rich and detailed account of this shift. Its focus is on the somewhat fluid period between late colonial rule and what historians Anthony Low and John Lonsdale have famously termed the “second colonial occupation” of Africa and the transitional phase leading eventually into independence of the British colony. The efforts for ‘nigerianizing’ technical and specialized staff within the state apparatus show a multi-layered conflict. Spanning the period between 1945 and the early years of independence in the beginning of the 1960s, Tijani reveals first and foremost the agency of local actors. Conflicts surrounding the build-up of new administrative capacities in the field of education needed for the consolidation and progress of the new polities played out on two different, but often intertwined levels: Between colonial and nationalist forces on the one hand and between different regions and ethnic groups within Nigeria on the other.

The rapid emergence of post-colonial polities after 1960 led to the swift dismantling of the major colonial empires. Yet individual, minor colonies continued to exist even under British and French authority. Ting-Hong Wong’s contribution shows how decolonization in multiple ways also provided a crucial background for the re-definition of colonial educational policies. The British Crown Colony of Hong Kong serves as an example. As a study in the micro-politics of educational institution building during decolonization, Wong’s contribution also opens an otherwise often-ignored trans-colonial perspective. The author’s object of study is the process preceding the founding of a Polytechnic Institution in Hong Kong during the early 1960s. Wong can show how the strategies implied by the main protagonists were informed by personal experiences with the reform of educational institutions gathered in different colonial and decolonizing contexts. In Wong’s contribution, decolonization thus features as an incentive to create structures that would secure a degree of continuity after independence and stand the test of time even after the eventual dissolution of formal colonial rule.

←15 |

The fall of the French and English colonial empires and their tremendous impact in world politics have also diverted attention from the latest processes of decolonization, particularly those of the Spanish and Portuguese last dominions. In her contribution, Sónia Vaz Borges addresses a model case of a liberation struggle accompanied by a whole set of educational strategies: Guinea-Bissau. In her analysis of the characteristics and impact of the Guinean liberation front’s magazine Blufo, a novel militant and educational initiative aimed at ‘youths’, she calls our attention to the question of how the process of mobilization against colonial rule both used and transformed elements of traditional local cultures. Whereas the very name of the magazine referred to local notions of transitioning to adulthood, the idea of an age-related ‘youth’ as a clearly defined period was clearly a rupture in the local environment. By using and actualizing traditional notions about growing-up, independence fighters were transforming some aspects of this cultural resource. Moreover, the involvement of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire as a reference in many initiatives in Guinea-Bissau opens a perspective in which South-South-cooperation and mutual observation are paramount.

Lastly, decolonization took place in the broader context of the Cold War and the existence of specific socialist entanglements throughout the world. The last two contributions address this theme from different perspectives. In their comparative analysis of educational transfers within the socialist world in the era of decolonization, Tim Kaiser, Ingrid Miethe and Alexandra Piepiorka present the establishment of a specific type of institution: the worker-peasant complementary education. Following their establishment and dissemination in post-colonial Vietnam and Mozambique, their discussion focuses on the crucial issue of the production of new forms of dependency, now within the socialist world-system, during decolonization. Their study offers surprising results: Applying a meticulously empirical approach, the authors can demonstrate that transfers were mostly locally activated and far from being imposed from the outside. The authors argue that local actors led the process all along, adapted the imported type of institutions to local needs and brought about genuine educational hybrids. By challenging the notion of new dependencies, the authors argue that these cases of educational transfers come close to an idea of ‘true decolonization’.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (April)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 238 pp., 4 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Marcelo Caruso (Author) Daniel Maul (Author)

Marcelo Caruso is a full professor of the history of education at the Institute of Education at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germyyyany.Daniel Maul is an associate professor of history in the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at Oslo University, Norway


Title: Decolonization(s) and Education