Last Monday, when Mr. Tim Wise was giving a talk at Virginia Tech, one of the members of the audience noted that her friend thought education in Africa is about learning how to throw spears. She thought that this viewpoint of her friend stemmed from ignorance and wanted Mr. Wise to suggest strategies to engage with people who are living with the “luxury of ignorance.” While Mr. Wise suggested suitable strategies to engage with people who are ignorant, he handled this topic in a much nuanced way noting that the African education system was appropriate for the local contexts and was aimed at preserving the nature instead of destroying it for personal benefit. He further added Africans had a very advanced education system long before most of the world. In this blog post, I will discuss the education system in ancient Kemet (ancient Egypt) that was prevalent almost 3000 years before Christ.
The goal of education system in ancient Kemet was not seen primarily as the acquisition of knowledge. Rather, it was seen as progress through the successive stages of rebirth to become one with God. This unity with God could be achieved through studying the nature and understanding various natural phenomena. Other goals of education included achieving unity with oneself, unity of the tribe, and unity with the nature; development of character and social responsibility in a person; and development of spiritual power. The degree to which a person could become godlike was determined by the degree to which one could overcome certain natural flaws or impediments of the body.
Education was carried out through the process of initiation. Each initiate (or student) was separated from the everyday environment and was placed in a setting that enabled them to become closer to nature. Each initiate carried out a disciplined study of the natural phenomena under the guidance of masters (or teachers). The masters modeled the behavior that the initiate were expected to learn. Also, the masters nurtured the experiences of the initiates so that they could learn higher level lessons.
During the initiation process, each initiate was deeply immersed in an interactive and comprehensive process that had much time devoted to examination of signs and symbols, and learning of stories, proverbs, songs and dance. While learning was done by individuals, the method adopted was seen as a collective effort than an individual effort. There was a lot of emphasis on interaction with the masters and other initiates during the learning process. During the education process, one was challenged with the problems of conscience. This developed critical thinking and a sense of responsibility in individuals. Besides developing critical thinking and social responsibility in students, ancient Kamites maintained an education system appropriate to the environment.
Education was carried out at temples. Each temple had a library and teachers of various disciplines. The various disciplines taught included astronomy and astrology, geography, geology, philosophy and theology, and law and communication. It is estimated that at one time, there were 80000 students studying at a university called Ipet Isut University in ancient Kemet.
Scholars believe that the Kemetic education system is the parent of the western education system and one can see many aspects of the Kemetic education system in present-day education system in the West. I think we can learn a lot from the education system in ancient Kemet. The current education system, especially in the West, focuses on individual gains over social responsibility. This is why we see people engaging in rampant destruction of the environment for personal gains. We are developing technology to harness the natural resources instead of better understanding the nature as was done in ancient Kemet. We need to bring the educational goals of social responsibility and preservation of nature to our current education system.
P.S. The information presented about the education system in ancient Kemet in this post has been taken from the essays written by Asa G. Hilliard in the book The Maroon Within Us. More details about the ancient Kemetic education system can be found in this book.