What happened to African Theories? Fundamental Flaws in Education that Keeps Africa Behind
Having taught and worked with hundreds of doctoral students all over Africa, I’m always amazed at the lack of critical application of theories and the scarcity of original African theories in the education system. While many have theorized about why so many African nations are unable to be competitive after their independence, not many have looked at the systemic issues embedded in the education system that produce the leaders in those nations. On the surface, issues such as corruption, policies, or politics are commonly discussed. All these surface issues are driven by how we perceived the world and our thought processes, which are derived from our education. Left over from colonialization, the education systems in many African nations have 2 primary challenges. First is the lack of critical application of theories; second is the lack of knowledge and skill in research methodologies. These two issues drive a thought process that greatly limit competitiveness and prevent advancement of nations.
In a recent dissertation defense, a Kenyan doctoral student presented his findings on the relationship between leadership behaviors and small and medium sized enterprise (SME) performance. The individual was a well-established business executive with many years of experience. He conducted the research based on the established theory of transformational leadership along with its standard survey, which is quite common. After he presented his research, the dissertation committee began to ask questions about the research. “How did the survey reflect the cultural values in your city?” The doctoral student was stuck; he simply never thought about how the standard survey was created based on American cultural values and that it did not contain any African based statements. As the discussion went on, he began to realize that the transformational leadership survey being used lacked cultural considerations. For example, one of the dimensions for transformational leadership is inspirational motivation. How Americans are inspired in an individualistic society is quite different from how Africans are inspired. We continued the discussion to explore how an African theory of leadership is lacking. This incident is not the first. After having hundreds of doctoral dissertation defenses with African students, the lack of critical thought for theories continues to dominate. The idea that many theories are not built based on African values or society doesn’t seem to appear on students’ thought processes.
In the last five years, we’ve partnered with several African universities and institutions to help them with research methodology. In these partnerships, we’ve seen many PhDs with high positions, such as professors and lecturers, not having the correct knowledge in research methodology. Worse yet, they continue to teach the incorrect research methodology to their students. I have personally reviewed dozens of articles submitted by African academics for journal publication. Well over 92% of these have flaws in the research methods, which invalidates the findings.
Another critical issue is the lack of knowledge and/or courses in qualitative research using a grounded theory approach. If one seeks to create new theories, the grounded theory approach is required. This may be passed over by colonial design or simply forgotten, but the graduate level education should offer modules in the grounded theory approach. Without this expertise, it becomes nearly impossible to create new theories. Explore this, if you like – see if grounded theory research is offered in any of the local or regional universities near you.
The combination of a lack of critical application and a lack of research methodology mastery leaves most African universities no choice but to continue to use western theories and textbooks. Regardless of the discipline, most governments and businesses use western theories in every day decisions. Such decisions have built in flaws, which prevent long term success.
Higher education in Africa needs major systemic enhancements. Regardless of where you come from, a PhD holder should be able to think systemically and critically. They should be creating new theories that are meant for the people of the same cultural values and the current global environment. They should know the difference between the context of education and the content of education. Only when we have such scholars leading education will African nations advance and, perhaps, even get ahead of some of the developing nations.
We would like to offer two solutions in the face of this problem. First, we offer aspiring scholars the opportunity study in a PhD program built for critical thinking, systems thinking, and theory creation. Within our PhD program, students go through a long-term development process to think systemically while building the skills for grounded theory research. They also learn to master various cultural environments through the effective use of their multiple intelligence. This PhD program is unlike any other in the world and designed specifically to address the needs of developing nations, such as Kenya.
Secondly, we invite innovative universities to partner with us to transform their educational processes into the 21st century. Rather than continue to use band aids to patch up major problems in colonial education systems that are rigid and out of date, partner universities can transform themselves into a regional powerhouse of innovative theory creation. We have designed a process where university professors can gain the knowledge needed for theory creation and a system to create numerous new theories that drive innovation in the nation.
Let’s put an end to the question of – What happened to African Theories?