Seminar: Language, education and identity in Africa

This event is being organised in the framework of Africa 2020. It will take place both online and physically in Leiden. All registrees will receive a link to the online platform one day before the start of the event. 

What have been the effects of the colonial era on Africa and what is the way forward? Those are questions that many have asked, and that also form the starting point of Bert van Pinxteren's dissertation, 'Language, Education and Identity in Africa', which he will defend on Thursday 16 September and discuss during this seminar on Friday 17 September.

Van Pinxteren looks for answers in the works of Vansina and Prah, who hold that the old cultural traditions in Africa have been destroyed in colonial times. They also maintain that new cultural traditions are currently taking shape, based in part in African languages. The book based on the dissertation uses new insights gained from Hofstede’s approach to cross-cultural psychology to show that such a process is indeed happening on the continent and that it will be key to Africa’s decolonisation. An extended and revised version of the book is due to be published later this year by the ASCL.

As Prah and others have argued, decolonisation needs to address the problem that almost all African countries continue to use a former colonial language in secondary and higher education. Using a quantitative comparative analysis, Van Pinxteren shows for the first time that maintaining former colonial languages as sole medium of instruction in higher education will become impossible to sustain. Over the next decade, more and more African countries will have to move towards increased use of African languages. Over the years, the choice of which African languages to use has vexed researchers and policy makers. Using five principles, this study points to an innovative way out of that conundrum. It demonstrates how all over the world, designed languages can and do serve speakers of several discerned languages. The book will contain five brief case studies, showing how in fact using such designed languages is a practical possibility in Africa as well. 
Using African languages in education will also bolster the new, decolonised cultural traditions that are already taking shape on the continent.
The discussion, chaired by Prof. Maarten Mous, will centre around three propositions:
1. "The approach of cross-cultural psychology offers a promising way of researching and discussing existing and emerging cultural similarities and differences in Africa". A panel of three speakers with experience in living and working in different cultural settings in and outside of Africa will discuss the findings of the dissertation, before the floor is opened for debate.
2.  "African languages are currently not being used in higher education. The need for it is not there, because the higher education sector in Africa is too small. As the sector expands, pressure to use African languages in higher education is bound to increase". Several panelists will provide feedback and critical comment, before opening the floor for discussion.

3. "In order to decolonise education and move towards ‘education for all’ decolonising the curriculum is not enough. It will also be necessary to question the top-down model of education that was inherited from colonial times". Prof. Felix Ameka will introduce his ideas on decolonisation of education and its relevance for the medium of instruction. Several discussants will provide feedback before opening up the floor.

Time schedule

10:30 - Welcome and online opening by Prof. Kwesi Kwaa Prah (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society).
11:00 - Round 1
12:15 - Lunch break
13:15 - Round 2
14:30 - Break
15:00 - Round 3
16:15 - Book launch
16:45 - Drinks (physical, subject to change)


Bert van Pinxteren has an MA in adult education and community organisation from the University of Amsterdam (1981) and a Research Master in African Studies from Leiden University (2018). His PhD research was carried out with the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL). Bert has worked at a number of international NGOs, notably on environment and development issues. After spending a period working in the sector of Internet for research and education he ended his career as a Senior Programme Officer at ActionAid. He has published several book chapters, as well as articles in scientific journals.

Date, time and location

17 September 2021
10.30 - 16.45
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room S.A49