HC Deb 14 May 1948 vol 450 cc2497-507

3.18 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

In directing the attention of the House to the state of Colonial education in Africa, I would remind the Under-Secretary of his remarks in the last Colonial Debate, when he said that the time had come when we should have regional Debates covering various parts of the Colonial Empire, and dealing with those alone. I hope that this Debate will present the opportunity, if somewhat limited, of meeting his desire in one particular field until he can realise it over a wider area. Perhaps I might look at what I think should be our general aim in Colonial education, and indicate briefly one or two points on which I hope there will be agreement.

First, our aim should be to free the natives from animism, witchcraft and primitive fears. Secondly, we should try to make the educated African a missionary among his own people; but we should guard against the danger making him a "Black" European. Nor do I think there will be any dispute when I say that the progress and growth of a community depends on the quality and extent of its education. I should like to examine the latter aspect for a moment or two.

Major developments in the economic life of Africa are taking shape, and political thought is being provoked over wide areas. Rapid extension of education services is therefore imperative. What part is education playing in the ten-year 'development plans which are being operated in each Colony? How much money is being spent? How much money is it proposed to spend? I suggest that, if that expenditure is to be justified, priority must be given to the training of educational staffs. In what degree is that priority being given? Priority means little if teachers are not being found. I should like to quote the, last report issued of the Inter-University Council for Higher Education in the Colonies. It says that: Even more than in university progress in the United Kingdom, the critical factor in higher education in the Colonies is neither organisation, nor finance, nor buildings, but manpower. That exists—less acutely perhaps—in education at the lower levels, and it is due to a variety of causes. First, salaries are far too low. In Nyasaland, for example, teachers are paid salaries as low as£2 per month. There is a complete. absence of pension schemes, and the system of indirect payment—payment through the Missions and not directly from the Government—is very widely resented. There is also the difficulty of promotion whereby it is almost impossible for an African to become a principal in an African school, and that is a cause of widespread discontent. The low standard of training is not only a result of these things but a cause of the four which I have indicated. I hope that these matters, are the subject of deep concern on the part of my hon. Friend. Education; should have a most important place it the work of the Colonial Development Corporation and the Overseas Food Corporation, As to the first of these schemes, we have no information whatever. As to the second, save in the case of the groundnuts scheme, there is little knowledge of the place which education occupies.

I refer in particular to mass education, which is of vital significance in African advance. It is even more important for the adult than school education is for the child. Mass education has not yet been officially adopted as part of the work of the administrative officers. They should be relieved of much of the routine work connected with their job so that they can get into living touch with the peoples, and enthuse and inspire them by their leadership. I would not suggest that there should be distinction between mass education and mass literacy other than to say that, as far as mass literacy is concerned, it could be left in the care of the native authorities but mass education should be strictly the province of the district officers. We want to attack ignorance on all fronts. For example, there are accounts of the difficulty of persuading natives to adopt anti-erosion methods in East Africa. There are also difficulties I believe in carrying out the campaign to cut out trees infected with swollen shoot in the cocoa areas of the Gold Coast. Literature linked with agricultural and other education is the indicated solution there.

In the Colonial Debate of 29th July, 1947, the then Under-Secretary referred to a report prepared by the Advisory Committee for Colonial education which had been sent to the African Colonies. What action has followed on the receipt of that report making concrete suggestions? How many mass education Officers are now working in African Colonies, and what response are they getting from the local population? In particular, is any work being done in East Africa, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia comparable to the nutrition unit working in Gambia and in East Africa?

My second point concerns the type or quality of education. It is important that too much stress should not be placed on academic education. The schemes I have seen are good, but it should be emphasised that technical education in agricultural and industrial aspects is vital. What advance is being made in these fields? Teachers should be accustomed to working among the population and should not be given the type of training which encourages them to despise manual work, nor should there be too much dependence on the mission schools. In saying that, I pay tribute to the work which they have done in the past, but the system of dual control in education is of doubtful merit because we should aim in the long run at compulsory education, and only the Government can do that. Also we should aim at uniformity and co-ordination in the curriculum. That is essential. It must be a function of government and not left to any unofficial bodies. I feel that the activities of the mission schools tend to come into conflict with the work of mass education, and therefore the Government should shoulder the responsibility to a much greater extent. For example, in the Gold Coast and Ashanti, while there are 2,000 non-assisted schools and 521 mission schools, there are only 19 government primary schools. The stress of denominational teaching should be a decreasing one and not an increasing one. as it tends to be in certain areas.

My third and final point is the responsibility which is evoked from the population. There we remember the old adage that we can take a horse to the well but we cannot make it drink. I agree that one of the difficulties here is the lack of revenue, both from Government and native resources, but I suggest that the substitute for that is the voluntary, unpaid co-operation of the native population in providing by spare-time effort, where other means fail, the capital equipment necessary for the work of education. It is worth while noting that this is going on at the moment in very wide fields other than education. To accomplish that purpose all officers should regard it as part of their job to arouse this response and to welcome initiative on the part of the native population. I fully recognise that much is being done for education now, not only in the training of students and' providing centres of learning, but in a great many other ways. My chief purpose in raising this subject today is to find out, first, how the work is being done, secondly, with what results, and thirdly, what response is being evoked.

I close with a little analogy. The richness of our milk supply does not depend on the colour of the cow. Neither does the contribution of the individual to the progress of mankind depend on the colour of his skin. In approaching the great educational task which lies before us in the Colonies—and we are only approaching it as yet—there comes the warning, As ye sow, so also shall ye reap. Let us take that warning as a challenge, and let the challenge be our inspiration.

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Skeffington (Lewisham, West)

I should not have intervened in this Debate had I not had the privilege recently of spending a few weeks in East Africa and, as an ex-teacher, I naturally looked at educational problems there. One is very struck at first when one realises what a small proportion of the African population receive any education at all. This is no one's fault, but is because the areas are so large, and populations so scattered. Even primary schools have usually to be run on boarding school lines. One cannot slip home for lunch. There is the further difficulty of shortage of teachers and of buildings, and the fact that it is highly difficult to make education compulsory in any way as there is no method of enforcing it. The All-African Union suggested—and I thought the suggestion worth passing on to the Under Secretary—that some experiments might be made in the larger centres of population to see whether universal primary education for Africans could be applied.

Despite all the difficulties, one is still staggered by the fact that such a small minority of the African population gets any education at all in these territories. In Kenya with, I suppose, a population of something like two million African children, only just over 200,000 are getting any primary education, and only about 4,000 are getting any secondary school education. I hope that various ways will be devised to increase those numbers. Buildings should not cause such a difficulty in that climate. So long as the rain can be kept out in wet seasons, it should be possible to build fairly easily and cheaply. We have the example of one chief who was particularly anxious to assist the work of education in his area, who got his local native council to build a reasonable school —although there may have been an element of forced labour—in three weeks.

Teacher training is much more difficult and many more facilities will have to be provided. I hope that in Makerere College the standard and numbers of teachers in training will be increased. I was surprised to find there were only just over 200 students on all courses at the college and that no history had been taught in the establishment for more than a year owing, I understand, to the difficulty of getting a lecturer. I also found that no language had been taught. The facilities for private study are also almost non-existent. The students are supposed to know English. Apart from that no other language is taught. If this is to be the University of East Africa, it must receive much more assistance.

Lastly, I hope that much more will be done in regard to technical education and that we shall not think that only academic education is required. It is rather depressing that Italians should have to be brought into East Africa when we are quite certain, from our experience of Africans working in the railway workshops at Nairobi and elsewhere, that Africans can be taught to do a large number of these jobs. In Uganda we saw an excellent training centre which had been developed to teach ex-Army people. Most of them are becoming quite satisfactory carpenters and bricklayers, but they do not always stay in the trades they have been taught, probably because they are warriors and not craftsmen. I hope that special efforts will be made to get girls into the schools. We know how much of the work in that part of the world is done by girls and women, and I realise that when we begin educating women in society we are probably tackling a bigger thing than we realise. Still, I think the risk is justified and would add enormously to the resources of East Africa.

3.37 p.m.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

While I am sure that we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) for initiating this discussion, may I be permitted to join issue with him on two points. First, I would deprecate any uniformity in either curriculum or system because the beet education comes from diversity of approach within a unity of spirit, and the inspiration should come from the needs of each district. This is already well exemplified in the Colonial Empire, for instance, at Njala in the Protectorate of Sierra Leone, where a teachers' training college is on the same campus as a school for training African agricultural and forestry officers. They all share certain subjects and have a communal life, the end being that each of them should recognise and be able to help the work of the others. They are consciously directed to be the real leaders of the kind of villages from which they originally came. That struck me very forcibly when I visited it as a pattern not only for the Colonies in Africa, but as something which could well be adopted by education institutions even in this country because of the practical approach shown there.

As for mass education, I am not absolutely certain whether my hon. Friend was right when he attempted to make a distinction between mass literacy cam- paigns and mass education campaigns. There need be none if the mass literacy campaign is built on the needs of the neighbourhood and the instruction is related to the problems of a particular village or of a particular area. In the Udi District of the Eastern Provinces of Nigeria the local printing press produces textbooks for mass literacy which are also text books dealing with problems of the people. If we can achieve that diversity of approach in unity of objective, as in the examples in the Colonial Empire which I have given, we could have a pattern of development which could well be stimulated from this country and from the Colonial Office itself.

3.39 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I agree that we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) for raising today this most interesting subject. I am only sorry that we have not more time in which to discuss this matter. It is constantly in our minds in the Colonial Office and one of the, points on which we have great argument is that which has been raised today. In other words, can we divorce mass literacy from mass education? I must admit that I am rather on the side of those who believe that mass literacy is an essential weapon, as it were, in the attack on mass ignorance. We are trying to work out a solution to that very problem.

Mr. Rankin

I dislike interrupting my hon. Friend, but I wish to make it clear that I did not mean to divorce mass literacy from mass education. Of course, we cannot go into that any further.

Mr. Rees-Williams

As to education generally, I can assure my hon. Friend that we are giving this the very highest priority in the Colonial development and welfare plans. No less than £18,500,000 has been allotted to education, that is, 13½ per cent. of the total not only for welfare but development. We agree that education and social services must be extended. We would like to see them extended at a very much greater rate than in the past. But I must point out to hon. Members, as I pointed out to people in the Colonies, that if the peoples in the Colonies wish for more educational and social services—as they do—then they must work hard to get them. There is no fountain, no tap, which we can turn on to provide money in large quantities to supply social and educational services, either in this country or the Colonies.

Teachers are one of our great problems. We are very short of teachers, and, therefore, we have to concentrate our European staff in secondary schools and in teachers' training establishments, where we can get the maximum benefit from their services. There is no bar whatsoever to Africans as principals of schools. In fact, in West Africa nearly all the primary school principals are Africans already, and many of the secondary school principals are also Africans. In East Africa many heads of the primary schools are Africans and it is our intention to bring Africans along to take their part in all groups of education, universities, secondary and primary, whether as teachers, administrators—

Mr. Skinnard

May I ask, is not the difficulty in East Africa that the rates of pay for white principals and Africans are different, and that that has led to some friction?

Mr. Rees-Williams

There has been a little difficulty in the past, but as my hon. Friend knows, the African Government is going into this and many other points. It is absolutely vital to develop these great areas. East Africa and Northern Rhodesia are greater in area than the whole of Western Europe, and in this development plan, education must play its part. In my opinion there can be no economic development of these great areas unless we regard education as a part of the essential methods of obtaining that development—

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)

If that is the case, why has the Government decided to shut down one of the most useful of the university colleges in Africa?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I presume that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about a certain Methodist institution in West Africa.

Mr. Bracken


Mr. Rees-Williams

That is another point with which I have no time to deal. I am now referring to the broad question of education in Africa. In the case of that particular college, it was not a question of shutting down, but maintaining it with a Government grant and if the right hon. Gentleman would get an Adjournment Debate on that point I should be happy to deal with it. When I was in East Africa I was asked two things. The first was for more education, and, secondly, for more British technicians to come out to assist the African in his development. The reference there was not merely to education purely and simply in the normal sense of the term, but in the broader sense of mass education. We attach the greatest value to mass education and we have now sitting a committee to decide on possible methods of applying it, having regard to certain practical studies we have already made, particularly in Nigeria, which have been very successful. The work of the district officer is, of course, invaluable, but he is a man who has a variety of other tasks and in most cases it is desirable to attach to him someone with more specialised knowledge of this subject.

Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)

A most successful example of mass education was carried out by a district officer and not by a specialist.

Mr. Rees-Williams

It was carried out by him, although I understand that it was developed very largely when he went on leave. I am only saying that one cannot expect always to get a district officer who spends a large amount of his time on mass education or who in fact is capable of doing so. We must take account of the ordinary common or garden district officer. We are wondering whether it would not be better to attach someone to him. That matter is being considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston mentioned two matters which should be the subject of mass education. One is erosion and the other is swollen shoot disease. Erosion is a great danger. It is largely due to overcrowding and to bad methods of agriculture owing to the fact that the power which controls East Africa is the tsetse fly. The fly controls three-quarters and we control the other quarter of the area. Because of the tsetse fly's power, the people are crushed up into one quarter of the territory with the result that we have this danger of erosion.

There has been some hostility from the people when we have tried by agricultural methods to overcome this danger. In fact, on one occasion six months' work was destroyed in half an hour by an agitator who persuaded the people to ignore everything that had been suggested by the medical officer and the district officer in the previous six months. We must overcome this danger of erosion first by education and, if that fails, by compulsion. I do not feel that anybody in these days has the right to abuse and misuse land in the way in which it is abused in some parts of Africa. It is only right, as we have put our own farmers in this country under certain controls, that farmers in other places should be put under controls if necessary.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

That is all very well, but the farmer in this country does control the Government and the policy of the Government, and the African farmer does not.

Mr. Rees-Williams

I would say that I would only institute this compulsion through the farmers' own native authorities. That is a large subject which we need not go into now. With regard to swollen shoot disease—

Mr. Bracken

It is swollen Ministers that I object to; they have no right to introduce compulsion.

Mr. Rees-Williams

There are 25 million trees affected by this disease in the Gold Coast. All over the Empire we hay? the same trouble with trees. I am not at all sure whether it is not due to lack of mass education and to the fact that in the past the soil has not been fertilised, with the result that the trees are tired and worn. That is another matter, as in the case of soil erosion, where mass education is desirable. In this mass education campaign, whether in agriculture, in technical subjects or in any other phase of activity, we must give the people of the territories the idea that manual work is dignified work and that the white collar job is nor to be sought after, to the exclusion of a. job with the hands.

We are going a very long way towards that, even without this measure of compulsion. I admit that it is for the Africans to decide, but many of them are agreeable to it. In fact, I met one chief who imposed it himself, because he found that his land was rapidly dying and his people dying. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) may know quite a lot about gas but not much about Africa—

Mr. Bracken rose

Mr. Rees-Williams

No, I am not going to give way.

Mr. Bracken

Swollen bully.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Therefore, as I was saying, this chief has managed to get his land back into good cultivation by making the necessary rules for his people, and that is the sort of thing—

Mr. Bracken

Using the big stick.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Using the sensible rules of Africans by Africans. I know that the right hon Gentleman would rather keep Africans as zoological specimens, but we would rather treat them as men. We would rather see them developing as men and utilising the fruits of the land in the way they should be utilised. We know all about Tory policy in the Empire. If the Tories had been in power much longer, there would not have been an Empire. It would have been a "Dust Bowl," like some other parts of the world where private enterprise has had uncontrolled sway. We do not intend to do that. We intend to use all the methods of mass education and all the methods of other types of education for the benefit of the African, and he will benefit in the end and develop himself and his country in a way in which the Tories would never have developed it in a hundred years. If there is one type of man who has every right to be grateful and to go down on his knees because a Labour Government came to power in 1945, it is the inhabitant of the Colonial territories, European or otherwise.

Mr. Bracken

You are making him do so, and using the big stick as well.