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Education Marginalization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies, Politics, and Marginality

reviewed by Patricia Kubow - June 06, 2019

coverTitle: Education Marginalization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies, Politics, and Marginality
Author(s): Obed Mfum-Mensah
Publisher: Lexington Books, Lanham, MD
ISBN: 1498574041, Pages: 240, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

In Education Marginalization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies, Politics, and Marginality, Obed Mfum-Mensah makes a compelling case as to why increased attention to education policy development is needed in the region: more than 34 million children between the ages of six and eleven are out of school, and 21% of primary-school-age children are denied the right to education. Drawing upon a critical discourse of marginality, Mfum-Mensah argues that education policies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) neglect the educational needs of marginalized children because they are based in colonial constructions of marginality that continue to define policy development and implementation across the region. The book explores a dizzying array of marginalized groups, including: children in rural and urban poor communities; girls from poor households; children from minority religious communities; ethnic, racial, and linguistic minority populations; and displaced children in refugee settlements.

Composed of an introduction and ten chapters, the book is divided into two parts. In “Part One: Theorizations on Marginality and Education,” the introduction clearly delineates and discusses four overlapping areas of marginality: socioeconomic, epistemological, cultural, and educational. However, the literature used to conceptualize marginality is heavily influenced by non-African scholars, which is then applied to interrogate policy implementation in SSA throughout the book. Because Mfum-Mensah sounds a clarion call for African indigenous knowledge to guide education policy-making and culturally-relevant school curriculum, it is important to note that much of the conceptualization of the book’s key construct, namely marginality and its attendant critical discourse, has been formulated in Western contexts and applied to various SSA settings. As such, more theorization of marginality and the implications for educational policy and practice must come from scholars located within SSA countries to challenge not only postcolonial education policies but also conceptualizations of critical discourse itself.

In Chapter One, the author argues that educational provision in marginalized communities in SSA is particularly complex due to the traditional social structures of most of those communities. Mfum-Mensah uses childhood accounts of his previous experiences in Ghana to highlight rural social structures and the ways that children from traditional African societies acquire knowledge. Often the author’s personal accounts of growing up in a Ghanaian village are used to foster insight about education and marginalization. For instance, Mfum-Mensah says that the village is “the bastion of rooted and non-negotiating traditionalism” (p. 33). But, to what extent can such a generalization be extended to rural contexts elsewhere in SSA? Because more localized vignettes are not included for other SSA countries, this contributes to a sense of disequilibrium and unequal treatment across SSA. The reader gains contextual insight about one location in Ghana but much less nuanced understandings of marginality in other SSA settings.

Chapter Two traces how European Christian missionaries and colonial administrators perpetuated colonialism and African marginality from economic, political, and social processes. Although the argument is not a new one, Mfum-Mensah’s inclusion of some Muslim populations’ responses to the colonizer and colonization is a necessary and important contribution, though the chapter would be bolstered by providing reasons as to why some Muslim religious leaders cooperated with the colonial state and others did not. Overall, the chapter would benefit from being tied more directly to a discussion of marginalized children. In Chapter Three, the author aptly points out that the failure of SSA governments to include economic revitalization programs as part of their education strategy plans was a major flaw in postcolonial education policies and served to strengthen the existing marginality created by the colonial administration.

In “Part Two: Marginality and Education: Linking Policy and Practice” (Chapters Four through Ten), the author explores how policies of Christian missions, colonial administrations, and postcolonial governments have shaped schooling processes and educational outcomes (e.g., school attendance, retention, progression, and occupational rewards) of selected marginalized groups. Chapter Four explores the schools’ exclusionary practices and the way that community forces, long distances to school, and few role models affect marginalized children. It does not answer, though, how well distance educational programming is faring in rural communities in SSA. Chapter Five considers some of the challenges girls face in a rural community in Ghana (i.e., the author’s village) and the intersection of economic, social, and cultural barriers that undermine their education. Chapter Six is particularly interesting for the specific marginalized group discussed and for the depth of insight provided. The author examines educational provision in Zongo Islamic communities in Ghana to demonstrate how religion, ethnicity, and spatiality converge to create a hostile school environment for ethnic and religious minority children. Zongo, a Hausa term which means “foreign settlers,” refers to Muslim immigrants living in informal settlements (slums) in Ghanaian urban and rural communities during the British colonization of the Gold Coast (p. 108). The author explains how the establishment of Islamic primary and junior secondary schools in the Zongo community in Ofoase, which has since changed into a more traditional public education system, fostered the educational participation of many children.

Chapter Seven discusses how educational stakeholders might deconstruct colonial ideologies underlying classroom pedagogies in schools in SSA. However, the chapter could benefit from more specific examples both of pedagogies that harness children’s identities and experiences in the classroom and of the successes and challenges associated with the promotion of culturally-appropriate pedagogies. Chapter Eight examines school-based violence in relation to schooling for marginalized children, while Chapter Nine considers the benefits and challenges of partnerships between policy makers, NGOs, and marginalized communities to promote school participation in rural northern Ghana. Chapter Ten consists of only eight pages and strives to bring together some recommendations for policy makers and researchers with the goal of reconceiving the education policy framework.

Mfum-Mensah is successful in interrogating education policy implementation in sub-Saharan Africa, and as such, the book will be of interest to sociologists and historians, as well as educational researchers working in African contexts. The book, however, is long on explanation of the problems that colonialism has generated but short on solutions that might work. The book provides a general picture of marginality in SSA but does not dive deeply into any particular SSA context beyond that of Ghana. The author asserts the need for collaborative engagement among education policy makers and practitioners to re-conceptualize policy development that attends to the sociocultural, economic, and political contexts of marginalized children. He also states that marginalized SSA children struggle to complete their schooling because the education does not address their own lived experiences. Toward that end, the book would benefit from the voices of marginalized children, to contextualize their concerns and to harness what they desire from schooling. Certainly more scholarly attention is needed to ascertain the views and understandings that marginalized children hold about society, citizen identity, and the role their schools play in helping or hindering their development, provided they have access to schooling. Moreover, there is also need for indigenous knowledge to inform theoretical constructions of marginality, education, and policy to challenge the dominant discourses about education policy, development, and marginalization in SSA.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 06, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22874, Date Accessed: 1/26/2022 12:19:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Patricia Kubow
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    Patricia K. Kubow is Professor in International Comparative Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Indiana University. She has also directed the Center for International Education, Development and Research, receiving federal grant awards that have brought prestigious Fulbright teacher and international educator programs to the IU School of Education. Her comparative research focuses on global-local constructions of democracy, citizen identity, and formal and indigenous education in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
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