Bettering Oneself with Colonial Education

Valerie Braman, Class of 2000.5, English 119, Brown University

Part 3 of "Education as a Means of (Post) Colonial Control in the Literature of Zimbabwe and Singapore: A Theoretical and Literary Analysis"

The positioning of British-styled education as the only means of bettering oneself or one's family's economic and social situation According to Philip G. Altbach's essay, "Education and Neocolonialism," colonial educational policies were, at their best, elitist. Rarely were adequate educational facilities set up in colonies, and, even when these limited opportunities were put into place, the process by which they became available was extremely slow (Ashcroft, 453). The elite groups, socially, economically, and educationally, were Western-oriented, choosing to dress in western garb, eat western food, and speak in western languages. Often, the children of these elites would be sent to special private schools conducted in European languages so that the privileged position of the family could be maintained (454).

Given that the English were in control of the government, and therefore employment possibilities, the only way for a family to ensure its continued or desired financial security was to send its children to the schools set up by the English. In this way, the children would become educated with the tools (language, skills, manners) necessary to find employment in the new system. With the establishment of the English language as the official language of business and government, those who could not read or write or at least speak the language were relegated to positions of relative impotence, unable to look out for their own interests. Education became another economic commodity, with the producers enjoying significant power over the captive consumers. If knowledge of English was required for entrance into many professions, then colonized subjects had no choice but to consume the products they were offered in the way of English education. In this way, as Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin argue, education is "the foundation of colonialist power and consolidates this power through legal and administrative apparatuses" (425).

The figure of the colonial or postcolonial child upon whom the hopes for the financial and social future of an entire family are placed occurs again and again in the literature from formerly colonized countries. Often, a western education is presented as the character's "way out" of the squalor and poverty in which he finds himself and into a world of greater possibilities. This option, presented by the colonial powers as their benevolent solution to the poor conditions in which the natives lived takes on a more ominous valence if one considers the fact that in many cases, especially in Zimbabwe, where the best land for farming was taken away from the indigenous people and given over to the colonizing settlers, those conditions were created by the colonizers themselves. One must also consider that if English powers did not rule, then English education would not be necessary for the success of native peoples. In this way, the colonizing forces set themselves up as the solution to a problem that their presence caused in the first place.

However, any dreams that a young native school-child might have of rising above his family and surroundings are often complicated by the harsh realities of the world in which the characters live. Regardless of their achievements in schools or their facility with English, these characters must still live in a world inhabited by both the colonizer and the colonized, and their position remains that of the other as long as hierarchies of ethnicity and culture prevail.


Altbach, Philip G. "Education and Neocolonialism." Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995. 452-456.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, Eds. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Education as a Means of (Post) Colonial Control in the Literature of Zimbabwe and Singapore: A Theoretical and Literary Analysis

Postcolonial OV discourseov [Singapore] Zimbabwe OV