Tuesday, December 16, 2008

French colonialism: Algeria and Vietnam




The style of colonialism through education:

EXCERPT FROM A PREVIOUS PAPER ON COMPARATIVE EDUCATION

by Azly Rahman


Descriptions of the salient points of the ideological, administrative and policy- implementation aspects of French colonial education are particularly derived from Alf Andrew Heggoy’s (1984) “Colonial Education in Algeria: Assimilation and Reaction” and Kelly’s “Teachers and the Transmission of State Knowledge: A Case Study of Colonial Vietnam” in Altbach and Kelly (1984). Heggoy (1984) wrote about the assimilationist/associationist policy of French colonial education in its occupation of Algeria from 1830 to 1962 in which the agenda was to make the colony one of the natios under a greater France as a “civilized entity”. Although Heggoy noted that the French were “unprepared” as a colonizer, a systematic program of “enlightenment alá French” was successfully carried out under the tutelage of the “soldier-administrators” to develop Algerians into a nation consisting of Franco-Algerians elitist in character and a larger segment of the population as French-speaking Algerians proletarian and marginalized in disposition.

In the process of creating such colonial plurality, an imposition of French language as a medium of instruction through the creation of French madaris was made, destroying the primarily Arabic and Quranic-based system of education already in existence before 1830. Although at the onset of colonization the Islamic court is allowed to continue functioning and Islam to persevere, French colonials systematically impose control of the schooling system though its imposition of French as a medium of instruction and through its structural assurance that teachers of the madaris and imams be retained to propagate the French language-policy ideology. Whilst language becomes a powerful force for cultural “re-engineering” of the Algerians, the French “enlightenment” project via the assimilationist or associationist policy which “offered philosophies that sought to explain how a dominant European nation should sought to train its African subject”, the policy of creating a “dual-system” of elite-proletariat in character was administered through direct control by Governor Generals of which Inspectorates of Education fall under their jurisdiction.

This direct rule allows the colonists to execute agenda which would “civilize the Algerians into a natio with deep sense of French consciousness so that they would be able to then function in the modern world. The 132 years of domination carried out through a highly selective, evolvingly systematic planning ideologically based upon the idea of the superiority of the French, as Heggoy concluded, created a tragedy in the Algerian experience in that by 1962 when Algeria was released from the shackle of domination through a bloody war which killed 2 million people, French colonial education created a French-speaking elite who no longer belong to either culture, and an illiterate 90% of the Algerian masses (predominantly Arabs) who violently opposed the over-a-century French rule. Whilst Heggoy’s (1984) essay focused on the macro analysis of French colonial education as it effects the 90% Arab-Algerians, Gail P. Kelley (1982) looked at the micro level how Vietnamese teachers, between 1918 to 1938 responded to the imposition of French assimilationist/associationist agenda between within the timeline of French colonialism which began in 1838.

Kelly’s analysis looked specifically at issues such as curriculum content, knowledge transmission, textbook-use and interpretation, and how teachers as a “highly regarded but lowly-paid” members of the society act independently of the mandates “entrusted” to them by French-controlled Office of Public Instruction. As in the case of Algerians, who had their Arabic-Quranic schools before colonization, the Vietnamese too had an indigenous system of education based on Sino-Vietnamese features. Beginning in 1916, a systematic Franconization of Vietnamese education began, orchestrated by the Office of Public Instruction which imposed a top-down curriculum which Vietnamese see as “a ‘cruel parody’ both on their traditions and aspirations”. French values are imposed as superior to those of the natives and through a program of gradual introduction of French as a medium of instruction and the creating of Franco-Vietnamese schools which is neither French nor Sino-Vietnamese, the assimilationist/associasionist policy was, like the Algerian project, carried out to create ‘French-Indochinese’ subjugated and disempowered from thousands of miles away.

Textbooks written from the perspective of how the French wanted it to be, which stressed moral values though French eyes, became part of the curriculum which, as Kelley wrote “denoted instructional turn to hygiene, manual labor, mathematics and physical education – subjects totally alien to Sino-Vietnamese schools – but not necessarily to French schools’ (p.179). Textbooks in history took the imposed view that the French was there to end a Vietnamese past colored by “civil war, exploitation, starvation, strife, and foreign domination.” (p.182) To alter the consciousness of the Vietnamese into a subjugated existence as farmers and labors, the rural peoples’ pastoral life is glorified and their urban life is propagated as a portrait of decadence.

Thus, French consciousness as ideology was propagated, state-controlled school administration was instituted, and the policy of assimilation and association was orchestrated as agencies of socialization in the Vietnamese experience. Nonetheless, Kelly’s article primarily pointed out too that teachers as cultural mediators and protesters of French colonialism played a significant role in demystifying knowledge of French superiority by selectively transmitting state-legitimated knowledge which, in the end perhaps contributed to the Vietnamese psychological strength in her movement for liberation.

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