75 years  

Education in Tropical Areas 1952-1973

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Professor Kazim Bacchus : student in 1952-3, 1953-4, 1957-8 and Visiting Scholar in EDC in 1980-81 and in  DICE 1985-6

"Professor Bacchus recalls the value of meeting staff and visitors with a variety of experience, the heated debates between students and the influence of figures such as Margaret Read.

"My first contact with the Department dates back 50 years – from October 1952 – when I was a student in the Education in Tropical Areas (ETA) Department, (previously the Colonial Education) Department and I have since been actively aware of and sometimes involved its work, despite its various name changes.

One of the most memorable experiences during my first year there was the opportunity I had to meet many teachers and educational administrators from various other British colonies - which is what their countries were at the time. The similarities and differences of our educational experiences was something from which I learnt a lot, during our discussions in class and afterwards.

Then there was the genuine welcome afforded to us by our tutors. My tutor was P.C.C. Evans who was a warm and kindly Welshman. The individual tutors generally tried to ensure that the students in tutorial groups were making a smooth transition to life, both at the University and in London. In addition there were the other very helpful individuals such as Margaret Couch, the ETA librarian, and Margaret Richards, Secretary to Professor  M. Read.

But despite the warmth of the personal welcome the Department was still intellectually a “Colonial Department.”  The tutors had nearly all worked in the colonies and many (though not all) of them shared the view that the best educational programmes for these countries were still those developed by the colonial authorities.  Many were possibly guided by cost considerations that the colonies could not aspire to the educational standards of the metropole, possibly except at the secondary and tertiary levels that would cater for a small elite group of students.. 

This was a point of view that some ETA students vehemently challenged, either in their classes but more often when they met with other students.  I remember the many heated discussions, particularly by African students, about the role of English and the teaching of the vernacular in the curriculum of African schools.  It was not that the lecturers were culturally insensitive to the political and cultural aspirations of their students, but often shared the view that more attention ought to be paid to improving methods of delivering education, rather that with the content of education.

The quietly dissident voice was that of Professor Margaret Read who made a great impression on me. At first many of us could not see the relationship between her lectures on anthropology and methods of improving classroom teaching.  But this awareness came gradually as she encouraged us to question ‘known facts’ about teaching and learning reported in western textbooks to the educational and cultural realities of our own countries. This kind of thinking generated by Margaret Read has for me continued to be one of the key features EID work, which makes it still such an intellectually vibrant place to study." 

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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.