Colonialism and Imperialism Workshop - "Wealth in Teachers: Staffing the Secondary School in Postcolonial West Africa"

Colonial & Imperial Workshop
Event date: 
October 5, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:20pm
Elisa Prosperetti
Princeton University
Fabian Krautwald
Princeton University
Seminar Series: 
Colonialism and Imperialism Workshop

"Wealth in Teachers: Staffing the Secondary School in Postcolonial West Africa"

Elisa Prosperetti, Princeton University

There is a pre-circulated paper for this workshop. To RSVP and to receive a copy of the paper, please email Caitlin Harvey at A light lunch will be provided.

In the decades that followed World War II, the acute shortage of qualified teachers was a global fact. Post-war demographic and economic booms produced a continuous surge in demand for education; supply hardly managed to keep pace. On every continent, schooling systems expanded dramatically—a result of the new social compact between states and the people they governed, itself mandated by the systemic shake-up that had been the war effort. On the African continent, both the French and British invested in projects of imperial renewal, targeting especially the heretofore-neglected education sector. One does not need to subscribe to dependency theory to gauge such efforts “too little, too late”. Indeed, independence, which came to most of West Africa by the early 1960s, greeted a very small cadre of educated Africans, few of whom chose teaching as a profession. Given the overriding imperative to “develop” these new nations, and the centrality of education to that enterprise, I argue that one of the most pressing questions of postcolonial statecraft in Africa was the following: how, and from where, will I get my teachers?

Ghana (formerly British) and Côte d’Ivoire (formerly French) were their respective empire’s ‘showcase colonies’ in West Africa, inviting contemporary and historical comparison. Upon acceding to independence, both countries put educational expansion at the top of their priority list but both were held back by their lack of domestic educators. This paper examines how, leveraging on different imperial legacies and configurations of geopolitical possibility, the postcolonial leaderships of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire adopted different approaches to resolving the crisis of teacher scarcity during the 1960s and 1970s. It also situates the long-term effects of these two approaches in the regional West African context, demonstrating that both relatively-early and relatively-late nationalization of the teaching corps had largely unexpected consequences.

Caitlin Harvey
Area of Interest: 
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Labor History
Sub-Saharan Africa
20th Century