ERIC Identifier: ED291665
Publication Date: 1988-01-00
Author: Merryfield, Merry M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
The African Social Studies Programme: An Effort to Improve
Curriculum and Instruction across 17 African Nations. ERIC Digest.
As African nations achieved independence in the late 1950s and early
1960s, they sought ways to change inherited educational systems to make them
more suitable to the needs of new nations. "No courses in the curriculum were
viewed as more closely tied to national aspirations than those dealing with the
country, its people, and the responsibilities of citizenship" (Dondo, Krystall
and Thomas, 1974, p. 6).
By the late 1960s, new approaches to inherited history and geography courses
became known in Africa as "social studies." Eleven nations founded the African
Social Studies Programme (ASSP), and continue to monitor the development of
social studies curriculum and instruction in the continent. This digest examines
(1) the origins and goals of ASSP, (2) ASSP's organization and operation, and
(3) ASSP's major achievements and current challenges.
WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS AND GOALS OF THE AFRICAN SOCIAL STUDIES PROGRAMME?
The ASSP is a nonpolitical and nonprofit intergovernmental organization of 17
African nations that stimulates, promotes, and monitors innovative curriculum.
In September 1967, concerned educators from 11 African countries (Botswana,
Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania,
Uganda, and Zambia) met at Queen's College, Oxford with representatives of the
U.S. Education Development Center (EDC) and the English Centre for Curriculum
Renewal and Educational Development Overseas (CREDO) to discuss needs and
priorities in curriculum development in Africa. Social studies was one of these
The fledgling organization wanted to promote curriculum development,
research, and the development of new materials (Muyanda-Mutebi, 1984). ASSP
would provide a core secretariat as a clearinghouse of ideas and would assist
member states to organize national seminar courses, workshops, and conferences
with both African and non-African educators. In order to work together more
closely, the participating nations agreed to meet the following year in Mombasa,
Twenty-five African educators, seven British, and six American
representatives met at the Mombasa Conference of August 1968. There they
addressed questions such as these: (1) What is social studies? (2) What should
be the objectives in social studies education? (3) What approach should be used
in teaching social studies?
The conference concluded that a new approach based on integration of the
traditional subjects (history, geography, and civics), and some elements from
economics, sociology, and anthropology, was needed.
Teaching methods were also to change. Inherited methods were criticized as
didactic, passive, discouraging "the development of initiative, interest,
excitement and joy of learning," and focusing "the attention of the African on a
few abstract ideas that are usually unrelated to the economic activities, social
aspirations, and political goals of his own people" (Report on a Conference of
African Educators, EDC and CREDO, 1968, p. 6).
In describing the role of social studies in a changing society, the
Conference articulated three areas where social studies could make a
contribution: "national integration," "problems of rapid economic development,"
and "the promotion of self-confidence and initiative based on an understanding
of one's own worth and of the essential dignity of man" (1968, p. 9). An
additional benefit of social studies was that children would become capable of
coping with social change without despising traditional values and institutions.
The participants agreed that one person from each African country represented
would join an "Exploratory Committee," and thought it was advisable to begin
with a process for exchanging information and mutual assistance. One year later,
the Exploratory Committee became the Coordinating Committee of the African
Social Studies Programme, the organization that would take up where the Mombasa
Conference left off, and lead the social studies movement in Africa.
HOW IS THE ASSP ORGANIZED AND OPERATED?
The ASSP is organized by a Coordinating Committee composed of one
government-appointed representative from each member country. These national
coordinators are usually national curriculum developers, national inspectors, or
university professors. An Executive Committee of six members is set up by the
Coordinating Committee. The Committee works with the Executive Director and
makes decisions on behalf of the Coordinating Committee. The Executive Director
is responsible for day-to-day operations through the ASSP Secretariat in
Nairobi, Kenya. The present Executive Director, Dr. Peter Muyanda-Mutebi, took
the office in February 1984.
The ASSP is funded by member states at the rate of $5,000 per annum in U.S.
currency. Grants from private foundations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and
other sources have provided critical monies for conferences, workshops, and
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE ASSP?
The major accomplishments of the ASSP center on its role in supporting
national efforts within member nations to introduce, develop, and expand social
studies education. Perhaps the most significant accomplishments of the ASSP have
been its considerable efforts in bringing African nations together to define
social studies and articulate goals, content, and methods for Africa. Member
nations agree that the "Social Studies Approach," or "ASSP Approach" as it is
often called, has certain outcomes and methods.
ASSP stresses the study of the local and immediate before the foreign and
remote. This local emphasis is seen as a nation-building tool.
The skills and attitudes which develop through social studies teaching are
those required by citizens in a free society. These skills are those of
discovery (question-raising, observing, collecting, recording, classifying, and
experimenting); critical thinking (analysis and inference); and problem-solving
(planning, innovating, and decision-making). The attitudes expected of citizens
are considered to be respect, appreciation, cooperation, and compassion.
ASSP stresses that these skills and attitudes can only be developed through
participating in experiences which call for their use. Therefore, according to
ASSP, social studies must be taught through inquiry, with students learning to
ask and answer questions and solving their own problems.
ASSP also stresses that students need stimulation from a variety of media and
the ability to express themselves through these media. Although ability to
interpret and use the written word is important, it is also important to
interpret interactions between people and the physical environment or the
arrangement of a market or town.
The ASSP gives both educational legitimacy and hands-on technical aid to
institutions and governments that are interested in social studies. The program
has not only managed to bring together a cross-section of Africans to exchange
ideas, materials, expertise, and personnel among participating member states,
but it has also succeeded in the development of a common language in social
studies across the African continent.
The ASSP has sponsored a number of international, subregional and in-country
activities geared towards promoting the teaching of social studies. It also
produces a variety of informative and useful teaching materials such as learning
units on topics that cut across national boundaries in Africa.
As part of a review of ASSP effectiveness which was conducted during the
March 1985 Seminar, the Coordinating Committee identified several ways in which
the ASSP has influenced social studies in its respective countries. Thirteen
coordinators presented evidence that ASSP has directly influenced national
planning and policy with regard to social studies education. The methods most
frequently mentioned were conferences, meetings, and seminars from which
individuals carried back ideas and materials that affected policy and planning
at the national level (ASSP 1985).
A variety of informative and useful teaching materials have been produced by
the ASSP. Examples are (1) sourcebooks for each member state, as well as
teacher's guides which go with each of the sourcebooks, (2) learning units on
topics that cut across national boundaries in Africa, for example, "People are
the Same" or "The Market," and (3) sourcebooks on "Population Education in
Sub-Saharan Africa" (Muyanda-Mutebi, 1984.) The African Social Studies Forum is
an ASSP publication which encourages a smooth flow of information among its
ASSP has not been without its problems. Largely dependent upon contributions
of its member nations, ASSP is constrained by scarcity of resources. Although
ASSP wishes to remain an organization of African states, it is often forced to
turn to international donor agencies and Western countries for funding for major
seminars, conferences, and curriculum development efforts. The priorities of
these donors have influenced the agenda of the ASSP.
Other problems stem from the innate sensitivity of the social studies subject
matter. Education in citizenship, politics, and population, and even the
teaching of a nation's history, have political implications and ramifications in
contemporary Africa. A course on civics may become extremely controversial as
leadership changes, a one-party state emerges, or coups d'etat refashion the
The ASSP operates under a Coordinating Committee make up of governmental
appointees from 17 nations. The current member nations of ASSP are Botswana,
Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra
Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Finding common ground and agreement for action among these nations requires
flexibility and broad commonalities (Hawes, 1979; Merryfield, 1985.)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
African Social Studies Programme. REPORT ON THE SEMINAR OF THE COORDINATNG
COMMITTEE OF THE ASSP, Nairobi, Kenya, March 4-9, 1985.
Dondo, Joseph M.C., Abigail Krystall and Dorothy Thomas. REPORT OF AN
EVALUATION OF THE AFRICAN SOCIAL STUDIES PROGRAMME, 1974.
Howes, Hugh. CURRICULUM AND REALITY IN AFRICAN PRIMARY SCHOOLS. Essex,
England: Longman Group Limited, 1979.
Merryfield, Merry M. SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATION AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN
SELECTED AFRICAN NATIONS. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University,
Merryfield, Merry M. TEACHING ABOUT AFRICA. ERIC Digest No. 36, Bloomington,
IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1986. ED 278
Muyanda-Mutebi, Peter. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE ASSP. Nairobi: The
African Social Studies Programme, 1984.
Osunde, Egerton. "A Global Perspective in Social Studies Curriculum in
African Public Schools." SOCIAL STUDIES 75 (l984): l49-l52.
Quansah, Kofi B. BASIC TRAINING COURSE IN SYSTEMATIC CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT.
COURSE ONE: GENERAL BACKGROUND TO CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA. Nairobi,
Kenya, 1983. ED 237 476.
REPORT OF A CONFERENCE OF AFRICAN EDUCATORS, EDC AND CREDO ON SOCIAL STUDIES,
Mombasa, Kenya, August 19-30, 1968.
Yoloye, E. Ayotunde. "Dependence and Interdependence in Education: Two Case
Studies from Africa." PROSPECTS: QUARTERLY REVIEWS OF EDUCATION 15 (1985): 239.
ED 324 507.