Education in the British Gold Coast and the French Ivory Coast

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy

Table of Contents

First Draft (April 9th 2009)

First Draft (as of April 9th 2009) . . . go to Teacher's comment

Table of Contents
I. Introduction : Brief Background
II. Facts
II.1 Colonial Education in General
II.2 History of the System and Institutions
II.2.1 British Gold Coast
II.2.2 (Comparison integrated) French Ivory Coast
III. Analysis
III.1 Colonial policies, the effects, and the origins
III.1.1 British Gold Coast
III.1.1.1 Discrepancies
III.1.1.2 Relevant history
III.1.2 French Ivory Coast
III.1.2.1 Discrepancies
III.1.2.2 Relevant history
IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction: Brief background
             The history of European colonization of Africa is well-known, including that of British colonization of Gold Coast and French colonization of Ivory Coast. The former colony Gold Coast is current day nation Ghana, and the former colony Ivory Coast is now Republic of C?te d'Ivoire, the country especially insisting on its French name.
             Gold Coast was located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. It first encountered Europeans when the Portuguese landed in 1471. Soon after, Europeans from many countries began to trade with or via Gold Coast. European traders gave the name "Gold Coast" to this region for its gold resources; other than gold, the area became famous for other goods such as knives, beads, rum, and guns - slave being the major trade item for some time.
             The British first started to exert significant influence when they established the British Gold Coast in 1821, which began to seize privately held lands and lands held by other European governments. Britain expanded its domain by invading local kingdoms - the Ashanti (Asante) and Fante - fighting a number of wars with the natives. In the end by 1901, the Ashanti was reduced to a protectorate, and all of Gold Coast with all its kingdoms and tribes united became a British colony.
             With the Second World War came the wave of nationalism and demand for autonomy. In midst of this new flow of ideas, British Togoland, the Ashanti Protectorate, and the Fante protectorate were merged into one British Colony, the Gold Coast, by 1956. Not long after, in 1957, Gold Coast gained independence as a state, renaming itself as Ghana (1).
             Ivory Coast was also located on the Gulf of Guinea; it bordered and now borders Gold Coast/Ghana to the east. The first to contact Ivory Coast was also the Portuguese, some time around 1460s. The French took interest in Ivory Coast in 1840s, making it their protectorate through a treaty drawn in 1843-44. In 1893, France made Ivory Coast its colony, with the intent of increasing production of goods such as coffee and cocoa for exports.
             After much forced labor which provided the French with goods, Ivory Coast saw the rise of F?lix Houphou?t-Boigny who had the qualifications to lead the nation. After Ivory Coast became an autonomous member of the French Community in 1958, it gained independence soon after, in 1960, as the wealthiest French West African nation. It was contributing 40% of the region¡¯s total exports (2).
             Although the economic, social, and political spheres of these colonies are the areas most dealt with, this paper focuses on the British and French policies concerning education and compares the two. Interestingly, their different education policies resulted from the different backgrounds and history Britain and France had.

II. Facts

II.1 Colonial education in general
             Education is a necessary tool with which a society produces the knowledge needed for survival and sustenance, continued throughout and passed on to generations. It is necessary for establishing, maintaining, and improving the basic institutions and values of society. Such a mechanism did exist in Africa since the pre-colonial times, which exerted its influence by means of Islam, indigenous culture and tradition, and Afro-Christianity, whose sources such as the Koran and the Bible stimulated a drive for literacy and learning. Everything was still on an oral basis. However, the introduction of Western education and especially colonial education policies was what pulled up the education level in Africa.
             The arrival of European missionaries introduced Western education. European languages as well as African languages were taught, and proficiency in European languages was almost an informal requisite to having jobs of messengers, cashiers, artisans, and even professionals. In other words, "the degree of competence in Western education and European languages became the new index of status, and this also corresponded with the income level and social influence." By 1935, Western education was prioritized over traditional forms of education and had become the very dividing factor between the elite and the uneducated majority (3). This phenomenon could be witnessed in Gold Coast and Ivory Coast as well, where the British and the French, respectively, enforced education policies that exemplify the colonial approach to education. This was a general similarity between the two.

II.2 History of the system and institutions

II.2.1 British Gold Coast
             A Privy Council memorandum of 1847 was perhaps the first overt action the British took concerning education. It called out for an 'industrial schools for colored races' while proclaiming the "interdependence of moral and physical training, the need for the school to make an impact on the local community in respect of agricultural development and improved sanitation, the need to adapt the content of the curriculum to local needs" (4). It was based on this document that the British implemented many of their educational policies for decades to come, including the time period 1900 - 1957.
             Soon after the establishment of a General Board of Education and local boards in 1882 and the introduction of the office of a full Director of Education for the Gold Coast in 1890, Gold Coast annexed the Ashanti and the Northern Territories in 1902. After the turn of the century, the education in Gold Coast began its booming period - that is, relative to its conditions in the previous century. Increase in the exports of cocoa brought favorable economic conditions, a considerable portion of the revenue from which was devoted to the education sector. The people themselves acknowledged the necessity and significance of education and provided financially and physically for purposes of education.
             In 1918, the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Hugh Clifford, declared as goals: "primary education for every African boy and girl; a training college for teachers in every province; better salaries for teachers; and ultimately, a 'Royal College.'" In the following years, various institutions and schools were founded. In 1919, the new Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Gordon Guggisberg, devoted himself to the expansion and an increase in quality (to first-rate) of education. Hence, in the following year, through a compromise between a local committee on education which sought three new institutions - a secondary school, a new Government training college for male teachers, and the same for female teachers - and the Governor who believed that such a plan would strain the government¡¯s budget, one institution which combined the three elements came into existence. This institution was the Prince of Wales College, later to be renamed Achimota College and School, built at Achimota in Accra in 1927. Outstanding students were awarded with scholarships to study in British universities. The establishment of this college was especially meaningful as it represented the fruit of early colonial efforts towards education.
             Many other schools and institutions followed: the a number of trade or industrial schools including the Accra Technical School, schools even in the neglected provinces of the Northern Territories such as a Trade School in Yendi in 1922. As there came to be basis and room for emphasis and focus, educational policies geared to technical and agricultural education.
             The interesting point at this stage in Gold Coast¡¯s educational development is that the government realized "the impossibility of instituting free and compulsory education." The government therefore began to subsidize the education sector. Nevertheless, it did not cover everything. The government encouraged conventional payments so that education could be respected and not be taken for granted. Further note on tuition, in the Northern Provinces, payment in kind was acceptable as well, money replaced with livestock or foodstuffs.
             In the few decades before independence, many events and circumstances led to the expansion and development of education in British Gold Coast. World War II (1939 - 1945) influenced the education system in Gold Coast, as the war called for the European educators and inspectors to join the military service. This naturally brought Africans to the position of educators, most representatively having Mr. V. A. Tettey appointed as the first African Deputy Director of Education as a result. Years after the war, in 1950, the number of primary and secondary schools in total amounted to 3,000, the number of students reaching 280,960. 6.6% of the population (4.2 million) was in school receiving education (5). Years before the independence, Gold Coast witnessed great and steady growth of education. Education spread more widely from its monopolistic center Cape Coast to Accra, Kumasi, etc. In many of the schools, "an education which matched the best European standards and at the same time directed the attention of their students to their African heritage" was provided (6). At this stage of educational development, Gold Coast encountered its independence.

II.2.2 (Comparison integrated) French Ivory Coast
             Compared to the relatively well-developed educational system of the British Gold Coast which received adequate amount of attention and support from the government, the colonial education of French Ivory Coast, especially secondary education, was relatively unripe and narrowly provided in the period 1900 - 1960. The history of colonial education in French Ivory Coast is relatively simple, and the narrow original purpose of it explains the lack of breadth of this particular history.
             The French educational policy was to "give part of the population a summary education (a knowledge of French and arithmetic) and to train a native support staff for administrative services" (7). This already is a significantly different starting point from that of British Gold Coast, as the previously examined Privy Council memorandum of 1847 demonstrated. Whereas the memorandum influenced the British policies, guiding them to recognize the "interdependence of moral and physical training, the need for the school to make an impact on the local community in respect of agricultural development and improved sanitation, the need to adapt the content of the curriculum to local needs" (8), the French policies mainly had self-interest in mind, although the French government did welcome, to a degree, Catholic and Protestant missionary groups to lay the foundations for primary and secondary education in Ivory Coast (9).
             Governor-General Roume introduced in 1911 a hierarchy of schools to be implemented: primary-elementary, professional, and higher primary. African monitors worked at village schools. Administrators registered the children of chiefs and powerful families, as teachers took in talented children. There were also less accessible regional schools which taught at a level equivalent to that of schools in France which were only open for Ivoirians of French citizenship. Although there were institutions being established here and there, regions such as Agboville, Dimbokro, Grand Lahou, and Aboisso received no money for education, thereby barely being able to construct about 15 schools through private subscriptions (10). In brief, by 1923, French Ivory Coast had basic network of primary schools, and in 1928, the first secondary school opened (11). But all in all, education was provided only to select group of students, and there were regions which were severely underfunded.
             The education programs despite their narrow reach was well-structured. Compared to the education system of British Gold Coast whose emphasis was on technology and agriculture, the French Ivory Coast system developed paths for much higher education for the qualified. Village schools implemented a six-year program, which ended with a Certificat d¡¯Etudes Primaires Elementaires (CEPE) examination. Qualifiers of CEPE usually moved to the city for jobs, and less than 10% of graduates moved on with the higher level education. At Bingerville, the ecole primaire superieure (higher primary school) sent a few outstanding students, who completed its program, to the Ecole Ponty in Senegal, other graduates becoming teachers or village monitors (12). It is rather clear that the French policies believed in high quality education for the superior few and thus carefully extended the education programs to post-graduate opportunities.
             As a result of this selective education, in 1945, only four students were university graduates, three or four in French universities, 200 - 300 graduates of the Ecole Ponty. In 1948, the estimated ratio of school age children in school was one in twenty, a relatively meager number, albeit an improvement from the one in 100 in 1922. As in the case of British Gold Coast whose education expanded as it approached independence, education came to be more accessible and widespread in Ivory Coast as it came near its independence. Rate of enrollment reached 20% in the 1950s, a drastic increase in number although comparatively still small. Students studying in France, about 1,000 at this point in time, for both secondary and post-secondary course of education received scholarships (13). Such actions of the French government can be seen as preparation to replace European officials and administrators with natives, a process which would require "an educated demographic base." Nevertheless, even these students were largely chosen sons of tribal chiefs (14).

III. Analysis
             Comparison of facts between education in the British Gold Coast and in the French Ivory Coast demonstrates the similarities and differences of the two. Facts themselves did explain the reasons for some questions, such as why the French offered education to a select few. However, in order to fully understand the two colonies¡¯ policies, the actual effects, and the consequences, a deeper analysis of the mindsets of the colonists as well as their history is necessary: examining the broad to comprehend the narrow. Mere observation of facts pertaining to establishment of institutions and construction of buildings cannot explain the following.

III.1 Colonial policies, the effects, and the origins

III.1.1 British Gold Coast

III.1.1.1 Discrepancies
             There are two types of discrepancies concerning the education in British Gold Coast. The first is the discrepancy in opinions between the British government and most British officers. The second is the discrepancy in opinions between the British related to the potential of Africa and its people.
             The first discrepancy occurred between the beliefs of the British government and general British officers in Gold Coast. Indeed, as aforementioned, British Gold Coast saw a boom in its education system, with the British government in considerable support. The point that is about to be made here does not contradict that fact, but rather proves that such improvements were the fruits of conflicts. The British government in London stood firm in the stance that education was "one of the main benefits which British rule should bring to Africa." However, most British officers in Gold Coast doubted education (15). Systematic popular education was a new concept pushed by the British parliament for Great Britain itself, less than half a century old - a royal commission on popular education first appointed in 1858 (16). Therefore, whereas the British government optimistically believed in education, the British officers still distrusted popular education and the possible effects. Many regarded education "merely as one of the spending departments." Only few recognized the investment value of education, and thus, many British officers were prone to give up after two or three failures, lacking patience and concluding that trying to educate African elders, for example, to comprehend modern ideas was a waste (17). Education had not yet proven to be "the way."
             The second discrepancy involving the potential and future of Africa (Gold Coast, to be specific) was also along the same line of thought of the first discrepancy. Whereas the first discrepancy was the clash between faith and lack of faith in education, the second involved a discord between faith and lack of faith in Gold Coast. Some of the British obstinately believed that the main occupation of the people of Gold Coast would continue to be subsistence agriculture and that Great Britain would continue to exert influence and impose the indirect rule system on Gold Coast. Such beliefs impeded education as it seemed like an unfruitful project. A. G. Fraser, one of the founders of Achimota College, criticized the slow pace at which education in Gold Coast progressed but was met with severe counter-criticisms from many British officers who did not see much of a brighter future for Gold Coast in general (18). To critics who asserted that "the African is not capable of exercising those qualities that will be conferred on him by higher education," Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, Governor of Gold Coast, in 1924 replied that Africans must be given the chance to elevate from a lower to a higher level of development and that history proved such elevation to be possible. He added that even without educational facilities and training, Africa had seen successful men both morally and intellectually; just what would happen with suitable facilities and training was something to anticipate (19). He saw great potential in Gold Coast. As such, there was much exchange of proposals and doubts thrown back and forth. Out of the extensive talks came the colonial policies on education in British Gold Coast.

III.1.1.2 Relevant history
             Another reason the British government¡¯s intentions of educating Gold Coast was confronted with much criticism and doubt was that Great Britain had already seen what education might lead to. This refers to the experience Great Britain underwent when dealing with India.
             The fact that the leaders of Indian movements expressing political discontent were mostly students in British-established universities of India and some explanations which link the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 to the British education conducted in English all warned the British about the potential "harms" of education that might backfire. Thus, the British, reflecting upon the events of the past century, had to be more careful in reaching decisions in terms of educational policies in the 20th century (20). People feared that enlightenment of the natives may beget instability and be a threat to their authority. Nevertheless, based on the analysis of the development of the education sector in the Gold Coast, it seems that fear did not obstruct education in the colony so as to hinder its expansion significantly.

III.1.2 French Ivory Coast

III.1.2.1 Discrepancies
             The French also exhibited a number of discrepancies when they exerted their policies and the ideologies that support the policies. The most representative two can be summarized as the following: the discrepancy in interests - colonial order versus ideologies and values - and the discrepancy between ideal and reality - assimilationism versus reality.
             The first discrepancy could be witnessed between the French desire to maintain colonial order and other values the French portrayed themselves as for. Egalitarianism was one of the core values of the French Revolution (1789 - 1799). Egalitarianism by definition is "a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic rights and privileges" (21). However, this value could not be upheld in the French educational policies in the Ivory Coast for the right to education was not granted to all. Moreover, the French authorities, although leaders of heavy responsibility on whom the lives of many depended, abandoned their "pedagogical and sociocultural" duties by denying majority of the population of learning age the opportunity of secondary education. The reason behind such decisions clearly demonstrates the clash between colonial order and the aforementioned values: taking away education takes away the seed of resistance.
             The most motivating factor for the French to introduce education in Ivory Coast was, as previously explained, the fact that education would enable Ivory Coast natives to work as administrators, in the "lower echelons of the workforce." This was why the French offered primary education - summary education - which consisted of 3R's: reading, writing, arithmetic. In secondary, higher level of education, the French perceived a potential threat to their established colonial authority; they believed that advanced education would breed seeds of resistance, discontent, recognition of the illegitimacy of their rule, and so on. Thus, despite the values and ideologies the French had been defending such as equality and fraternity, they implemented policies which put the general Ivoirian public down and favored children of tribal chiefs and influential families. Consequently and naturally, excluding few institutions, the French Ivory Coast did not develop secondary education offered to a wider range of students until after the Second World War (22). The desire to hold colonial power and the desire to Ivoirians by providing French education had been compromised in the form of giving higher level education only to a chosen few.
             The second discrepancy involved ideal and reality. After France began to obtain considerable lands in West Africa, French colonial thinkers started to devise adequate strategies and formula to be used in governing the areas. Most of them concluded that assimilation was the most logical choice. Assimilation was a political philosophy that the French adopted which called to "propagate among the natives the language, the methods of work, and, progressively, the spirit and civilization of France." It rationalized direct and focused French rule over Ivory Coast even if it ignored the indigenous inhabitants in the process. It degraded or nullified existing social and political institutions and replaced them with those of French (23). The ultimate goal of assimilation was "the elimination of parochial cultures and the creation of men who are peers and culturally undifferentiated" (24). Of course, education was one of the major methods by which the French wanted to realize assimilation. This was why, in the French Ivory Coast, the French insisted on French as the official language of education, an obstinacy which hindered the education process. In addition, the colonial education introduced in Ivory Coast as well as in other colonies had almost the identical curriculum as that in France (25).
             In this process, a rift between the aim of assimilationists and the reality of Ivory Coast revealed itself. The assimilationists themselves knew of "the enormity of their undertaking to expect the creation of instant Frenchmen from African peasants" (26). Other onlookers also commented that bringing assimilation to reality was extremely difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, as the French government did not try to educate all native Ivoirians in the first place but only a select few, the French education system came to be elitist, nurturing only the privileged and talented students (27). In conclusion, the assimilationist policies of France engendered only a small "ruling class." The French limited the distribution of education; but in this act, they themselves were provided with limited access to Ivoirians whose traditional mindsets they wanted and had to change into those of the French (28). Partly according to plan, partly unexpectedly, goals and reality proved different and contributed to bringing about the same consequence as the first discrepancy: higher education only to some. Partly straying from the original principle, assimilationists, in practice, specifically aimed at "creating a political elite that would identify with France and French culture" (29).

III.1.2.2 Relevant history
             History explains why the French had such a strong conviction in assimilation, until association followed. Assimilation is in part based on an egalitarian philosophy. Egalitarianism, as observed above, emphasizes the equality of all men; it also stresses "the essential unity of mankind" despite environmental differences. From this thought stemmed the idea of "elimination of parochial cultures and the creation of men who are peers and culturally undifferentiated." The French viewed African cultures as parochial and believed that their colonies should be culturally undifferentiated through unification into a French culture.
             Looking at the historical aspect, egalitarianism and all relevant ideas emerged and took on a significant role in the French Revolution. It was the belief of egalitarianism that destroyed the rigid stratification of Estates. It was the belief of egalitarianism that drove the French to abolish all slavery in 1794 (30). Hence, assimilation with egalitarianism explaining its legitimacy naturally appealed to the French, whose history was much indebted to this political philosophy.

IV. Conclusion
             This paper examined the similarities and differences in the colonial education systems of British Gold Coast and French Ivory Coast. Tangible similarities and differences such as those on the establishment of institutions, funding, management, and education programs reflected what kind of policies and eventual aims the colonists had. Point of variation began with the very purpose of education in the two colonies - albeit nominal in nature - the British being for the enlightenment of Africans in Gold Coast in areas of agriculture, technology, sanitation, etc, and the French being for the employment of natives to simple administrative tasks. Whereas Great Britain geared to or at least tried for free education for all, France specifically limited accessibility of education in Ivory Coast to students of privileged class such as sons of tribal chiefs.
             Moving a step further from this analysis, it was then apparent that such differences in policies had their roots in the varying political philosophies of the two colonizing countries. The French subscribed to assimilation, which sought to replace Ivoirian elements with those of French. Almost everything French took precedence over everything African. Less characteristically distinct than the French and hence not discussed much throughout the paper, the British also had a philosophy of their own: adjustment. Compared to the French, the British stressed cultural adaptation, introducing to Gold Coast metropolitan systems and institutions while having them "rooted in their own culture" (31).
             Historical aspects also served a purpose in explaining the stances and philosophies of Great Britain and France. Although the British government was in general support of education in Gold Coast, they were cautious and in discord, particularly the parliament and the British officers at the field, reflecting upon their past experience with the Indians. The French colonial philosophy of assimilation had its historical roots in the French Revolution, the abolition of slavery, and the values that arose from the events such as egalitarianism.
             Although Britain and France might have had similar intentions and incentives as all other colonial states, their approaches were different, depending on their history and subsequent philosophy. British Gold Coast and French Ivory Coast encountered Western education through their colonists; the direction of education in the future which should adequately combine both traditional and modern elements is a new task requiring a solution for both Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire.

Notes :

(1)      "Gold Coast (British Colony)." Wikipedia.
(2)      "C?te d'Ivoire." Wikipedia.
(3)      "Education and social change." General History of Africa VIII., 678 - 679.
(4)      "British Educational Policy in West and Central Africa."
(5)      "History of Education in Ghana."
(6)      Conton, W. F. West Africa in History: Since 1800., 76 - 77
(7)      Mundt, Robert J. Historical Dictionary of The Ivory Coast (Cote D¡¯Ivoire)., 62.
(8)      "British Educational Policy in West and Central Africa."
(9)      "C?te d'Ivoire - Educational System - overview."
(10)      Mundt, Robert J. Historical Dictionary of The Ivory Coast (Cote D¡¯Ivoire)., 62
(11)      "C?te d'Ivoire - Educational System - overview.
(12)      Mundt, Robert J. Historical Dictionary of The Ivory Coast (Cote D¡¯Ivoire)., 62 - 63.
(13)      Ibid., 63
(14)      "C?te d'Ivoire - Educational System - overview.
(15)      Ajayi, J. F. and Espie, Ian. A Thousand Years of West African History., 414.
(16)      Flowers, Rick. "Defining Popular Education."
(17)      Ajayi, J. F. and Espie, Ian. A Thousand Years of West African History., 414-415
(18)      Ibid., 414.
(19)      "The Education of the African." 226 - 227.
(20)      "British Educational Policy in West and Central Africa."
(21)      "egalitarianism." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
(22)      "C?te d'Ivoire - Educational System - overview.
(23)      "Assimilation and Association and French Colonial Rule in Africa.
(24)      Clignet, Remi P. and Foster, Philip J. "French and British Education in Africa."
(25)      Mills, Wallace G. "French Approaches in Colonial Policy."
(26)      "Assimilation and Association and French Colonial Rule in Africa.
(27)      Mills, Wallace G. "French Approaches in Colonial Policy."
(28)      "Education." The Education System
(29)      Ibid.
(30)      Clignet, Remi P. and Foster, Philip J. "French and British Education in Africa."
(31)      Ibid.


1.      "Gold Coast (British Colony)." Wikipedia.
2.      "C?te d'Ivoire." Wikipedia.
3.      Habte, Aklilu and Teshome Wagaw. "Education and social change." in Mazrui, Ali A. General History of Africa: VIII Africa Since 1935. Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 1999.
4.      Brown, Godfrey N. "British Educational Policy in West and Central Africa."
5.      "History of Education in Ghana." Ministry of Education, Science, and Sports: Republic of Ghana.
6.      Conton, W. F. West Africa in History: Since 1800 (Volume 2). London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1966.
7.      Mundt, Robert J. Historical Dictionary of The Ivory Coast (Cote D¡¯Ivoire). Metuchen and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1987.
8.      "C?te d'Ivoire - Educational System - overview." StateUniversity.Com.
9.      Ajayi, J. F. and Espie, Ian. A Thousand Years of West African History. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1967.
10.      Flowers, Rick. "Defining Popular Education." 2004.
11.      Guggisberg, Sir Frederick Gordon. "The Education of the African." The Keystone. London: 1924. in Collins, Robert O. West African History. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1997.
12.      "egalitarianism." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. <>
13.      "Assimilation and Association and French Colonial Rule in Africa." Problems in the History of Colonial Africa.
14.      Clignet, Remi P. and Foster, Philip J. "French and British Colonial Education in Africa."
15.      Mills, Wallace G. "French Approaches in Colonial Policy."
16.      "Education." The Education System.