Autumn 2009 / Leading Edge
Africentric Schools

Professor George Dei says parents of black children have been concerned for 30 years that the Toronto school system is not serving their children. “It was time to try a new approach.”


Professor George Dei is the immediate past chair of the department of sociology and equity studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He was in Ghana this past summer conducting research into indigenous philosophies of education. He recently spoke with Scott Anderson about Toronto’s first Africentric school, which opened this September.

Photo by: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Getty ImagesWhat is an Africentric school? The Africentric Alternative School is not only for black students. While concerns about the problems of black youth in the education system propelled the school’s creation, it is defined by its principles rather than by who goes there or who teaches there. The current school system looks at the world through European eyes. We’re talking about looking at the world through the eyes of African peoples – their experiences, their cultural knowledge and their history.

Africentric education sees schooling as a community endeavour, which means that parents, students, administrators, educators and governments share in the responsibility to ensure success. In the existing system, students are treated as individual learners. We want them to see themselves as a community of learners with a responsibility to those who are struggling. We want the A students to assist those who are not doing as well.

How will the school’s curriculum differ? The Africentric paradigm provides a space for African peoples to interpret their experiences on their own terms rather than through a Eurocentric lens. Of course, students need to know about European history. But they also must understand that African history is central to the construction of European history. You cannot present world history in a way that leaves out a group of people or says that their history doesn’t matter. Cry Freedom is about a white man who fights apartheid. Maybe he did, but what were the Africans doing? Were they just standing there watching him fight? Or were they central to the story?

I can see how subjects such as history and English can be taught with an African point of view. What about math? There’s a whole literature on ethno-mathematics and indigenous conceptions of science and mathematics. To use just one example, look at the textile patterns used by African peoples. What are their conceptions of geometry? You’d still teach students geometry as we know it. But you allow for multiple ways of knowing.

What has research indicated about the performance of black students who attend an Africentric school versus those who attend a regular public school? Black students at Africentric schools perform better on tests, skip class less often, show greater respect for authority and elders, report feeling a greater sense of belonging in their schools, and have a greater commitment to social responsibility and community welfare.

Do a greater percentage finish high school? We need more research on that question – which is another reason why we need this school.

If Africentric schools are seen as a solution, what are they a solution to? High dropout rates, low motivation, teachers’ low expectations of some students, stereotyping of black, religious minority and working-class students, a lack of respect for authority and a lack of student commitment to community.

Are there other possible solutions? Definitely. Africentric schools are not a panacea. We need to continue to ask all schools to be more inclusive.

What evidence do we have that Toronto schools are poorly serving black learners? A 1993 report on the old Toronto school board found that the graduation rates for black students was 44 per cent and the dropout rate 42 per cent. Comparable figures for white students were 59 per cent and 31 per cent. This appalling situation is no different today.

Would resources be better directed at solving the problems in all schools rather than creating a separate school? It cannot be an “either/or” solution. It has to be “and/with.” In 1979, I attended a meeting of the Organization of Parents of Black Children in Toronto. The parents were speaking about the school system failing their children. In 2009, parents are still talking about this. It was time to try a new approach.


Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by Scott Anderson on October 6th, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

I am not certain that I agree with Professor Dei’s comment that the “current school system looks at the world through European eyes.” If this is the case, then is it possible that additional “centric schools” are required? Asiancentric, Latinocentric and Arabworldcentric? The list can be further expanded.

The 1993 study that Professor Dei cites uses data that’s almost two decades old. If the percentages he quotes are still accurate, I suggest additional information is needed before usable conclusions can be reached. Some analysis of the characteristics of “black” families versus “white” families could prove valuable in discovering why the percentage gaps in this 1993 report exist.

My own belief is that parents’ values have a tremendous impact on the education of their children. So I wonder if it shouldn’t be the parents of black students who need to attend some form of Afrocentric school!

Lastly, I worry that too much attention is being placed on tailoring education to special groups and not enough on ensuring that all students can find the information and the teacher they need to obtain a quality educational.

Richard M Clarke
BASc 1954

# 2
Posted by Yaw on October 31st, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

I am a black student that graduated from high school in 1998. I agree with Mr. Richard M Clarke about the parents of black students attending a form of Afrocentric schools. However, the course should be about how multigenerational Canadians families function. How they support their children through good times and bad. From a Ghanian perspective, parents are spending their disposable income building homes in their native land assuming that their children should make it on their own. When their children need support or help, there are no funds.

# 3
Posted by k1oik on November 27th, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

I am curious. How many sides does a rectangle have in Africa? What is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter in Africa? What is the escape velocity of a body leaving Earth from a spaceport in Africa?

Teach philosophy all you want, from any viewpoint you want. Just don’t go call it math or science.

# 4
Posted by matthew obasohan BA%202008 on February 27th, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

I read your article about Toronto’s afrocentric school and I must commend your effort. African history needs to be recognized in the school system. I attended U of T Scaborough, and even though we studied African history, nothing really depicted the suffering African slaves went through. Students from an African background need to know the suffering their forefathers went through to really understand their background and heritage.

# 5
Posted by Dmitri on December 10th, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

Why are African-Canadians the only group to complain that the Toronto District School Board gives students a “European education”? Asian people seem to do just fine in our school system.

It seems that black students in Toronto’s public schools drop out more frequently than students from other ethnic backgrounds. If this is the case, and no other groups are complaining, does it mean that there is something wrong with the educational system, or that there is something wrong with the attitude of African-Canadians toward Toronto’s educational system?

# 6
Posted by Thandiwe Chimurenga BA%201989 on December 19th, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

Praises to the African community in Canada for persevering to found the Africentric Alternative School in September 2009. In the spirit of the second principle of Kwanzaa, Kujichagulia (self-determination), African people have the right and responsibility to think for ourselves, define ourselves and do for ourselves just like people in other communities do.

It’s interesting that the naysayers who foam at the mouth as they continue to criticize the Africentric Alternative School are the same ones who go into deafening silent mode when the police kill African youth and terrorize racialized communities. And, of course, these critics turn a blind eye to the fact that over 40 per cent of African youth are dropping out of school. Could it be that these cannibalistic critics have feasted on negative images of African people for so long that when African people think for ourselves and do for ourselves, it’s just too much for these folks to stomach?

For too long, this racist, white supremacist education system has failed to reflect the diversity of the people who live in Canada. One harrowing example is the rich, inspirational history of First Nations/Aboriginal peoples has been deliberately written out of “Canadian” history. Unfortunately, when we do read about these great peoples in the education system they are portrayed as “cultural artifacts” or “noble savages” who should be grateful that they were civilized by the bloodthirsty thieves from Europe who stole their land and committed some of the worst forms of genocide in human history. This “Tarzan-me-great-white-man” ideology is being challenged throughout Canada and around the world by principled people of different national, religious, racial and cultural backgrounds who are sick and tired of the toxic lies and inhumanity inherent in the global system of white supremacy. Victory is a certainty!

Long live the Africentric Alternative School!

# 7
Posted by Musafiri Oliver AcademicBridging2011 on January 5th, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

Yes, the present education system looks at the world through European eyes. The commentator who doesn’t know that, doesn’t know because he himself is included. He is celebrated, at the expense of others. Others are negated, to point of invisibility. Furthermore, what has been called “special groups” has nothing special about it. Those groups are not special, they are different. They are different from what? Different from “Europe”.

If the reader of these lines still doubts that the present school system looks at the world through European eyes, ask yourself how is it that I know that you have never read a classic of Chinese or African literature, or (god help you) Incan or Mayan literature?

# 8
Posted by Jim Smith on April 3rd, 2011 @ 8:38 am

What I do not understand is why the funding for this school needs to come from the public taxpayers. If black Canadians feel the need for their own education system, then let them pay for it individually.

How is it my responsibility to pay for a separate school system? Other ethnic groups, coming from all over the world, some escaping violence, racial and religious persecution in their own country, somehow are able to keep their communities in order. Their children go to school, and finish school. It is time for this community to look within itself to find a solution.

From what I have heard on the radio and read in the news, it seems like anyone in opposition of these schools are racist. However, the ones who are proposing the idea are the ones who have brought race into it. I see and hear supporter after supporter talking about how badly the black community needs this. What about Toronto’s Egyptian community? Are they not African? What about the white South African child, with deep generational roots in Africa, are they to be included in a program like this? Would a white South African instructor, be permitted to teach within this program?

I have no issue with Africentric schools, the same way I have no problem with Jewish Schools or Christian Schools. However, I do have a problem with paying for it out of my tax dollar.

# 9
Posted by Andrew BCom%202008 on November 18th, 2011 @ 1:31 am

With this specialized and localized education how are the students going to compete in a global environment where business is conducted in English and European education is valued? Enough already! Remember you chose Canada as your new home. Keep your culture and religion but respect and accept Canada’s beliefs, values and principles. You need not look any further than the Continent of Africa to realize that changing the colour of the people in power does not necessarily work.

# 10
Posted by SJ BA%201999 on November 24th, 2011 @ 11:59 am

Unfortunately, when we allow for a publicly funded, segregated school, we are condoning the fact that our current system does not provide universal teaching and is not inclusive. The need for this school demonstrates the fact that our system is not providing students with what they need to succeed, regardless of race, religion or disability. This is a societal problem, reflected in our public system. We need the right people leading our education system to recognize this.

# 11
Posted by Lulu on February 21st, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

The problem with creating an Africentric school is some fundamental questions need to be answered first.

What is “black”?
There are many cultures in Toronto that have the ethnicity of “black.” Black Canadians and black people of other countries do not necessarily get along and might not be tolerant of each other, so is an Africentric school going to remove all predjudice or will it lead to cross-black discrimination?

Should students of mixed heritage be allowed into these institutions?

Why should black people have this privilege? Blacks in Toronto may have come to Canada via the underground railway — or from Jamaica, Brazil, Ethiopia, etc. Should all blacks be able to attend an Africentric school? Where does it end? Should we also set up special publicly funded schools for other ethnic groups?

If anything, black schools inhibit tolerance for the wider spectrum of ethnic groups in Toronto. They bundle black people up in their own world and do not prepare them for the multicultural environment that is the reality of Toronto.

# 12
Posted by Saada on March 3rd, 2012 @ 4:01 pm
# 13
Posted by Kendall Arthur BEng%202011 on June 25th, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

To respond to a “Lulu”: blacks need to unite. This is the only way that we’re going to get ourselves out of the situation we’re in. One advantage of an Afrocentric school is that all children there, regardless of religion or immediate parentage, are taught that as African descendants, we’re all in this together.

As for children of mixed heritage, if their parents agree that an Afrocentric education is right for them, why not?

Did you know that the world’s first monarchy was African? The tomb site found at Ta Seti (Ancient Sudan) holds the dynasty of kings and queens who founded Ancient Egypt, and this burial site dates to at least two centuries before the first Egyptian Dynasty. Unless public schools are willing to teach this, then I’ll send my children to an Afrocentric one.

# 14
Posted by MJ on June 11th, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

Is there any exclusion of kids with a black and a white parent? Is there a waiting list?

# 15
Posted by kwanza on June 20th, 2014 @ 3:13 am

Lulu, you can define “black” any way you like since it is, in my view, an arbitrarily created term (from negro – black in latin) to described people of afrikan ancestry (“the one drop” rule).

Nevertheless, my understanding is that, though it is an Africentric school, all students are welcome. It is a matter of choice. I have heard great things about the school.

Curiously, I do not recall any caterwauling or big debates about Jewish schools and others that cater to very specific demographics. It seems to me it is always a major issue when it has to do with “Afrika.”

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