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Doctoral student examines missing Indigenous science knowledge in Ugandan education


By Fred Michah Rynor

March 14, 2013


Francis Akena AdyangaWhile education in Canada is certainly multidisciplinary and cutting edge, there are countries where academia is in urgent need of reforms to curricula.

Francis Akena Adyanga, a fourth-year doctoral candidate from Uganda, carried out his dissertation research on Uganda’s Indigenous educational history and was astounded to find that it was almost completely excluded from the nation’s schools.

“I discovered that most educational practices and lessons taught today are closely similar to ones that were brought to Uganda by the missionaries in the 1890s,” says Adyanga who is also an occasional teacher with York Region District School Board. “There is a profound dissonance between the content of education and the lived experiences of Ugandan learners and society.” 

As one remedy to this problem, Adyanga is looking at ways to integrate Indigenous science knowledge into the faculties of higher education in his homeland although, he says with excitement, he had to rely on study participants to define what Indigenous science actually entailed.

“Through talking to professors in Uganda, I soon realized that Indigenous science involved everything from beekeeping to traditional healthcare systems,” he states. “So much of the people's everyday life is occupied with a wide spectrum of subjects, all connected and managed under the umbrella of Indigenous science knowledge."

Adyanga, who came to Canada in 2007, admits that his life had been nomadic for many years due to the political and social strife of his war-torn home region, Northern Uganda. Now that the country is currently enjoying relative peace and stability, he was able to return and interview leading educational experts who helped with his research.

The immediate reaction of Ugandan professors during his interviews with them, he recalls, was, “Wow! We really need to integrate traditional history, science and sociology into our current curriculum because their exclusion from the education system is discreditable to our society and culture. They hope that my study will influence policy reform from the elementary school system right up to the university level and they were overjoyed that I was tackling this.”

But it is a long hard road he admits, as the gaps in their education system, due in large part to the colonial belief that Ugandan traditional knowledge was not useful, important or necessary, are huge. “When it comes to Indigenous knowledge, the gaps in current texts are so great that it will take years of serious methodical research and scholarly production to ameliorate the situation,” he said.

Adyanga acknowledges the safe space created by scholars at the former Sociology and Equity Studies in Education Department (now the Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice Education Program) that allows for exploration of Indigenous epistemologies. In particular, the works of professors such as George Dei and Njoki Wane on this knowledge have greatly influenced his own research. He's also grateful for the financial support he  received from OISE and the university and it's the main reason he now calls Canada home.

“I had applied to numerous universities in Canada and the U.S. but it was OISE that granted me the full scholarship necessary to continue my education in sociology and equity studies,” he maintains. “My tuition is paid for under the OISE Funding Grant Program and I'm also employed by OISE as a research assistant and teaching assistant which enables me, my wife, and our two young boys to pay our bills.”

Excited not only by the topic of his research but the extraordinary need for it by his fellow Ugandans, Adyanga is eager to return to his homeland to continue uncovering the mysteries of this neglected wisdom -- but he's wise enough to know that his search “is only the tip of the iceberg.”