During the pre-colonial period, oral stories in the form of folklores were familiar amongst many African households. The stories told had ancestral backings, leadership teachings and knowledge systems, to what we refer to as informal education. The knowledge was the combination of spirituality, cultural practices, social interactions, language and healing, especially traditional medicine. They were mostly community-driven for the necessity of social good. Ubuntu – the Southern African concept of interdependency and communal benefits, serves a foundational point to the need for the return of the indigenous education system in Africa (Johannes Lefa, 2015). It draws to the relations one has with the community rather than individualism. In this case, indigenous knowledge systems are useful to return individuals to learn about the history, their leaders, communal values and interpersonal practices that existed before and should emulate today.

Mali, a country located deep within the Sahel region, serves as a perfect example of the rich intrinsic culture that is going to waste. Once referred to as the Mali Empire, also known as the Golden Kingdom, was ruled by a charismatic leader. The empire concentrated on flourishing agricultural and educational practices. Practices that took place at the Ahmed Baba Islamic Studies Library in Timbuktu. The centre served as the Islamic Centre and Library with knowledge on Islamic studies, together with the Sankara Madrasa and the University of Sankore, the oldest university in the world. In hindsight, indigenous knowledge was in the form of religion and cultural practices of the Mandinka people, combining both traditional teachings with Islamic teachings from Mecca. In indigenous knowledge, one factor that helped people learn more about Islam was respect for traditional cultural values and customs. In this, the rich history of the Malian people was not abolished but fused into the new way of religion. 

Currently, post-colonial Mali suffers from the effects of French colonization; low GDP, the high wage gap, low standard of life, conflicts from the North, political instability and low literacy levels. On the latter, according to UNESCO, the literacy rate for people above 15 years as of 2018 was 35.5% (“Mali | UNESCO UIS”, 2020). The Malian education system is affected by regional conflict, rates of dropouts, child labour, child marriage, minimal schools and poverty.

UNESCO statistics on Education literacy levels in Mali

Additionally, the concurrent outdated education system, no qualified personnel and few teaching resources all play an adversarial role in the country’s failing strategy. These demerits have slowed down progress to Malian development and weakening governance in the country. The current system puts less focus on the historical benefits of the Golden Kingdom, the empowerment of Malians to observe the independent rule and focuses on the benefits of colonization and assimilation of French culture. This is prominent in the history books published and knowledge students receive. Several students resonate with the Malian Kingdom, and the benefits emperors such as Mansa Musa brought to the country, especially the culture (Cartwright, 2020). Education concentrated on grades rather than content, for those seeking to expand their knowledge, they have to study abroad through a course like African Studies. 

The contrast is that there are numerous resources to expand the boundaries of indigenous Malian education in Timbuktu, from Manuscripts of the Desert and Mohammed, at the Ahmed Baba Library. These resources are the gateway to embracing the rich ancient culture that should not be left as a tourist attraction, instead of a revived educational centre for all Malians. 

Storytelling the Indigenous way

As mentioned prior, the traditional African setting prioritized storytelling as a way education, more importantly, a form of recollecting pasts of their forefathers. Griots narrated oral histories at night near a campfire, the use of proverbs, songs and idioms emphasized the narrative (Stennett, 2020). Storytelling ensured trust between the listeners and allowed them to enter the story, a form that provided their understanding. A country like Mali, packed with tradition, language, culture, this art could be a useful piece to returning people to their roots. There is something for everyone wishing to connect with their matriarchal and patriarchal identities and recognize their power by embracing pasts once forgotten. 

In the aspect of education, storytelling can take the form of; school trips to Timbuktu, inviting archaeologists to educate students at young ages on their histories. The Malian education ministries introduce historical education shows on national television and the introduction of a more comprehensive Malian history content in education (Boris, 2020). Most importantly, instilling the importance of cultural practices, social interactions and language to broaden up their business with history. In my opinion, widening choice for students beyond learning about the benefits of French colonization helps create empowerment of the mind, especially learning about Mansa Musa’s vision for the Malian kingdom. Enhancing visual storytelling by showing reimagined pictures of the Golden Kingdom and how students can the reimagine one for themselves. Also, widen their minds—thinking of the possibilities of good governance, end to ethnic and religious conflicts, unified decision making, empowered economic futures and quality education system. 

Indigenous education is the inclusive and participatory act of owning your learning, having sessions where learners can engage in traditional wedding ceremonies, dances, farming and governance simulations. They play a hand in how they understand, internalize and remember their cultures and bring national pride. This, in most cases, helps more students to feel comfortable to learn and reduce gender disparities in education. As a result, more policymakers may be drawn to enact policies pushing for indigenous knowledge systems and funding options for the learning. Funding that will be useful in the digitization of old manuscripts, their translations, restoration of the sites in Timbuktu and trips for school in Mali to visit the sites. More advantageous, it will open up the country as a tourist attraction, especially for scholars and education practitioners.


The past and the ways of teaching our foremothers and forefathers via oral narratives have stuck till today, the cultural artefacts still present can serve as a guide to the failed system, one that was introduced by the French and was not correctly updated by the current government. Griots are a fundamental instrument of storytelling in Mali, the use of music to capture values and beliefs. As the art is inherited in a social lineage (castes), the artists are a powerful resource of education; they can be advisors on ways to enhance educational spaces and instill values in diplomatic ways (Okoh, 2020). 

Unfortunately, implementation of indigenous education systems in Mali will experience some setbacks; for one, the system is defined as backward – returning education to the ‘dark ages’. These perceptions will reduce governmental support. Financing the structure and political interference will also be significant issues. Politicians might see the campaign as an ethnic battle and /or an election motivation to draw in votes. Aside from this, the indigenous education system once implemented in Mali will serve as motivation for more learning and exploration of culture, hence, provide more job opportunities to people in the future. Focusing on how the indigenous way opens up room for dialogue on what worked in the past and how Mali’s future can be forecasted for prosperity. If the education system is seen as a fruitful endeavour, the more power Malian will have to build wealth for their country.


Boris, V. (2020). What Makes Storytelling So Effective For Learning? – Harvard Business Publishing. Harvard Business Publishing. Retrieved 6 December 2020, from https://www.harvardbusiness.org/what-makes-storytelling-so-effective-for-learning/.

Cartwright, M. (2020). Mali Empire. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 7 December 2020, from https://www.ancient.eu/Mali_Empire/.

Johannes Lefa, B. (2015). Ubuntu in South African education [Ebook] (p. 14). aculty of education and social sciences. Retrieved 6 December 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274374017_The_African_Philosophy_of_Ubuntu_in_South_African_Education.

Mali | UNESCO UIS. Uis.unesco.org. (2020). Retrieved 11 December 2020, from http://uis.unesco.org/en/country/ml.

Okoh, L. (2020). What Is a Griot and Why Are They Important?. Culture Trip. Retrieved 4 December 2020, from https://theculturetrip.com/africa/mali/articles/what-is-a-griot-and-why-are-they-important/.

Stennett, L. (2020). West Africa’s oral histories tell a more complete story than traditional post-colonial narratives. Quartz Africa. Retrieved 5 December 2020, from https://qz.com/africa/1770108/west-africas-oral-history-griots-tell-a-more-complete-story/.

Ubuntu in education: Special issue of IRE explores the philosophy of connectedness. UNESCO. (2020). Retrieved 5 December 2020, from https://en.unesco.org/news/ubuntu-education-special-issue-ire-explores-philosophy-connectedness.