Modern Scientific Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Scientific Rationality in Africa


The attitudes of populations towards scientific rationality have definitely influenced scientific and technological advancement.  It is certain that the historical quest for scientific truths has been much stronger and more successful in the West than in other parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa.  Some mythologies and religious beliefs are not as conducive to scientific rationality as others. 


The movement towards the "islamization" of science for instance can be construed as a reaction to the recent success of Western (Christian) science or to the success of scientific advances in early Islam.  In Africascientific rationality is taking roots but lags far behind the West in terms of living experience.  Although a tremendous amount of traditional knowledge has been accumulated in Africa over the centuries the scientific principles underlying this knowledge have hardly been studied, analyzed and formalized.  In consequence, scientific advancement in Africa has remained at very low levels. 


In the last few decades Africans have made remarkable progress in science and in the application of scientific rationality.  Education levels have been raised rapidly and students at secondary level across the region learn the basic sciences, such as mathematics, biology and chemistry.  Higher education has also progressed significantly and thousands of Africans have studied in the best universities of the world.  Parallelly non-scientific approaches to solving problems, including in health, may be substantially receding.  These trends need to be accelerated and they augur well for the future. 


Africans are more and more able to explain and predict the environment and more able to control and exploit it in a sustainable way.  Scientific rationality must now be made part of the popular culture. 


Knowledge is acquired through various sources, including basic education, and it is through basic education that people acquire the fundamental elements of a science and technology culture.  Literacy and basic education open the way to knowledge acquisition. 


Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest literacy rate in the world, perhaps because the attitudes of Africans are not as positive towards the necessity of acquiring knowledge and universal education as they should be.  Poverty alone cannot explain by itself this state of affairs.  Other countries, as poor as African countries are today, have managed to attain 100% literacy rates in the space of a generation.  A change of attitudes may be necessary forAfrica to catch up with the rest of the world in literacy rates. 


Positive attitudes towards education and knowledge are necessary for science and technology development.  In this respect African countries have accomplished remarkable progresses in the 1960s and 1970s.  More must now be done to raise the level of knowledge acquisition of the population if science and technology is to contribute significantly to development.