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Comparison of indigenous and western schools

Tibbetts, A. & Tibbetts, S. (1968). Comparison of indigenous and western schools. Teaching in the developing nations, p. 13. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. (See also Bowen, D. Cognitive styles of African theological students, p. 8. Dissertation, Florida State University and N.E.G.S.T., Nairobi, Kenya).


Educators understand—and youth workers should—that there are cultural differences in the way people perceive and learn. A comparison of schools reveals how people of a particular culture traditionally learn, and presumably how they best learn. This comparison may present some educational dilemmas still needing resolution.










Focus Of Teaching

Student Performs

Teacher Performs

Teacher’s Residence

Local Community

Outside Community

Teacher’s Support

Local Community

National Government

Teaching Methods

Informal, Varied

Formal, Lecture

Student Response

Active or Passive


Forms of Materials



Link with Community


Removed, Secondary

Teacher’s Orientation



Age of Educator

Usually Not Young (Seniority Valued)

Often Young

Teaching Content

Indigenous, Folklore, Rituals

Classical, Academic

Autonomy of Students

High Level of Conformity

High Level of Conformity

Capacity for Change in Content

Little or None

Some Potential for Innovation


  1. What have you experienced (or read) of these two kinds of schools?
  2. How is each specially suited to particular cultures?
  3. How easily could a teacher of one type of school switch over to teach in the other?
  4. How likely would the respective communities and sponsors of such schools consider modifying its education and teaching style in the direction of the other type?


    • Studying this comparison, one is struck by several observations:
      • The indigenous school is more holistic and contextualized.
      • In its focus on the past and with little capacity for change, the indigenous school has limitations in its ability to educate for modern, urban life.
      • In its demand for conformity and with limited ability to change, the Western school may be less than progressive in a changing society.
      • The "professionalism" of the Western school may lose touch with important aspects of the communities in which its young people grow up, important influences in their lives, and important non-cognitive aspects of their developing personalities.
    • If the contrast between traditional and Western schools is as sharp as this chart implies, and if African students learn more naturally in the traditional style, then the education of modern African students needs re-evaluation.
    • The educational, church, and youth organizations, and should study and discuss the implications of this chart in order that the training of disciples and leaders be appropriately and most effectively achieved.

Dean Borgman cCYS