How could the introduction of Participatory Culture cultivate an effective learning environment for arts education in Zambian Secondary Schools?


By Claudia De Foe




In post colonial Zambia, the renascence of traditional values and cultural arts has been set as an important aspect to transfomation policy in education. Within this resurgence, the use of dance, photography, drama and crafts are resurfacing. Through the participation of these artistic expressions within arts education, the context and characteristics of indigenous Africa has an opportunity to be translated into the present day. 

In summary, Zambia is a landlocked nation in the southern region of Africa. Its most successful formal sector lies in the Copperbelt, which exports copper to China and the rest of the World. According to the World Fact Book curated by the CIA, In 2010, there were 20 ethnic groups identified with approximately 70 languages and dialects spoken, (“Welcome to the CIA Web Site — Central Intelligence Agency", 2018). Economically, Zambia is considered to be one of the fastest growing economies in the ten year bracket, with a GDP annual growth of 6.7%. Despite this growth, it remains as a lower-middle income country. As with most African nations in the post colonial age, education is seen as the key to reducing poverty and to provide solutions to socio-economic issues. 

Saying this, Zambia, like most Southern Region nations of the continent of Africa, continues the struggle in finding the meaningful place for indigenous pedagogy, (Adeyemi & Adeyinka, 2003). Zambia’s educational system is broken up into 3 tiers, Basic School (Grades 1-7), Junior Secondary (Grades 8-9), Senior Secondary (Grades 10-13). Education is subsidised up to Grade 7, with further advancement into Secondary School having being paid by parents or more commonly by scholarship. Most students who engage in Secondary School pathways, attend boarding school and are not impacted and grown in community, (Beng, Epskamp, Boeren & Epskamp, 1995). This is one aspect that has resulted in the loss of traditional culture as schools continue to be led by an Authoritarian structure left behind by colonialism. 

Additionally, this paper will critically examine the role of information technology and the associated infrastructure for education in Zambia. Access to the internet is vital to any educational system as it encourages a larger network of students, teachers and policymakers that exceeds physical borders. It serves as a tool to gain and transfer context beyond a localised setting. 

Currently 84 out of 100 Zambians own a mobile phone, with only 1 out of 100 people having access to a broadband connection. Approximately 25.5% (circa 2016) of the population are active internet users, (“Welcome to the CIA Web Site — Central Intelligence Agency", 2018). United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) describes the access to the internet as a basic human right. Furthermore, In a 2018 report on digital inclusion for low literacy people groups, it states the following on the quality of access:

“Access needs to be considered in terms of quality, which varies dramatically between and within countries (McKinsey & Company, 2014). Again, rural users in developing countries generally experience the slowest internet access, making them second class users.”

Although access to the internet is low, it is improving and with this brings the opportunity within Zambian Secondary Schools to embrace a new form of literacy to broaden their network. For policy makers, this could provide stronger teaching affiliations with other nations in Africa, For teachers, a way to converse on techniques and class management, and for students the ability to be part of a global network of pop culture and youth nuances.

Research on new media literacies and digital literacies have emerged one of which is Participatory Culture, coined by Henry Jenkins, a lecturer and scholar from MIT. He describes Participatory Culture as a network that is in opposition to Consumerism culture. Henry Jenkins, a researcher in this field, describes it as a network with,

“relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, (with) strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.”, (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, J. Robison & Weigel, 2006).  

In this paper, I would like to argue that the introduction of Participatory Culture will cultivate an effective learning environment in Zambian Secondary Schools, with the purpose to modernise traditional values through the impact of Arts Education. This article will take the lens of storytelling and the challenges of preserving heritage such as oral history and ceremonial dance, in the development of Zambian youth. I will identify the link between traditional learning methodologies and narrative structures and how the convergence of participatory culture could resurrect and sustain traditions.



Colonialism and the effects of traditional learning methods

The effects of the introduction of western pedagogy during colonialism has muddled the purposes of traditional learning in Zambia. Although the perception of Western pedagogy was seen as progressive, literacy took the place of valuable life skills taught within community. Through the exercise of de-ruralisation, the African educated person was simultaneously displaced within their own community, (C. Woolman, 2018).  The structures that arrived from Europe were not as prestige as they were made out to be, what was received was a transplant of what existed in Europe that was adapted to prolong the authoritarian rule. 

Therefore the introduction of formal systems in western pedagogies staggered the development of the traditional informal methods of Zambian education. (Adeyemi & Adeyinka, 2003). Classrooms with authoritarian rule had a focus on book smarts, developing people who possessed a wealth of worldly knowledge, who had the intellectual tools to reason and justify their own beliefs through independence, (Balogun, 2008, pp. 125). 

Whereas, the context of traditional formats of Zambian education was set up in informal settings that developed their young people through rites of passage and specific roles. As young children came of age, boys and girls were segregated and developed into contributing citizens of their community.

For example, in a research project the transfer of knowledge from older women to young girls was observed, (Beng, Epskamp, Boeren & Epskamp, 1995),

“In the evening the girls learn the chitnwangalala dance, which may be performed in public exclusively by women who have been initiated. In the juniors' but the dance is practised only until it has been mastered. The dance is accompanied by group singing and by the mitungu, a percussion instrument. One of the occasions on which adult women perform this dance in public is when one of the girls menstruates for the first time. The women are told and the dance begins. Neither men nor strangers are allowed. The girl is led out of the gowelo, and she is told in song about what is good and bad behaviour within the community, and about what her social duties will be. After that the girl moves to a hut for 'seniors'. There she receives specific instruction about the chinamwali ceremony which awaits her when at the end of her initiation period she is formally led into the village as an adult woman.”

Additionally males were observed to be brought through informal settings to be taught a skill, (Beng, Epskamp, Boeren & Epskamp, 1995)

“…the Nsenga of Zambia, boys' initiation rites began in the gowelo, a special camp outside the village. Strict rules applied in this temporary boarding school, which was run by several adult men. They made out the duty roster and issued all the orders. The boys were trained as a group in the use of weapons and tools. They learned to hunt and fight. But the household tasks of chopping wood and cleaning the floor also had to be learned. Nowadays things are different. During the day the boys help their parents with the livestock and play games or learn traditional dances.”

Unfortunately, cultural examples are not commonly practice in this day and age, and thus not sustained. Therefore traditional methods of transmission, such as oral, song, dance and ritual, has meant that skills and wisdom accumulated by ethnic groups and communities have been lost,(Sandgren & Tiberondwa, 2000). Notably, the use of art expression, through song and dance also served a purpose for instruction and shaping both person and community.



The purpose of Arts Education in Zambia

The revival of cultural practices in pedagogy is yet to find it’s meaningful place in Secondary School curriculum. Some teachers have expressed concerns that they are not knowledgable enough in indigenous expression to teach concepts such as traditional singing. As an activity that straddles between arts and cultrual studies, both disciplinarys are of opinion that indigenous arts expression are marginalised and lack meaningful context for students, (Bresler, 2000, pp. 6). 

The effect of this, has led parents to question the relevance of indigenous pedagogy in their children’s education. Many come from an era where art education was attached to spiritual stigmas of bad “juju” and could not translate to employability. This is at no fault of theirs, as art education was not part of basic education with greater focus spent on disciplines that were perceived to build up society, (Omuaru & Nyah, 2014, pp. 109). This rationale to arts education could be considered a scientific approach of which approaches art education as a standalone product that cultivates a nature inquiry with a focus on formulated representations in aesthetic out puts, (Siegesmund, 2015).

Whereas, if the reconstructivist rationale is taken to arts education, the alignment will be found to support both indigenous expression and art education. Reconstructivism is centric to civic objectives by the use of evolving through practice. Often it describes art education as a transformative tool to reproduce, reinvent and reconstruct the psyche of the person and therefore providing new solutions for society. It sees art education not as an individual entity but as an analytical tool that is transdisplinary, (Siegesmund, 2015). 

Another purpose for arts education in Zambian Secondary Schools, would be to modernise traditional narratives within folklores and proverbs. This has the potential to converge indigenous morals and values into exisiting pedagogy. Comparatively, Zambian narrative structures are not based on the Hero’s journey that most western stories are built on. In contrast, the focus is on the protagonist and the lessons they learn. This is a great test-bed to provide meaningful cultural context by bringing this into new media such as drama or short films. It is therefore imperative that art literacy is established to sustain heritage, (Machet, 1995, pp. 281-292).




Participatory culture to promote traditional educational models and sustain history

Before Participatory Culture existed within the definitions of New Media, it’s existence was found in activities that was more connected with livelihood. Dewey. J (1899) an American Philosopher and Educator stated that these participation in manual activities was not for the purpose of job preparation but for the establishment of life-long learners. (Cunningham, 2009, pp. 46-61).

Dewey’s 1899 theory (as cited in Cunningham, 2009) states that Participatory learning is naturally collaborative in character. Therefore has the ability to instill democracy into Zambian Secondary aged students through group work. Activities based on participation, fosters an individual to posses the emotional attitude of the group and continue to remix and evolve how the collective thinks. 

Similarly, a hundred years later, Henry Jenkins, the pioneer in participatory culture and new media literacies, comments of democracy fostered within online communities. He identified online participation craved for users to believe their contributions were meaningful. He concludes this action to be collectively democratic in nature. (Jenkins, 2006).

In relation to the context of Zambian culture, the fostering of democracy has similar traits to the dynamics of reconstructivism rationale for arts education. Which has commonality to the structure of indigenous education. The low barriers of artistic expression and civic engagement of participatory culture, coincides with the reintroduction of Indigenous Pedagogies in post-colonialism Zambia. (Jenkins, Purushotma, Robison, Weigel & Clinton, 2007, pp. 23-33 ). Both share spaces that are informal in method. 

However, an aspect of participatory culture that is in opposition to the purposes of traditional education, is the willingness to network and share, (Adeyemi & Adeyinka, 2003). Naturally, communities although tight knit are uninterested in sharing their local nuances with exterior communities. Whether this are other ethnic groups, other African nations or internationally. The side effect to this is that cultural practices are not shared and therefore lost because of the lack of participation by the community at large. 

Additionally, traditional methods are linear. Meaning, lessons whether in physical responsibilities such as fishing or cooking, or rituals and narratives within proverbs and folklores, remain unchanged and blasphemy if there is any modification, (Beng, Epskamp, Boeren & Epskamp, 1995, pp. 18). Participatory Culture as stated by Henry Jenkins (2006) is the ability to appropriate content that fosters meaningful sample and remix. Although this is in opposition to traditional Zambian education, it provides a pathway to relevancy. In fact we have been “remixing for a very long time as observed by Jenkins (2006),

“…Homer remixed Greek myths to construct The Iliad and The Odyssey; Shakespeare sampled his plots and characters from other author’s plays; the Sistine Chapel ceiling mashes up stories and images from across the entire Biblical tradition. Lewis Carroll spoofs the vocabulary of exemplary verses that were then standard to formal education. Many core works of the western canon emerged through a process of retelling and elaboration: the figure of King Arthur shifts from an obscure footnote in an early chronicle to the full-blown character of Morte D’Arthur within a few centuries, as the original story is built on by many generations of storytellers.”

In conclusion, Participatory Culture promotes critical thinking by encouraging context to be remixed, resampling and reworking. These aspects can be taught to promote the preservation of oral history and folklores.(Ivashkevich, 2015).





This paper attempted to draw the connections between participatory culture in theories both origin and modern and the positive effects in reviving traditional Zambian culture in Secondary education. 

Firstly, it should be noted that the implication of the advancement of technology and internet access should coincide with the development of creative industry. This will help assist Zambian youth to experiment with appropriating traditional proverbs, rituals and folklores. UNESCO also places an emphasis on this issue and connects this with a democratic strategy for the developing world. 

Secondly, although the new concepts surrounding participatory culture are based on new media, teachers can exisitingly embrace the aspects of remixing and appropriation as a tool within the classroom. This should however embrace the networking aspect of Participatory Culture to enable the preservation of lost Zambian culture. 

Thirdly, disciplines within information technology should start to be trained up in media literacies in preparation to teach students how to become a first class citizen of the digital age. This includes how to decode and encode, research, and deciphering authenticity of news, viral content and information. These functions can be taught through traditional media such as analysing newspaper article, producing school radio content that reports on school activities or basic comprehension of traditional texts.

In conclusion, although the development of infrastructure needs to enable the benefits of online participation, this should not hold back the preparation in equipping Secondary aged students in the developing World to be part of a common space that could spur on solutions, collective thought and ultimately the alleviation of socio-economic growth.




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