Ancient African Education

While the tradition of education in Ancient Africa differs greatly depending on what part of the continent you’re talking about, most Ancient African children did not attend a formal “school.” Children were mainly taught how to behave by their parents, and were taught different skills depending on whether they were a boy or a girl.

Gender was the most important factor in deciding how children were educated. Because men and women had specific roles to fulfill in society, they were required to learn different things as children.
Kente cloth patterns

Education for Men in Ancient Africa

Boys were typically taught physical skills, which had importance outside the home. Boys would learn the basics of construction, combat, and hunting. Of course, the kind of things they would learn depended on their place in the social hierarchy – poorer people would have to learn more survival skills, such as how to build a fire, and how to hunt or fish, while richer children would instead learn about their country’s history, traditions, and economics.

Ancient Africa Education

For peasants, a child’s education process was crucially important and would have a great impact on their futures.

Boys would learn to fight from an early age, so that they would be strong warriors by the time they became men. Boys learned to fight with spears and bows, although rarely with swords. Boys were not usually taught how to cook, as this was seen as woman’s work.

Depending on the family they were born into, boys may have been taught about religious ceremonies and rituals – while all peasants knew what they were and weren’t allowed to do (in the eyes of their gods/ancestors) it was only the kids who would be priests someday that learned everything about their spirituality.

Kente cloth patterns

Education for Women in Ancient Africa

In contrast to the education of men, women were usually taught skills that would be useful in the home. Women would learn to cook, clean, sew, skin animals, care for children, and be good wives to their husbands in general. Women were raised from an early age to be wives and mothers – their entire education centered around this.

Women were not traditionally taught how to fight or hunt, as this was seen as “man’s work.” It was a woman’s sole purpose to be a wife and mother, and the man’s purpose to be a father, husband, and provider.

There were exceptions to this, of course, (particularly in Ancient Egypt, as women were educated roughly the same as young men were) but these gender roles dictated kids’ educations in general.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

How Ancient Africans Learned About History

Most Ancient Africans were not literate (could not read or write) because the African tradition of recording history was mainly oral. Some empires developed written languages, but because control of countries changed so often, these were nearly impossible to learn in time to have been of any use, and the peasantry really bothered to keep up.

As time passed, and empires in Ancient Africa became more advanced (i.e. after the 14th or 15th century) education for men and women shifted. Men were now trained less to be hunters, and more to be physical laborers or soldiers for their ruler.

Women were still mainly educated about how to be good wives, but were also given small amounts of teaching on history and geography.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

Aside from the stories passed down from generation to generation, most Ancient Africans wouldn’t have known much about the past, and wouldn’t have had much of an understanding of the world outside their own country. As a culture, Ancient Africans typically did not value the idea of exploration.

Because so many countries of Ancient Africa were inland, few ever wondered what it would mean to sail across the ocean. This is quite different from Europe, where most countries have a border with the sea, and the traditions of geography and history were therefore much more developed.

However, this did not mean that the Ancient Africans were stupid, or more poorly educated than the rest of the world – their education just focused on their role in society, with little focus on anything else.

Facts about Ancient African Education:

  • Most Ancient African children did not go to school.
  • Boys and girls were taught completely different things in Ancient Africa.
  • Boys were taught to be hunters, warriors, and husbands by their fathers, brothers and village elders.
  • Boys learned how to fight from an early age, usually with a spear and bow.
  • Girls were taught to be good mothers and wives.
  • Girls learned how to cook, clean, and sew from their mothers.
  • There was very little emphasis placed on the education of history or geography in Africa.
  • Religious education (outside of Ancient Egypt) was also not particularly important.
  • Most Ancient Africans were not literate, because details of the past were passed on from generation to generation.


What were boys taught from a young age?

– Hunting, fighting, and building.
What were girls taught from a young age?

– Cooking, cleaning, and sewing.

What were boys and girls both taught to BE from a young age (or, in other words, what was the aim of their education?)

– Boys were taught to be good husbands/fathers/soldiers, while girls were taught to be good mothers/wives.

How did the Ancient Africans record history?

– By oral tradition – or, by word-of-mouth.
What does the word ‘literate’ mean? Were the Ancient Africans literate?

– If a person is literate, they are able to read and write. The Ancient Africans were generally not literate.