After this post, I have received emails from people with questions on “top-grade education”: “Which country do you suggest?” I will explain with a bit of history.
In our contemporary time, U.S. has the best universities and it remains the most dynamic global economy. As I have written, on Mines of Knowledge, any nation that dominates the accumulation and processing of knowledge typically “rules” the world.
From the Babylonian Empire to the American empire of today, when you win on Knowledge you win on economy and human development. Babylon (today’s Iraq) used to be an intellectual domain. When Islam was founded in the 7th century, there were many intellectuals that actually helped. Abu Ja’far al-Khwarizmi, the Father of Algebra, lived in Baghdad as was known to travel to Mecca to help fix mathematical puzzles. He postulated and built the foundations of modern Algebra. There was relative prosperity as Islam had thinkers and they actually made enormous progress. The first University in the world, created in Morocco, was renowned for its ability to create knowledge creators and thinkers. Some men went to Mecca just to meet Khwarizmi solve their business problems disguised as mathematics. He was a pioneer in the beautiful science of numbers we have come to admire and he made many merchants better through application of numbers in their businesses.
Yes, Egypt ruled when the best astrologers lived under Pharaoh. When Moses appeared before the Israelites, they marveled that he had studied under the Pharaohs.
Greece managed the world during its moment of unprecedented knowledge generation where the elite philosophers were Greeks. Hipparchus, Euclid, Pythagoras, etc dominated the Great Debate and Greeks controlled trade.
Update #1: it turns out that some of these legends could be traced to Africa. Read the comment below by Prof Gloria Emeagwali; I have copied below for ease of access.
Speaking about ancient Egypt, Homer, in the Odyssey iv. p.231 (circa 850BCE) points out that Egyptian doctors ‘are the first scientists of the world.’ Pythagoras, born around 558BCE, studied for 22 years in Egypt.The Hippocratic classification of head wounds was derived from the Edwin Smith papyrus – 2,500 years after it was first written by the ancient Africans – by Hippocrates (460 – 377BCE). Hippocrates was inspired by the books in the library of the Temple of Imhotep.
Isocrates (436-338BCE) testified on the Egyptian influence on Pythagoras. For Aristotle, Egypt was the cradle of maths. See his Metaphysics.
A great deal of Plato’s references were of Egyptian origin. See Plato’s, Timaeus. Plato also studied in Egypt in the era before the occupation of Egypt by the Macedonian, Alexander the Great. For three thousand years before that, Egypt built up its Indigenous Knowledge base.
Update 2: Please read this document (Herodotus, PDF) for deeper insights on this (Prof Emeagwali shared the document). I have extracted some parts below.
. So that if there were snow in that part of the world, there would necessarily be rain too; thirdly, the natives are black because of the hot climate. Again, hawks and swallows remain throughout the year, and cranes migrate thither in winter to escape the cold weather of Scythia.
That, at least, is how I should explain the obvious impossibility of a dove using the language of men. As to the bird being black, they merely signify by this that the woman was an Egyptian. It is certainly true that the oracles at Thebes and Dodona are similar in character. Another form of divination – by the inspection of sacrificial victims – also came from Egypt.
The Egyptians did, how ever, say that they thought the original Colchians were men from Sesostris’ army. My own idea on the subject was based first on the fact that they have black skins and woolly hair (not that that amounts to much, as other nations have the same), and secondly, and more especially, on the fact that the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians are the only races which from ancient times have practised circumcision.”
When General Titus et al made Jerusalem desolate circa AD 67, destroying the Temple rebuilt by Nehemiah in 408 BC, the finest thinkers lived in Italy. Rome was the capital of the world and its emperors taxed the world!
Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution mined science, but quickly moved to Law etc abandoning the era of Faraday. Now, we are living the American era: MIT, Stanford, Hopkins, etc are the weapons. If you close them (do not please), America will fade within a generation.
Yet, “top-grade education” should not be trivialized for getting into MIT or coming to America to study. Today, you can get a top-grade learning while in Nigeria, Ghana or anywhere. There are tools available to make such possible. My purpose is not to create in our minds that unless you leave Africa that you cannot get decent education. Education is not just about the university walls: the community you live redesigns your mindset; that is the education which is nothing but the liberation of the mind.
As I have noted many times, I had the best secondary school education possible in Nigeria. It was in a village in Abia State, and I was very confident that I was getting better education than family members in the cities. With great teachers, from leading Nigerian universities, they prepared us.
My Biology teacher studied Microbiology in University of Ibadan; Chemistry (OAU, Biochemistry); Physics (UNN, Mechanical Engineering); Mathematics (UNN, Mathematics and ABU Zaria Mechanical Engineering); and Further Mathematics (UNN, Mathematics). And these men were super-great teachers. Yes, there are pockets of brilliance across communities in Africa; great education can happen anywhere.
So, I would not tell you that going to MIT would make you great. But I can assure that if you have the mindset to learn and apply, modern digital tools provide opportunities to get any knowledge you want. While you may miss the Harvard community-effect by not going to Harvard University physically, most of their courses are already available online for free or massively discounted. But never think that unless it is in UK, China, Japan or US, that you cannot get decent learning. Certainly, my message in that piece was not intended that it must be abroad to be top-grade.
At the end of the day, it’s about the PERSON, the individual; that remains the most important determinant in everything. When you are so good, we enquire about the schools you attended, and possibly – the people that taught you there. And if you say you taught yourself most things, we enquire about the sort of books you read, and perhaps – the sort of food you eat, and how you sleep.
Humans do these things because we all need a kind of references, something to point to, else you become superhuman, a demigod. There’s the urge/need to relate any achievement or great deed to something, so that others may attempt to replicate same; that’s the way things work.
But what makes each person super, great or ordinary comes from within, it’s a joke to believe or think it can be found in a certain classroom or a particular environment. External factors are mere enablers, the REAL thing is inside.
There have been thousands of footballers, but one Maradona, Messi, Pele, Cristiano, etc; and yet hundreds of thousands of people have been kicking and shooting the round leather game.
If you know, you know; not by movements!