21 May 2011

Tanzania: Education for Self-reliance


At the recent graduation ceremony of the Spiritan missionary Seminary at Njiro-Arusha class of 2010-11, the Regional Commissioner for Arusha, Isidore Leka Shirima himself a former alumnus of the Spiritans, cited copiously from what he termed Mwalimu Nyerere's treatise, Education for Self-Reliance. According to the founding Father of the Tanzanian nation, educational systems differ from one nation to another. Each system, however, is geared to a goal namely, to transmit the accumulated wisdom of the given society from one generation to the next.

This task would thus prepare the students by enabling them through equipping them as the future generation of the given society to maintain the inherited identity and authenticity of that nation. An exploration and execution of this educational strategy would seem to imply an exclusive nationalism typified by the erstwhile sole use of Kiswahili in communicating instruction in Tanzanian schools. This policy has the result of uniting all of the Tanzanian tribes through one language but also of isolating Tanzania from effective communication with the outside world.

The Spiritan Missionary Seminary incidentally happens to be a graduate school of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa with special emphasis on the study of philosophy. The "accumulate wisdom" of Nyerere's treatise happens to be the functional speciality of the Institute of Philosophy with this one difference. While Nyerere stresses the wisdom of any given society, philosophy -etymologically, the love of wisdom - studies the global wisdom of mankind without restriction to any given society whether ancient or modern, whether oriental or occidental, whether African or South American. Every form of wisdom is our province.

Wisdom, of course, distinguishes itself from knowledge. While knowledge consists in the gathering of all relevant information concerning any matter of fact, wisdom consists in how such facts can be used profitably to further the human purpose. The wise man hence is the counsellor, the enlightened sage who leads others through the darkness of unknowing, through the trials and uncertainties of human existence to live a meaningful and responsible human life. One of the pre-Socratic philosophers, Epicurus, was called Soter, the Greek for Saviour, exactly the same title Christians give to Jesus Christ. Why? Simply because they felt he had helped them come to terms with the existential questions of whether the gods existed, whether the human soul was immortal and whether they had obligations to the gods or would they would be punished or rewarded by the gods in case there was life after death.

Philosophy is a study of the opinions of enlightened men who depend on their rationality, the use of reason alone to deal with the problems human existence poses for every man and woman. Every philosophy is the result of a man's exercise of unaided reason. Hence there are as many philosophies as there are philosophers. Schools of philosophy arise from people who sponsor any given philosopher. There are Platonists and Aristotelians, Hegelians and Kantians, Logical positivists and behaviourists, Existentialists and Pragmatists, and so on. Their points of view can only be opinions whose validity depends on the persuasive force of supporting data and arguments.

The opposite of opinion is truth. Truth is found, among the Greeks, in the oracles of which Delphi, the mouthpiece of the god Apollo, was famous. Revealed religions do the same from the view-point of God's self disclosure as claimed by the three theocratic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This claim is foreseen by Plato, the student of Socrates who in his Phaedo 85 d had spoken of the "surer means of a divine revelation". Among such revealed religions dissent is seen as heresy with the consequence of exclusion from membership. Philosophy, however, entertains no dogmatic arrogance, it has no inquisition, no sacred dogmas. What it requires from a philosophical position is simple: logical consistency, sharpness of articulation, rigor of argumentation namely, that inferences follow from premises.

Modern and contemporary philosophy have departed from the original search for wisdom hinted at by Nyerere but centerpiece to ancient Greek philosophy. According to Alfred North Whitehead, co-author with Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica (1910-13) every philosophy after Plato is only a footnote. It is through Plato that we have access to the original themes of the philosophical enterprise. He presents to us the dawn of wisdom in the figure of Socrates, the chief character in his Dialogues. According to Socrates, to be human is to live the examined life, therefore, to be a philosopher. To be a philosopher is to live an ethically responsible life. This goal is vindicated not only in the type of life he lived but also in his defence of that form of life as recorded in the Apology.

As the Igbo of Nigeria would have it, he was an Ekwueme,one whose deeds matches his actions. Any person worth the dignity of being a human being, Socrates declared during his process, has only one thing to consider in performing any action - that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one (Apology,28c). Further he stresses decisiveness, what Christian Moral theologians would later on term "fundamental option" namely, where a man has once taken up his stand, either because it seems best to him or in obedience to his orders, there he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking no account of death or anything else before dishonour (Apology,28 d). Nyerere would certainly agree that this is the type of wisdom he wanted to communicate in his Education for Self-Reliance. The Igbo of Nigeria name the product of such wisdom, a Di Mkpa, a person of integrity. The Spiritan Missionary Seminary at Arusha aims to turn out such Di Mkpas for the African Continent, a form of education that offers its alumni the self confidence to stand up for their convictions.

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