Reflecting on the Past to Transform Education

Published on 27th August 2019

My reflection on the theme of International Youth Day 2019, "Transforming education", focuses on the transformation of education in Africa, just because I can relate. It is a known fact that Africa was first perceived as a dark continent, not dark because of it being home to black people, but due to lack of utilized resources and infrastructure such as formal education. Hence during the beginning of the missionary age, it was essential to establish schools and churches.

When the gospel came through the missionaries into Africa, some factors had to be given serious consideration, e.g. the culture, language, and the ability to read and interpret the scriptures.  This was not an easy task especially considering the diverse African tribes with their traditions and education systems.

I am an African from the Pedi tribe in the Limpopo Province, north of South Africa. As an Anglican member and a Pedi, I would like to make use of the history of Anglican missionaries and the Pedi community as an analogy to the transformation of education. According to Goedhals' book Imperialism, Mission and Conversion, she claims that the missionaries rejected Pedi history and culture because they viewed Pedi political and social structures as distractive to the growth of Christianity. This resulted in hostility between the missionaries, their converts, and the Pedi traditionalists. The missionaries deployed to Sekhukhune land viewed the Pedi as barbarians.

My reflection is not on the politics of this matter but on the ability of education to appeal to the base of human emotions. This is the quality in education that gives a context within which a person can develop into engaged, motivated and self-regulated learning.

One of the famous London missionaries to Africa who understood this concept was David Livingstone. He felt that there was a need for African leadership in the Church and therefore he introduced the concept of reading, writing, and arithmetic. This gave rise to the translation of scriptures to enable the indigenous people to read the scriptures and get a better understanding of these. Livingstone's contribution towards the translations and learning the culture of the Africans contributed a lot to the promotion of Christianity amongst indigenous Africans. His belief was, "To nurture the gospel seed and rear its own version of the tree of salvation". This means the initial mistake was to transport the European Church (with its European culture) into Africa instead of transporting the seed (word of God) to be rooted in African soil, self-propagating and self-reliant.

To elaborate further, I recall the time when I was invited by the Anglican Students' Society at the University of Fort Hare (in Alice, South Africa) for the celebration of 160 years of its Chapel, St Bartholomew. While I was there I learnt about the major role Christian missionaries played in the transformation of the lives of the indigenous people. Before the University of Fort Hare was built there was already racial segregation in South Africa, which excluded the indigenous Africans from the higher learning education of the country. James Stewart, one of its missionary principals of the Lovedale Missionary Institute, suggested in 1878 that an institution for the higher education of black students needed to be created. The University of Fort Hare was established in 1916 following its Christian principles, fees were low and heavily subsidized with several scholarships available for indigent students.

I was equally inspired by the great initiative of the Christian missionaries in Alice and by the role the University of Fort Hare played during the difficult time, the continent was facing. Learning about great liberation leaders in Africa such as Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe and Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu was mind-opening. After that one weekend in Alice, I developed an interest to study the history of Africa and its leaders and until today I still have that passion. We need such education that speaks to the human emotion and gives context within which a person can develop into engaged, motivated and self-regulated learning. We need an education that will take us out of our individualism, tribalism, ageism, elitism and all that hinders us from being a democratic and united people.

We can only see the results of this type of transforming education from a younger generation which is rising.

By Solomon Manaka

Member of the AACC General Committee, where he represents his church and young people. He is a holder of an undergraduate degree in Entrapreneurial Management and a diploma in Small Business Management from the University of Johannesburg. He is currently studying a theology course in Advanced Youth Ministry with the University of Pretoria. He has passion for youth work, promoting entrepreneurial activities among young people in Africa and has interest in the topic of African Renaissance. He is an Anglican from South Africa.

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