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The artwork denotes a communal form of human engagement reminiscent of Ubuntu. Made up by one thousand smaller photos, the collage exhibits the significance of working together.
The artwork denotes a communal form of human engagement reminiscent of Ubuntu. Made up by one thousand smaller photos, the collage exhibits the significance of working together.

Towards a framework of thinking

Like any philosophy of education (Anglo-Saxon, Continental, Chinese, Arabian and Buddhist), African philosophy of education is an activity, that is, something that is being done. When one offers reasons for one’s actions – an activity of the mind – one offers some justification (evidence) for acting in a particular way. This idea of performing some cognitive activity for some moral purpose (a matter of what is good for oneself, others and society) is what is called philosophy of education. And, when we prioritise African interests (such as decolonisation, economic growth and democratisation), African philosophy of education is practised. Let us look at the following ways in which African philosophy of education is expressed:

First, Kwasi Wiredu (2005: 8) states that African philosophy of education involves harmonising individual and societal interests; embarking on ‘reflexive imagination’, such as putting oneself in the shoes of others; and respecting human and non-human life. When doing philosophy of education in this way, universal (global) and particular (local) knowledge is produced that is of relevance to Africa’s advancement (Wiredu, 2005: 18).

Second, N’Dri Assié-Lumumba (2005: 23) says that African philosophy of education takes place in cultivating a self-determining, free and decent citizenry; fusing (merging) fitting aspects of other cultures with one’s own culture; and individuals remaining in communion with other human beings. So, when doing African philosophy of education through fusion, knowledge is produced by integrating the past with the present with the aim to improve the lives of people.

Drawing on the views of both Wiredu and Assié-Lumumba, my own understanding of African philosophy of education is based on a three-pronged approach:

  • First, through reflection (that is, looking for reasons and thinking about them) one identifies major problems on the African continent that seem to hamper Africans’ ways of being and living;

  • Second, one justifies or validates (through the offering of reasons) the existence of such problems; and

  • Third, one determines what the consequences of these problems pose to educational experiences.

Whilst performing the aforementioned approach, one remains cognisant of:

  • Bringing individual and social interests into conversation with one another;

  • Identifying people’s vulnerabilities and thinking about ways of addressing these;

  • Advocating what can possibly advance African people’s self-determination and freedom; and

  • Fusing what is considered as universal (and perhaps global and dominant) and appropriate with what counts as local or indigenous and credible.

Considering that an African philosophy of education focuses on reflection, justification, and determination of the educational consequences of what reasons make such an educational framework or paradigm what it is, respond to the following questions …

Firstly, what would your response be to the following claim: ‘African philosophy of education aims to identify people’s vulnerabilities, advance their self-understandings, and fuse local and global understandings of knowledge’?

Secondly, do you think your own understanding of education can resonate with aspects of the afore-mentioned claim?

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching for Change: An African Philosophical Approach

Stellenbosch University