THE CRUX OF EDUCATION IN AFRICA
By ROBERT NOWELL
WHY is it that a considerable number of African leaders, despite a Christian education, seem to depart from the practice of their faith and base their policies not on the social teaching of the Church but rather on the secularist liberalism of 19th century Europe, if not on the Marxism of 20th century Russia?
The answer to this question, I was told by Fr. Andrew Murphy, W.F., English provincial of the White Fathers, was partly the same as the answer to questions about our own leakage in this country.
Fr. Andrew, who has several years' experience of work at the teacher training college at Ibanda in the Mbarara diocese of Uganda. pointed out that University education for Africans from Uganda (and for most Africans from " British " territories except those going to Roma in Basutoland) meant studying at a secular University or equivalent institution, whether in the United Kingdom or Africa, where teaching was quite often implicitly, if not explicitly, anti-Christian.
" They get no Catholic social teaching, except the bare minimum they get in the course of their Catholic education before they go to University," he said.
But there is another factor: the effect of coming to Europe and finding that most Europeans are not Christians. " You've given up Christianity in England and you introduce it to us in Africa." was the way it was put by one African student incidentally, a fervent Catholic.
Admittedly, this is more in the nature of an excuse rather than a reason: the good practising Catholic is not likely to lose the faith through studying in a non-Christian atmosphere, although he faces the same problems of integrating his secular learning into the framework of his faith as his European contemporary. What are the biggest needs of Catholic education in the emerging countries of Africa?
"The most pressing need is for Catholic leaders, especially in politics but also in social affairs and the trade unions," Fr. Andrew told me. "Then there is the need for the education of women.
" Here you are introducing radical changes into the structure of African society, and the biggest difficulty is provided by the inherent conservatism of the African himself.
But the greatest single influence on the other side comes from the African Catholic teachers. They themselves need educated wives, and they see to it that their own families set an example by providing for the education of their daughters."
Was there a danger in the fact that Africans acquired higher education almost exclusively through the medium of a foreign language?
"The Africans themselves are reacting in favour of their local languages," Fr. Andrew told me. "This will mean that the Church will have to recast its teaching methods so that both English and the vernacular can be used at a high level." But already the Church was doing quite a lot to oppose the tendency for Africans to despise their own languages. The missionaries have always had to insist on the importance of the vernacular. and it was now becoming possible to adapt native terms for specifically Christian concepts such as " grace " or " baptism" rather than to modify the Latin word to conform to an African soundpattern. In fact. there arc high hopes for the growth of Christian vernacular cultures throughout the continent.
The biggest difficulty facing the teacher from Europe in Africa, thought Fr. Andrew, was the difference in background. "Everyday things we take for granted are simply outside their experience," he said. " For example: most will not have been in a city or a big town.
"Thus a teacher from this country will find it only too easy to give examples that cannot he understood by his pupils, or even to give examples that have one connotation to a European and another to an African, "On the other hand, I found that Africans had a familiarity with nature quite outside the experience of most of us. They could name every plant. every animal, every part and organ. Such a background, of course. comes in very useful when it is a question of studying biology or medicine or allied subjects."