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A philosophy of education in Malawi

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The other day someone asked me why I was still operating a small distance education institution instead of a university. I did not give him a reply. But is Malawi still short of universities? Perhaps it is; I like to feel it is short of universities and other educational institutions which fulfil our educational philosophy or objective.

But does Malawi have a philosophy of education? Perhaps it does, only that our intellectuals including philosophers have not expressed it in books for the rest of us to read and learn.

A Livingstonia missionary called Dr Robert Laws used to quote a German proverb which says what you want to see done in the country first put it in schools. The presence or absence of schools has a tremendous influence on the civilisation and culture of a country.

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As we continue to erect new secondary schools and universities, do we ever ask ourselves what nature of influence they will have on the country? It seems, at present, denomination after denomination is founding its own universities or two as a matter of emulating its rivals. Some universities have been put to generate business income. What we need is a clear view of the purpose of education. The following suggestions should considered.

First, education must be provided to humanise persons. Everyone is born a barbarian, naked and illiterate. An illiterate person differs very little from an animal. Put up a warning banner “trespasses shall be prosecuted or eaten”. To a cow and illiterate person, this means nothing. They will proceed to the prohibited area.

Literacy must be provided to everyone to enhance their humanity. Hence, there should be compulsory elementary education that would raise everyone above the state of nature. Literacy is a human right like life, limb and liberty.

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Secondly, education must be provided to enable individuals to work for themselves or other and earn a living. In the present level of civilisation, most tasks require possession of education and skills. We have gone beyond the Stone Age when we wondered about in the bush picking up fruits and other edible things. These days, to earn a living, you must be a carpenter, builder, teacher, lawyer, singer and dancer, clerks, nurses, doctor, mention it. These require education. Hence, we must provide the sort of education that will meet people’s needs for employment and income.

The third type of education should enable individuals to contribute to further knowledge and progress. We want to produce students who will not just master stuff found in the books written by others but to write their own books, not just make use of mechanical devices invented by others but to invent their own, not to earn their PhDs simply by mastering the science of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin but to stand on the shoulder of the giants and see what the giants did not see.

In other words, we want to prepare students for lives of research and development, inventiveness and innovations. Though our contact with western nations has brought us the benefits of their medical practices, there are still diseases which wait for Dr Jenner and Alexander Fleming, a Louis Pasteur and so on. This is a challenge that a nation must accept.

To produce men and women of this caliber, we would need special schools or colleges to nurture talents. Build universities, of course, but be the equivalent of a Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge or Todai (Tokyo University). We have heard of France Ecole Normale which produced the elite of the nation.

We need institutions for elite because civilisations and progress have always been pioneered by a few people of special inclination and zeal. Let there be education for the masses and education for the gifted ones.

T h e fourth type of education should sponsor good citizenship. We need people who would put the common good above everything else. In Germany, there was a slogan “Deutchland liber alles, Germany above all”. During belligerent times, some people used to misconstrue this slogan to mean Germany wants to be above the allies. Actually, it was a patriotic clarion call to put the good of the nation as a whole above parochial and selfish interests.

We live in the age of pluralism and globalisation. Some influences from abroad through religious or ideologies affiliation can weaken our nation cohesion, whenever the nation is facing some calamity or enmity all citizen must rally behind the government and defend the nation even if during elections some voted for a different political party.

Multiparty politics should not be an excuse for engaging in anti-patriotic activities. While we must practise the global faiths like Christianity and Islam, we must not confuse foreign culture with religion. We must stick to our culture, we are black and Africans first, Christian and Muslim next. Adherence to these faiths should not alienate us from compatriot. Our slogan should be Malawi above all.

Rights without duties produce tyrants. Duties without rights breed slaves.

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