Ask someone ‘what is education?, and you are likely to get an image of a school building. Ask ‘what is quality education?’ and you may get descriptions of clean buildings, orderly desks, sturdy books and disciplined pupils.
All these thing are important. But Mwalimu Nyerere challenges us to think beyond. Because, for him, education is much more.
This book review is the second volume of Mwalimu’s collected writings on education. The collection spans 36 40 years, from 1961 to 1977.For Mwalimu, education was inextricably linked to development. It had to be relevant to the everyday life of people and to the challenges of the day.
His was a transformative vision. Mwalimu challenged teachers, “Work for revolution. Do not fear revolution” .He urged students to think, to ask questions, to analyse. Yet his was a constant battle-with his fellow teachers, leaders and bureaucrats-as this vision of education failed to be implemented.
Why? Is the challenge any less today? Reading Mwalimu Nyerere today is to interrogate the present, and to learn the lessons of our history.
Nyerere takes a very utilitarian view about the functions of universities, which is to serve the society in which they operate. Yet, he is not saying learning for its own sake is useless, but that it is a luxury under certain conditions.
“The university function of extending the frontiers of knowledge is very important for humanity…. We must not establish our new young countries institutions of higher learning which simply receive. The must give as well.”
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this conference, and to Dar es Salaam, the delegates and guests of the Word University Service. I am told that about 50 countries are represented here, and even more universities and university colleges. We are pleased that the progress of our university colleges buildings allows us to be host on this occasion; we hope that you will be happy and comfortable in these quarters.
Every time I myself come to this campus-which is fairly frequently-I think again about our decision to build here, and our decision about the type of buildings. Sometimes I wonder whether we made the right decision, although really I know it is too early for an answer to be given to that question. For the answer depends upon what the graduates of this University Colleges do in the future, and to what extent their actions have been influenced by the expenditure of more than Shs.50 million. In other words, the answer depends upon the future-and includes an immeasurable factor anyway!
Yet the question itself is an important one. It involves the whole problem of what a university could, and should, do in a developing society. For I believe that the pursuit of pure learning can be a luxury in society; Whether it is or not, depends upon the conditions in which that society lives. Perhaps I am being foolhardy in making such a statement at a university gathering, but I am going to repeat it. When people are dying because existing knowledge is not applied, when the very basic social and public services are out available to all members of a society, then that society is misusing its resources if it pursues pure learning for its own sake.
If there are philosophy students among this gathering I suspect that they are already making mental demands that I define my terms. What do I mean by ‘pure leaning’, and ‘for its own sake’. And if I hold these reservations about the function of a university in this developing society, why is it that I myself am proud to be Chancellor of the University of East Africa, and visitor of this university college?
These are valid responses to my rather provocative statement, because one of the very important traditional functions of a university has been this pursuit of pure knowledge-knowledge about things which exist, or happen, just for the the sake of finding out more about them. Indeed very many of the advances in the human condition rest upon the foundation of work done at universities which had no apparent relevance to man’s life on the earth. I believe that scientists divide their research into two categories-pure and applied-and it is the former which is normally carried out in universities while the latter may also be undertaken in industrial or agricultural complexes. Economists do not-as far as I know-make this same formal distinction, but reading some economists’ research papers about theoretical measurements of immeasurable factors it appears that in practice the same division exist! The men and women who seek to solve particular problems of science and society then sometimes use and develop these apparently useless piece of knowledge, and as a result huge advances are made in dealing with very pressing problems of individuals and communities.
I have no doubt in my mind, therefore, but that university function of extending the frontiers of knowledge is very important for humanity. I will go further, and say that in the course of time universities in developing countries must also make their contribution to the world of knowledge in this direction.
We must not establish in our new young countries institutions of higher learning which simply receive. They must give as well.
But in all things there are priorities, and we have to look at the immediate future, and the immediate present, and decide what it is that universities in our kind of society can at present most usefully give to the world of which we are a part. And it is my conviction that universities in countries like Tanzania have other urgent tasks to fulfil which will test their resources-human and material-to the utmost. I do not believe that they can at this stage pursue ‘pure research’ and ‘knowledge for its own sake’ without neglecting other functions which are for the time being more important.
Before I explained what I believe these other functions ought to be, let me make one thing clear. At any good university, some of the best brains of the day should be living together. And good brains cannot be turned on and off; a man who thinks about his work will not stop thinking at the end of his day, or when the students are on vocation. If he then finds it relaxing-or exciting, depending upon temperament-to investigate an apparently irrelevant matter, he should certainly be encouraged to do so and given use of such facilities as are available. And if this means that later he is able to produce a paper explaining, let us say, why certain fish change color when taken out of water, then he deserves congratulation. My original statement was not that pure learning is useless; it was that it is a luxury under certain conditions. And a man who spends his spare tome on this luxury is certainly entitled to our gratitude more than a man who spends his spare time on other equally luxurious, but less constructive pastimes.
Neither should my assessment of priorities be taken to imply that we expect from our university merely the dissemination of established facts. Whether in a developing country or elsewhere, a university does not deserve the name if it does not promote thinking. But our particular and urgent problems must influence the subjects to which thought is given, and they must influence, too,the approach. Both in university-promoted research, and in the content of degree syllabus, the needs of our country should be the determining factor.
What are the problems we face in the discipline concerned? What are the obstacles which might prevent the achievement of a particular national goals, and how can they be overcome? Is a particular policy conducive to the attainment of the basic objectives of the society? These are the type of questions to which the university can and should be giving attention. In these fields, university staff and students should be co-operating with Government and the people.
There are some people who would undoubtedly challenge this assumption that university should co-operate with Government. They would say that the task of a university is to seek for truth, and to ignore all other responsibilities, leaving it to those outside the university to accept or reject the result in their practical politics. Yet this is to say that a university could, and should, live divorced from its society. It implies, too,that there is an automatic conflict with Government-that Government is not concerned with truth! It is my conviction that this attitude is based on a half-truth, and has within it great dangers, both for society as a whole and for the University itself.
I fully accept that the task of a university is to seek for truth, and that its members should speak the truth as they see it regardless of consequences to themselves. But you will notice the words ’to themselves’; I do not believe they should do this regardless of the society. A university which tries to put its professors and its student into blinkers will neither serve the cause of knowledge, nor the interests of the society in which it exists. But to try and deal objectively with a particular problem, and in a scientific manner to analyze and describe it-that is one thing. To move from that to an assumption that the consequences are irrelevant is entirely different. What we expect from our university is both a complete objectivity in the search for truth, and also commitment to our society-a desire to serve it. We expect the two things equally. And I do not believe this dual responsibility-to objectivity and to service-is impossible of fulfillment. In this I find support in the speech of the first Principal of the Dar es Salaam College, Professor R.C. Pratt who said when the campus was being opened:
“We must strive consciously and deliberately to assure that the life and work of the College is in harmony with the central positive objectives that underlie the national policies of our Government…The University of East Africa must be a committed institution; actively relating our work to the communities it seeks to serve. This is in no sense in contrast to, or in contradiction of, the intellectual objectivity and respect for truth which must also be an essential feature of a University. Commitment and objectivity are not opposites, are not in contradiction to each other. Rather the best scholarship is often a product of deep commitment….”
I believe, to pretend that a society can progress if it is based on falsity, or that the truth is so unimportant that it can be buried in intellectual tomes which have no relevance to the work of a people who are trying to revolutionize their conditions of life is a falsehood.
In fact, a university in a developing society must put the emphasis of its work on subjects of immediate moment to the nation in which it exist, and it must be committed to the people of that nation and their humanistic goals. This is central to its existence; and it is this fact which justifies the heavy expenditure of resources on this staff in particular, must be freely offered to the community, and they must be relevant.
Applied research, however,is only one aspect of university work. The dissemination of knowledge to undergraduates and other members of society is equally important. But it is not simply facts which must be taught. Students must be helped to think scientifically; they must be taught to analyse problems objectively, and to apply the facts they have learned-or which they know exist-to the problems which they will face in the future. For when a society is in the process of rapid change-which is a definition of a developing society-it is no use giving students the answers today’s problems. These are useful mainly as a training ground; the real worth of the university education will show itself much later when these same men and women have to cope with problems which are as yet unseen.
Yet once again, the real problem in our societies is a different one. For the universities all over the world have this task of trying to educate and expand the minds of their students. Universities in developing countries have also another, and in some ways, a more difficult problem. It is this same problem of commitment and it brings me back to the question I started with-the question of whether these fine buildings are really the right environment for our new University.
The library, the hostels, the lecture rooms and so on which make up this campus were all designed to enable the students here to work well-to concentrate their energies on learning and thinking. It is because we need young people to do this that we started the University College and devote a considerable proportional of our recurrent revenue to its upkeep. But anyone who walks off this campus into the nearby villages, or who travels up country-perhaps to Dodoma or into the Pare hills-will observe the contrast in conditions here and the conditions in which the mass of our people live. And the purpose of establishing the university is to make it possible for us to change these poverty-stricken lives. We do not build sky-scrapers here so that a few very fortunate individuals can develop their own minds and then live in comfort, with intellectual stimulus making their work and their leisure interesting to themselves. We tax the people to build these places only so that you men and women may become efficient servants to them. There is no other justification for this heavy call being made on poor peasants.
How can the reality of this responsibility be maintained all the time for students who live here? How can we ensure that they remain-or become-constructively concerned about the task of transforming our national poverty, so that they regard the conditions here as an interim in their lives and not as something to which they are entitled?
What all this really amounts to is not a question about buildings. There are the physical surroundings designed to assist efficiency. The real problem is that of promoting, strengthening, and channeling social attitudes which are conducive to the progress of our society. For,as I have already said, we in poor societies can only justify expenditure on a university-of any type-if it promotes real development of our people. And the buildings become relevant only because they could introduce one further factor dividing university students from the masses who sent them here. But they do not necessarily have this effect. The factors which really determine whether university students shall remain an integral part of a classless society or become members of an alien elite are much more subtle-and much more difficult to deal with.
In our traditional societies, every member was fully aware of his membership in the society-his responsibility to his fellows as well as their responsibility to him. All individuals lived the same sort of life; it was a hard one in which the need for co[operation was an obvious fact. The social institutions themselves encouraged this psychology of interdependence, and it was part of the environment in which every child grew up. Yet now we take certain of our children and separate them from others by giving them opportunities for secondary schooling which are not available to everyone. Later we choose a still more limited number and send them to universities. And throughout this process we have been taking the individual out of his community, and only too often at the same time encouraging him to work hard by promises of individual advancement if he does so. It is he, as an individual, who stressed; it is he who alone reads and learns and gets the opportunity for advance. This is inevitable; all of us have different brains, and the complexities of a modern society demand very many different kinds of skills-which require different individual training.
But with all this stress on his individual responsibility, how can we at the same time safeguard the individual against the arrogance of looking upon himself as someone special, someone who has the right to make very heavy demands upon society, inturn for which he will design to make available the skills which that society has enabled him to acquire? In particular, what can a university do not ensure that its students regard themselves as ‘servant-in-training?’
This is one of the most vital, and most difficult, of the students this ‘lesson’ is almost unnecessary. They take for granted the fact that they should work with their fellow citizens in National Services, in lonely up-country posts, and so on. But unfortunately this is not true of all; and certainly as a group which has rights without responsibilities. We have seen how many groups of students demand ever better conditions of study, ever larger allowances. They demand that they should be treated separately from others when questions of National Service arise-not in order to give more, but in order to give less. And most difficult of individually, with students and graduates of universities in the wealthy countries of the world. Then they feel resentful if their conditions are worse, or their pay is lower. And all the time the masses continue to live on an annual income of about £20 per head per year!
A university in a country like Tanzania has to deal with this problems. It has to meet the challenge-‘Physician, heal thyself’. For if it is acknowledged that only united effort for development will enable the transformation of the underdeveloped nations of the world, then it must also be acknowledge that the universities of those nations, their staffs and students, must also be united with the rest of those societies in that task. And this can only happen if the university men and women themselves feel their identity with their fellows-including those who never went to school at all. It can only happen if the university graduates merge themselves back into the communities from which they came, and transform them from within.
Many different techniques are used to strengthen and rebuild the relationship between university students and the other members of their society. Work camps, vocation work, National Service, voluntary nation-building and so on are all valuable methods for helping with this problem. Yet it can remain a problem unless the whole atmosphere of the university is one of giving service, and expecting service, from all its members and students; unless, in other words, the prevailing attitude is one of social responsibility. And this must not be the idea of ‘giving aid to the poor’. That arrogance has no place in Tanzania at any rate. It must be an attitude of wanting to work, in whatever work there is to do, alongside and within the rest of the community, until finally there is to distinction between a graduate and illiterate than there is between a man who works as a carpenter and his fellow who works as a brick maker. Graduates and illeterates would then accept their tasks as distinctive, and as ,making different demands on them, but as being in both cases but a part of a single whole.
Mr. Chairman, I have only dealt with a small number of aspects of the many-sided responsibilities of a university in a developing society. I have spoken inevitably out of Tanzania experience of the needs and problems. But I want to close by saying how interested we in the Government are in the subject of your discussions this week. For we believe that our University College can play a very, very important role in our development. Despite the questions I raised we see no reason to revive our confident expectation that it will play this role. Already we have had valuable service from members of faculty; already we have young graduates in law working in our Government offices. And I can assure you that the Tanzania Government is anxious for the constructive ideas and criticisms which our College, or any other academic institution, can give us.
For this is already what I have saying. The role of a university in a developing country is to contribute; to give ideas, manpower, and service for the furtherance of human equality, human dignity, and human development.