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The burning topic of education and responsibility in the heart of the African family

The burning topic of education and responsibility in the heart of the African family


By Sister Solange Ngah, Doctoral student in moral theology, UCAC/ICY




Our contribution concerns how to reconcile traditional, specifically African, education with modern education in our times. Marriage is the foundation whose two ends are the good of the spouses and procreation, and it is the core of the family unit. So what level of responsibility do the parents have concerning the education of their children? In Familiaris Consortio 14, Saint John Paul II writes that “the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children.” By becoming parents, the Holy Father continues, “spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility.” According to Hans Jonas, this parental responsibility “is by nature ontological in the sense that the very being of the child being nursed, in its complete dependence, imposes an unconditional obligation to be dedicated to it.”[1]  This relevant analysis of Hans Jonas seems to be the complete opposite of the contemporary African family, which is experiencing a multiform crisis, making elders say that modern education is responsible for the malaise of our modern families. However, apart from the generational conflict, who is really responsible for the education of children in Africa today? To give a first answer to this question, we will briefly present the main points of these two modes of education and then the Christian vision of this education.


  1. The main ponts of traditional education and modern education


Since education is the integral formation of the person, there is room to think of a possible connection between the the values of traditional education and modern education. In fact, the the whole problem is about how to join these two educational systems and remain oneself without losing one’s identity. We don’t claim to answer this question, but we call upon Cheik Hamidou who has made this crucial African problem his battle horse: “If I tell them to go to the modern school, they will go en masse… If I tell them not to go, they will not go… Their houses will fall into ruin, their sons will die, or be reduced to slavery.”[2] Africa has great need of men rooted in their culture and able to handle Western science. Africa is getting tired of cultured people who hold forth without applying the canons of their discourse.[3]


For both of the educational systems, development of the continent should be the core and reason for reflecting on the ends of the educational system in Africa today. That is, education does not exist for its own sake. It should be a means to achieve a society where greater justice, democracy, liberty and freedom reign. Considering education from this new perspective is a long-term project which will need the intervention of every level of society. From this point of view, Marcus Ndongmo affirms that because of its complexity and preciousness, the education of children should be a communitarian enterprise which involves partners.[4] But what is the Christian vision? 


  1. The Christian vision of education


In its preamble to the Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum educationis, Vatican II presents the great importance of education in human life and its constantly progressive influence on the development of modern society. The council fathers recall that those responsible for education, the parents, have given life to new beings, and thus have a serious responsibility to raise them, and so should be recognised as the first and principal educators. On the same track as the Council, in Africae Munus 6, Pope Benedict XVI emphasises that: “the educational mission of the Christian family is a true ministry through which the Gospel is transmitted and radiated.”


In conclusion, the contemporary challenge facing Africa is to bring together these two systems into an integral education of the African today.

[1] cf. Hans Jonan, Le principe responsabilité: Une éthique pour la civilisation technologique, Cerf, Paris, 1990, 189.

[2] Cheik Kane Hamidou, L’aventure amibiguë, Borgeiois, Paris, 1990, 44.

[3] cf. A. Nguidjol, Le système éducatif en Afrique noir: Analyse et persectives, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2007, 38.

[4] cf. Marcus Ndongmo, Sauver la famille africaine: Réflexion sur le marriage comme fondement de la famille, PUCAC, Yaoundé, 2008, 48.