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Presidential Address

The Ubuntu Paradigm and Comparative and International


Education: Epistemological Challenges and
Opportunities in Our Field
N’DRI THÉRÈSE ASSIÉ-LUMUMBA

This article interrogates assumptions of comparative education research and interna-


tional education in the transfer of policies and practices generally in North-South re-
lations within the context of structural inequality. The pursuit of learning in different
educational traditions and the quest for comparison are examined. Aspects of meanings
of individual sociogeographic and intellectual journeys within the global context are
analyzed in articulating the patterns of contradictions in temporality and epistemology in
knowledge production, focusing on agency, legitimacy, and ownership. Issues critically
examined include what ought to be the guiding principles toward new transformative
relational theories and methodologies of understanding education in formerly colonized
societies, including Africa. The Ubuntu paradigm is articulated as an alternative frame-
work for defining relations within and across the borders of local and global spaces, as a
permanent corrective measure that can offer possibilities of growth and renewal to the
field of comparative and international education.

Introduction: The Quest for Comparison of Educational Experiences


and the Comparative Education Pull Factor

In this address I share with you a little part of my journey to comparative


education and use it as a conduit for raising and discussing some funda-
mental issues in our field. A broad framework for my reflection in this ad-
dress encompasses my interrogations of the work pursued from the stand-
points of the dual components of comparative and international education,
as referred to in Wilson’s address (1994), taking into account that educa-
tion systems are fluid, perpetually moving, or in transition. Part of my re-
flection originates from questions about the transfer of educational policies
and practices that officially aim to address the needs of those in the receiving
systems.

Received October 5, 2016; revised October 5, 2016; accepted October 6, 2016; electronically published
December 21, 2016
Comparative Education Review, vol. 61, no. 1.
q 2016 by the Comparative and International Education Society. All rights reserved.
0010-4086/2017/6101-0007$10.00

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Also critical for my reflections are the cases of education for self-reliance
in Tanzania and the short-lived education reform in Mali, both framed in
African philosophy of education, and more generally the goals of compre-
hensive and transformative educational projects in postcolonial Africa that
captured the idea of Ubuntu while at the same time grappling with the
constant process of fusion and the balance between the received system and
an indigenous paradigm. Ubuntu is a worldview that embraces “oneness of
humanity, a collectivity, community and set of cultural practices and spiritual
values that seek respect and dignity for all humanity” (Goduka 2000, 72).
Ubuntu signifies shared humanity that is a complex and interdependent
ecosystem of humans, nature, and the planet (Letseka 2000; Wright and Abdi
2012; Waghid 2014).
While the concept of education is universal, as a social institution it is
molded in the concrete frame of epistemologies, broad societal values, and
spheres of civilization at different historical moments and in sociogeographic
spaces, which are continuously evolving in their own right. The philosophical
underpinning of Ubuntu as humanism and indivisible humanity is located
within a world defined as a complex societal whole.
This interconnectedness has implications for the conceptualization, de-
sign, and application of education in terms of the purposes of education and
the systems of transmission, acquisition, production, and use of knowledge.
Ubuntu philosophy assumes a certain idea as well as policies and practices of
education. Some of the challenges of comparative and international educa-
tion in reference to an African framework relate to several questions in-
cluding, What are we comparing? What are the assumptions in making the
choices of what to compare in scholarly works of comparative education and
what to promote in international education projects that involve the transfer
of educational traditions and practices? How do we conceptualize and man-
age the nation-state as key in defining the unit of analysis and the implica-
tions for examining various national systems? Is the use of the nation-state
popular because it is easier, simpler, assumed neutral, and practical, or are
there other compelling reasons for choosing what to study/compare within
or across borders, especially considering the formal (schooling) and infor-
mal components of education.
What is the future that we aim to build within our field? Whose para-
digms will guide us? Who has the agency and legitimacy to define the meth-
odologies that we use to comprehend educational and social processes?
Which unit of analysis are we going to emulate? Would the post-Westphalian
nation-state, which in the case of Africa can be traced to the colonial project
of the 1884/85 Berlin Conference when the continent was divided by chop-
ping through existing political administrative units, be the most appropriate?
For instance, cultural spheres in west Africa that ran east-west were cut with
new state boundaries that ran north-south. Every subregion and country in

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the continent illustrates the artificial borders that tend to clash with people’s
lifestyles across the imaginary lines in localities.
The main thrust of this article is to explore these questions in terms of
both the challenges they present to our “twin fields” (Wilson 1994) of com-
parative and international education and also the new possibilities in the
global context. In the next section I examine the meanings of the deliberate
pursuit for learning in different educational traditions as related to a quest
for comparison. The subsequent section focuses on my sociogeographic and
intellectual journey, with its imbedded contradictions, toward comparative
education. The factors of temporality and epistemology in knowledge pro-
duction are addressed next. The Ubuntu paradigm and the notion of higher
knowledge in the global context are discussed in the penultimate section.
The final section is a forwarding-looking reflection.

Learning in Different Educational Traditions in the Quest for Comparison

In his presidential address, Arnove (2001) offered a real tour de force in


reviewing approximately a decade of discourses. In his address on the occa-
sion of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Comparative and Interna-
tional Education Society, Carnoy stated that in his earlier studies in Mexico
and later in Kenya, his research fit into a comparative framework before
he was fully aware that he was doing that. As he stated: “Without knowing it,
I had become an international, comparative education researcher in the best
sense of the word, using the results of my empirical work and the work of
others to try to revise existing theories (in this case, economic) of the rela-
tionship between education and labor markets. The Kenya results, when
compared with my earlier study in Mexico, helped me to formulate a theory
about changing patterns of rates of return to education over time” (Carnoy
2006, 552–53).
My own intellectual journey in search of a comparative approach in un-
derstanding or appreciating different educational systems and processes was
experiential, as I was longing for learning in different educational traditions.
This experience was different from Levin’s (2009) story, which was inter-
twined with part of the broader context of the development of comparative
education. It was also different from Carnoy’s entry point into the field. While
my intellectual encounter was dissimilar to theirs, the examination of their
experiences inspired me to take a critical look into my own sociogeographic
and intellectual trajectory toward comparative education and international
education as a field(s) of scholarly and professional engagement.
This experiential journey at some point reflected my quest for compar-
ison in education while I was grappling with notions being articulated then
and later, for instance, the need to “decolonize the mind” by scholars such
as Thiong’o (1986) or “received knowledge” by Ake (1982) among others,

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with the whole package including major epistemological dimensions, con-


tradictions, and shortcomings. Although my journey was not at the time
clearly defined in terms of research processes, there were educational factors
in my early involvement in various research projects that had dimensions that
I would later see as comparative.
In 1974, as a student at Université Lyon II (Lyon, France) I completed my
first master’s degree (in history) in which I studied, among other factors, the
role of French colonial formal education as a key determinant in marginal-
izing Ivorian women in politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. Shortly after I completed my second master’s degree (in sociol-
ogy) in which I analyzed the plantation economy and social change in Côte
d’Ivoire, I returned home. Upon my arrival I was offered a position by the
Ivorian Ministry of Scientific Research at the Université d’Abidjan and be-
came a member of an international team (along with architects and so-
ciologists) conducting research on rural housing in a region affected by the
removal and relocation of the populations of the flooded area of the Kossou
Dam.1 As one of the sociologists, and given my interest in pursuing my PhD
in education, my role on the team focused on the physical and social loca-
tion of the school in the rural setting. At that time, the government of Côte
d’Ivoire had adopted an educational television program that was highly
publicized and supported by many international organizations (especially
the World Bank), several industrialized countries, and foundations. The first
experimental television primary schools in this program started in the 1971–
72 school year and gradually advanced by the time I had joined the team.
The national educational television program was conceived as an effec-
tive technological innovation for the implementation of the official policy of
achieving universal primary education and increasing participation at the
secondary as well as tertiary levels of the educational system. The principal
target population of the television program was composed of primary-school-
age children. The main goal of the program was to act on the supply side to
ensure that all children of school age could be enrolled and learn from the
same source and have access to the same quality education. The second im-
portant component was a nonformal education program for the community.
Télé Pour Tous (Television for all) targeted the adult population and general
public but also specific population segments, particularly the rural dwellers,
farmers, and nonliterate groups in general. The purpose of this component
of the national educational television program was to help provide functional
literacy and practical information to these groups in order to improve their

1
The Ministry of Scientific Research selected emerging/promising scholars called “stagiaires de
rcherche-research interns” who were still pursuing their graduate studies, so that they could acquire
field experience in being associated with ongoing research in the various research centers and
institutes. I was located in the Centre de Recherches Architecturales et Urbaines at Université d’Abidjan
(now Université de Cocody).

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living and production conditions. This nonformal component was very im-
portant in the context of national development plans.
A few years after the official adoption of the program, while the govern-
ment was working toward the goal of reaching full coverage of all the public
primary schools in the country, some schools and classes that had not yet been
provided with television sets were required to use the pedagogy and new
textbooks that were designed for use with television. Consequently, the gov-
ernment was concurrently operating three types of public primary schools:

1. Traditional (conventional) schools with regular classrooms, where the


teacher used the blackboard and interacted with pupils as the sole re-
pository of knowledge in a position vested with unchallenged power and
authority in the confinement of the classroom.
2. “Renovated” schools (écoles renovées), which applied the television learn-
ing method and used the textbooks designed for the television schools
but without using the television sets. The classes in these schools were
similar to the traditional classrooms in terms of the symbolic and actual
position and role of the teacher and his or her interaction with the
pupils.
3. Schools that were equipped with television sets and where classroom
instruction was based on the assumption that the televisions were func-
tioning according to the requirements and programs produced and
broadcasted in the central station in the second city of the country,
Bouaké.

I had the opportunity to observe and study these three types of schools
in the communities where we were conducting research. I used a compar-
ative approach in understating how and why these different types of schools
functioned differently, the attitude of the students toward education, the
observed tendency of regular attendance (television schools) and higher ab-
senteeism rates (traditional schools), and the connection between the com-
munity and the school via the nonformal education program targeting the
adults in the community. Although I was highly interested and very involved
in educational issues, my deliberate and passionate search for a comparative
approach to the educational process and the making of comparative edu-
cation as the main driving force of my future intellectual journey came from a
different genre.
Before returning to Côte d’Ivoire to work on the aforementioned re-
search project, I was conducting library research and working on my PhD
applications. It was 1975, in Paris, in a library that was part of ORSTOM.2

2
The Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique d’Outre-Mer (Office of scientific and
technical research overseas; ORSTOM), now Institut de recherche pour le développement (Institute for

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The idea and mission in France of “colonial science” in what later became
ORSTOM was first articulated in 1937 during a period of consolidation of
colonial rule in Africa. Moreover, in the same year there was a major reform
in which the hitherto schools for the nobility (le Secondaire) that led to uni-
versity and schools for the masses, called le Primaire, were merged to create
a single system in France. During the same period, the downgraded version
was still firmly in place in the colonies. While I regularly used the rich col-
lection of the ORSTOM library, the site itself was always for me full of am-
biguity and contradictions.
The program then called ORSTOM changed names several times, but it
is worth mentioning that earlier it was called Office de la Recherche Scien-
tifique Coloniale (Office of colonial scientific research). The library housed
rare and unique research documents. Many of them reflected the colonial
framework of research on the “others” not in neutral terms but with subtle or
open conceptualization of hierarchical classification of people in the colo-
nies and around the world. Many documents directly reflected the results
of the gaze of the colonizers on the colonized. In this context, consider the
title of the book of the anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss
(1964) who developed structuralism or structural anthropology: Le Cru et le
Cuit (The raw and the cooked). Lévi-Strauss’s metaphor reflects the binary
representation of the boundaries between the assumed civilized and unciv-
ilized societies.
Another dimension of my intellectual reflection on the subliminal mes-
sages is the fact that the European colonial adventure constituted a supreme
expression of patriarchy whereby European men went around the world to
study the “others,” including the women of the colonized societies. They
created states, which were handed from European colonial masters to men
of the newly independent states. This would have far-reaching implications
in the representation of the colonized societies in general (and the women in
particular), agency, voice, and the production of knowledge, with enduring
impact on institutions of higher learning and entrenched gender issues then
and in the postcolonial period (Paulme 1971). As recalled by Stromquist,
“[the] State is not neutral toward women. . . . [It] is a key institution when it
comes to education. . . . Further, the more that knowledge becomes codified,
the more that formal education will be needed to provide and certify this
knowledge” (1995, 436 and 439). Thus, there is a reproduction of past struc-
tures of power with an enduring impact on education in general and aca-
demic disciplines, including comparative and international education. The
interface of patriarchy and colonization had a special implication for the

development research), is currently under the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research and
the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

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educational distribution, marginalization, and the production of knowledge


(Oyěwùmí 1997).
In those days when I was putting together my applications for doctoral
programs, academically, I was quite pleased with aspects of the French Car-
tesian educational tradition. However, I was determined to exit this system,
which had shaped most of my schooling experience from primary school in
Côte d’Ivoire to two master’s degrees in France. An international student trip
in the summer of 1973 to the United Kingdom fostered my interest in pur-
suing my doctoral studies in another educational context, so as to be exposed
to different ways of learning and producing knowledge. I applied to institu-
tions in Africa (i.e., University of Ibadan in Nigeria), Europe (Switzerland and
Germany), and North America.3 I was admitted into the Comparative Edu-
cation Center of the University of Chicago, which was in fact my first choice,
and also to Université Laval in Québec (Canada) in the West African Project
that was funded by the Ford Foundation, for the training of African educa-
tional researchers and administrators.
The ORSTOM site and my resolve to pursue my doctoral studies in a
different system were part of the process of developing my interest in com-
parative education. However, issues of the nexus of global and local power
dynamics and critical thinking, the whole learning process, knowledge pro-
duction and use, and so forth, are complex. As a first-year undergraduate
student at Université d’Abidjan, I did not have the opportunity to enroll in
sociology, although I was curious about and fascinated by the possibility of
applying scientific instruments to study human beings and social systems
and institutions, as articulated by Durkheim (1894) and Comte (1909). At the
time, however, in Côte d’Ivoire, like in many other African countries, there
was limited democratic space (Zolberg 1969), and the government did not
allow in the newly created and fast-growing universities certain disciplines
that were considered a threat and were thought to produce political trou-
blemakers, in other words, critical thinkers who were likely to apply their
insight to the contradictions and issues in society at the moment.
Certainly, in the postindependence euphoria of the uncritical adherence
to then-popular human capital theory and national development agendas,
all highly educated graduates were considered valued. However, while so-
ciologists, for instance, were needed in the development programs, the state
policy was deliberate in not creating units that would produce too many of
them in domestic institutions of higher learning. Instead, there was a pro-
gram of applied social sciences in place. I was among the students who, while
protesting some government policies that were considered to be of a neo-
colonial nature, were rounded up and sent to a notorious military camp called

3
Although I did not know any German, I was determined to learn it if admitted to a German
institution.

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Akouédo. Unlike some of the students who were permanently enrolled in


military service, I was among those who were released, and it was there that I
decided that I was going to go to France to study sociology. This is what I did
in addition to pursuing history.

Sociogeographic and Intellectual Journey toward Comparative Education

I was admitted at the University of Chicago, but because of funding is-


sues, I started my doctoral studies in education at Université Laval in Québec
(Canada) as a member of the first cohort of students in the aforementioned
West African Project.4 My experience at Université Laval was brief and rich
but mainly in interactions outside the classroom. Indeed, after some summer
courses I spent time at the University of Toronto in a program where they
trained medical personnel. The purpose for going to Toronto was for total
immersion in English, while the other students in my cohort went to Ottawa.
Fall 1976 was when the faculty of Université Laval went on a strike, and so
after the summer courses there were no formal classroom learning expe-
riences that took place in the university. In any case, I received a second
opportunity from the University of Chicago, which had remained my first
choice. A letter from Douglas Windham of the Comparative Education Cen-
ter was sent to the director of the West African Project at Université Laval
asking him to send to Chicago “the best among the students in the program,”
and thus I had the chance to study at this illustrious center. I could not be-
lieve that a dream could come true that way.
When I arrived at the University of Chicago in January 1977, I felt warm
despite the extremely cold weather. I particularly appreciated the welcome
by Philip Foster who, as the center’s director in 1975, received my applica-
tion and sent me an enthusiastic letter of admission. With the rigor of the
program, the composition of the student body coming from different coun-
tries and educational systems from across the globe, and the succession of
world-renowned professors giving enlightening lectures, I had a sense that
indeed this was the destination for which I had been striving for years. Yet
paradoxically, or perhaps logically too in the context of the goal of education
in forming a critical mind, in spite of my amazement at the possibilities of fi-
nally learning in and about different educational systems, I still had questions
and was still grappling with the contradictions of “received knowledge,” even
from truly distinguished scholars who were based at or passing through the
University of Chicago. What were/are the paradigms that shaped their re-
search questions and process of knowledge production and dissemination,
especially about other societies, particularly in Africa?

4
My being the only female student in the cohort was a commentary on the issue of gender-
unequal educational opportunity in Africa.

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In my contribution to a special issue of Prospects, I wrote about Foster’s


brilliance as a teacher, with his eloquence that I appreciated on various
grounds including from an African cultural perspective as well as a French
educational tradition of “cours magistral, as an indicator of the mastery of the
subject matter and an intrinsic attribute of excellence in teaching” (Assié-
Lumumba 2009, 574). Despite my high admiration for the towering stature
of Foster as a scholar, I consistently raised issues related to what I perceived to
be contradictions and epistemological issues. One day, at the end of one of
those class sessions when you feel good about the scholarly engagement
even in the cold weather of the Windy City, a classmate asked me whether I
was Foster’s teaching assistant. I said no and asked why he thought I was. He
indicated that he had assumed that I was Foster’s assistant and that perhaps in
preparing the sessions, Foster and I agreed beforehand that I would serve as
a sort of provocateur in responding to some of his arguments in articulating
counterarguments be they in the form of assertions or interrogations. In-
deed, I was always curious about and in search of alternative narratives, ways
of knowing, trying to unravel at least elements of the subtexts, assumptions,
arguments, and conclusions of all these studies conducted on the “other”
societies that constituted the focus of the “twin field” of comparative edu-
cation and may lead to the transfer of various dimensions of education. That
is to say that I have been engaged in intellectual interrogations for a con-
siderable time, and I carried my interrogations to the other classes as well.

Temporality, Epistemology, and Knowledge Production

In discussing the context for learning and research, it is imperative to


address the fundamental question of epistemology, in terms of not only or
mainly how we know what we know but first of all what we think is worth
knowing about. Only then can the decision be made about how to proceed
and determine the most suitable and effective instruments that can yield the
best results in gathering relevant data in carrying out the given research.
The pursuit of knowledge contains a very important element of tempo-
rality. In essence the quest for knowledge is about the past, an effort to ac-
quire comprehension of the past that might be of use for facing and un-
derstanding the present or in projecting the future in the same society/
country or another context in the framework of international education.
The idea about the past, present, and future relates intrinsically to the in-
tellectual pursuit. Therefore, how do we select which past to inform which
future? The process involves inevitably deliberate choices and an important
component of selective memory. Hence, what are the factors that influence
the selection? Is the articulated or assumed scientific method characterized
by objectivity infallible?

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To go a little back in history and quote St. Augustine, “Perhaps it might be


said rightly that there are three times: a time present of things past; a time
present of things present; and a time present of things future. . . . The time
present of things past is memory; the time present of things present is direct
experience; the time present of things future is expectation” (2016). Thus,
historical consciousness is critical in analyzing the present and projecting
into the future.
Given the importance of the past in the research and learning endeavor,
I use a historical approach from the perspective of what the African Ameri-
can historian John Henrik Clarke articulated, when he states how crucial
history is in managing the present and projecting the future: “History is a
clock that people use to tell the political and cultural time of the day. It is
also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human ge-
ography. History tells the people where they have been, what they have been,
where they are, and what they are. Most important, history tells the people
where they still must go and what they still must be” (1996). This perspective
captures the spirit of the Akan guiding wisdom encompassed in “Sankofa”
represented by the mythical bird through which individuals, groups, and
communities are reminded to look back in order to reposition themselves
to more strategically move forward. The Sankofa Bird is not stuck in the past,
as it keeps moving forward while looking back to take stock, as stated in the
theme of the 2016 Comparative and International Education Society con-
ference celebrating its sixtieth anniversary: “Taking Stock and Moving For-
ward.” Of particular significance in the Sankofa Bird is the symbolism of the
egg in its beak, which denotes the future.
As indicated above, educational research mainly covers the study of the
past and present, with the expectation that we can secure knowledge that can
help us shape the future. Which systems of education do we analyze in in-
forming which future? From whose perspectives are opportunities of know-
ing and learning seen or ignored (Freeman 2004)? Is there an objective
disposition to always see the “possibilities,” and for whom? When studying
systems in the Global South or former colonies, do we tend to see opportu-
nities in their systems of thought, learning, and knowledge production, or
are they practiced in ways that tend to constitute part of the postcolonial
reproduction?
African societies extend to the diaspora where in their forced migration
from Africa to the Americas the Maroons, for instance, are among those who
fought for their freedom and remained free from the South to North
America and the Caribbean. Thus, a group in Surinam fought for its free-
dom and remained free and cut off from the rest of the world for 300 years
until the twentieth century. Harvard science professor Alan Counter con-
ducted studies on their experiences, and James Earl Jones, the narrator of a
documentary on the group, introduced the paramount leader of the “tribe”

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and referred to him as “a wise and far-seeing leader. He is very concerned


about the technological changes which he saw coming. He doesn’t oppose
them. He saw change in terms of ‘ex-change’ between the two cultures.” This
African-Surinamese leader stated: “The white tribes have taken inventions
and gone far up-river with them. We can learn a great deal from them. But
we have taken humanity and gone far up-river with it, and we can teach them
a lot about humanity” (Counter et al. 1978).
Without falling into the limitations of binary representation and the il-
lusion of finding, in Max Weber’s terms, the “ideal type” in the real world, the
essence of the argument is that we can arrive at what Mazrui (1975) articu-
lated: three strategies for educational development, namely, domestication,
diversification, and counter-penetration. In the case of the African continent,
Mazrui’s argument is for Africa to assert its power and authority through
education and promote solutions for the African people and the world from a
position of strength, determining its comparative advantage, not by trying
to imitate and catch up, which can be referred to as a mirage. This is where
the notion of higher knowledge and the Ubuntu paradigm come into play.

The Ubuntu Paradigm and the Notion of Higher Knowledge in the Global Context

The Southern African Nguni word “Ubuntu” is used to capture the col-
lective ethos, as indicated earlier. However, the worldview it encompasses is
neither specific to this subregion nor exclusively African.5 However, domi-
nant paradigms and prevailing modernist epistemology that have shaped
contemporary education systems globally, especially in societies formerly
colonized by Western powers, have framed these systems on inequality,
competition for domination, and the use of metrics with screening mecha-
nisms that trash a large proportion of learners sometimes referred to in
economic terms of “waste.” These systems produce compartmentalized ed-
ucation in which the curriculum, classroom, and community rarely inter-
sect, especially in the developing world. The Ubuntu paradigm promotes the
philosophy and practice for valuing humaneness toward others and hu-
manism that conceptualizes and treats the world as a complex and inter-
dependent ecosystem of humans, nature, and the planet. Ubuntu fosters an
education of humanism that is in essence inclusive (Waghid 2014).
Higher knowledge is defined here as the sum of collective wisdom ac-
quired throughout history and enriched with new information and that
serves as a societal compass. The idea of higher knowledge reflects the de-
velopment of human capabilities and possibilities for the advancement of

5
In recognition of this universality of the notion of common humanity, several academics and
practitioners from different institutions in different regions of the world were invited to provide re-
gional and thematic perspectives addressing the 2015 conference theme of Ubuntu (http://cies2015
.org/theme-responses.html).

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human development and social progress within sociohistorical and socio-


spatial contexts that include the human community and its global ecology as
a whole. Higher knowledge does not imply hierarchy. The term “higher” is
used to reflect the search for a grand ideal within Ubuntu.
Higher knowledge is characterized by learning and research output that
promotes the real prospect for the person as inevitably connected to a group
and essentially a social member of the local and global world community. It
provides the enlightenment to treat others’ rights with respect and to also
see the interconnectedness in the needs, rights, obligations, and well-being
of all the members. It frees the individuals and groups from the destructive
effects of seemingly natural, but in fact artificially constructed or simply
imagined, barriers to actualize equality. These created barriers constitute the
ground for building, maintaining, reproducing, and justifying an unequal
world in which exploitation, greed, deception, and too often violent methods
and powerful means of destruction and manipulation alienate with the pur-
pose of accumulating material wealth, at times with no reasonable or hu-
manly healthy rationale (Assié-Lumumba 2007).6 Dimensions of the con-
ception of higher knowledge provide guidance in refraining from the search
for the satisfaction of individual or small groups’ needs at the expense of the
collectivity. Some of them are captured by Moumouni:
Education should at the same time make the individual feel his solidarity with other
men fully, in the first place with those who live in the society to which he belongs,
whether they belong to his own generation or to earlier or later generations. More
particularly, it should put within reach of the individual, at the price of his own per-
sonal effort, knowledge of the cultural and scientific wealth accumulated by human-
ity during the course of history, making him thus aware of the heritage that he must
safeguard, enrich and transmit to future generations. In this way, education helps to
enlarge in man the knowledge of man, nature and society. At the same time it de-
velops respect and esteem for other men and other peoples, the essential basis for
real and fruitful rapprochement and effective solidarity and for co-operation on a
worldwide scale.7 (1968, 193)

In spite of the external technological/military might that facilitated the


transatlantic enslavement and the imposition of colonial rule, resistance, sur-
vival, and a resilient will prevailed among African people in the diaspora and
the continent. The benefiting power and potential of the humanist vision and
wisdom accumulated should not be discarded in the face of continued use of

6
I have argued that the three Gs, gems (which include all resources from the soil—minerals and
fuel), greed, and guns, are the political and economic factors that constitute the most absolute and
tragic roadblock in the growth and development paths (Assié-Lumumba 2007). In basic conventional
economic terms, resources, be they natural, physical, financial, or human, are assets for economic en-
deavor that may lead to growth and, as the ultimate goal, to development.
7
It is important to note that the use of “man” (l’homme in the original French text) as a generic
term for humankind does not reflect African languages, which have a term for the male, another one
for the female, and a neutral term for humankind.

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education and technological means for the same goal of control and accu-
mulation (Rodney 1972). This vision cannot be emulated in a fiercely com-
petitive and mutually exclusive model. Rather, a new or a renewed humanist
perspective can be emulated globally to reenergize the world and give hope
to all.
Kissi stated: “The Akans . . . have a symbol representing wisdom and
knowledge; attached to this symbol is the saying: ‘In the depth of wisdom
abounds knowledge and thought.’ The truth expressed here may be taken to
mean either that wisdom may be yielded by nothing short of thought and the
effort to know, or that wisdom, knowledge and thought are one integrated
fund of cognitive richness. Either way, to be wise, to attain wisdom demands
thought and the effort to know. Or wisdom implies reflection” (1970, 179).
There is no assumption or pretense to have African procedures ready to be
applied at the local level (after lifting external forces of negative legacy) or at
the global level to save humanity. Rather, the idea is that through collective
reflection, hard work, and inspiration, elements of guiding lights can be
learned as humanist ethos, and, if emulated, it can contribute to collective
efforts to take the Global Village to another level of human possibilities for a
greater collective good. Hama wrote: “Old Africa offers, especially, her com-
munal life loaded with humanism which must not be rejected but rather
engaged toward the modern development of our continent which should
not refuse to take in any positive contribution that Africa can incorporate. . . .
This change will flush out, in the process, the old bottlenecks that are im-
bedded in our old society” (1968, 376).
While conducting research on educational systems, in elementary and
secondary schools and universities in different countries and social contexts,8
or when I am just visiting an educational unit, I love to ask young people
some basic and simple questions (similar to a UNICEF poster question, “What
do you want to be when you grow up?” to which the child replies, “I want to be
alive”). I am always struck, but not surprised, and encouraged by how positive
and similar aspirations of the young people of various socioeconomic
backgrounds are from across the globe. That is to say that they share the same
human dream of a world of equality of opportunities to unleash their po-
tential. However, there are striking differences when the young people are
asked about their expectations. Indeed, when they objectively assess the ac-
tual opportunities or real barriers of various sources in their respective en-

8
I have done this, e.g., in different secondary schools in Côte d’Ivoire in 1979, while conducting
research on educational selection and social inequality (for my PhD thesis); collecting data on rural
schools such as Molobala in Mali for research on the relationship between education and employment
in 1985, while I was working in the Malian Ministry of Education; studying gender and equality of
educational opportunity in São Tomé and Príncipe in 1997, while doing research for the Forum for
African Women Educationalists; visiting elementary and secondary schools in Higashi-Hiroshima in
Japan in 2003 for a better understanding of how Japanese schools work; or again in conducting research
on community schools in Senegal in 2006.

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ASSIÉ-LUMUMBA

vironments, their real worlds set them apart in terms of real possibilities
for equality and self-realization toward a greater common good for a better
world. Some of them are confident about their possibilities given the re-
sources and enabling environments they have, while others wake up from
their dream to the nightmare of their environment that is a hindrance and
full of obstacles.
Education founded on Ubuntu is conceptualized to provide learning
possibilities and use of learned thoughts and skills guided by values of a
common collective well-being. It provides vision for a shared world of peace
and justice. To a certain extent, the African notion of Ubuntu applies to the
members of extended family and wider communities encompassing both
ascriptive membership within relations of consanguinity and selected mem-
bership defined by affinity with its corresponding education that encom-
passes wisdom for a collective ethos that is global. Like in the African ex-
tended family, which considers the ancestors and future descendants as full
members of the family with equal rights, the global family should include all
the members of the human family with respect for, and connection to, the
entire social and physical ecology. Like in the extended family, the produc-
tion and consumption of wealth would be determined by the sense of per-
manent interconnectedness, generosity, and caring. Greater care would lead
to a modern, morally compassionate, and practically enabling state or other
social agents.
Mudimbe, in contrasting the Western and African modes of thinking
and ways of defining oneself in society, states: “Western philosophy accepts as
its starting point the notion of unconstrained and uncontextualized ‘I’—that
is, an ‘I’ defined in relation to the self and its inner being, rather than in
relation to others. The African mode, however, seems more communal and
emphasizes an ‘I’ that is always connected to and in relationship with others”
(1988, 1). In the general African ethos, “to be is necessarily to be in relation”
to others, and the “center is a human being who is free and at the same time
highly dependent upon others, on the memory of the past, and on empha-
sizing the balance between nature and culture” (1). This perception is dif-
ferent from the anthropocentric and individualistic dimensions of human
beings as conceptualized and lived in the dominant Western social paradigm.
In the African ethos and practical life, this connection with others is essen-
tial. The connection transits through the common culture and is not a mere
juxtaposition of individuals living side by side who only draw resources from
the same cultural source and have the same reference. Rather, they experi-
ence their cultural expression together as a community.
Coetzee refers to the “typification of a communitarian morality . . . in
terms of the idea of social meanings rather than in terms of the moral codes.”
He further argues, in his analysis of “dialogical relation,” that it is one of the
key “social conditions which unite a community’s social and moral identity”

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and “a community of mutuality” (Coetzee 1998, 278). Wiredu identifies a


typology and continuum of “human sociality” and argues that “in the con-
sciousness of moral humankind there is a finely graduated continuum of the
intensity . . . which ranges, in an ascending order, from the austerely de-
limited social sympathies of rigorous individualism to the pervasive commit-
ment social involvement characteristic of communalism. It is a common-
place of anthropological wisdom that African social organisation manifests
the latter type of outlook. Akan society is eminently true to this typology . . . of
a type in which the greatest value is attached to communal belonging” (1998,
311). In this characterization, it is worth noting the idea of a continuum as
opposed to a dichotomy or mutually exclusive sets in the form of an “ideal
type.” Thus, the criticism of essentialism that may be articulated against the
idea of African collective cultural reference loses at least part of its legiti-
macy. Wiredu also stresses the notion of “the essential dependency of the
human condition” (311).
I submit that this realization as sine qua non for global well-being re-
quires a recognition of the need to widen the circle of those who are con-
nected by crossing ethnic, national, and regional boundaries toward an ul-
timate single circle on the world scale. This would open new possibilities in
reaffirming and strengthening the powerful message of the collective ethos
Ubuntu, thus removing the need to create or feed the roots of the “Other” on
a negative premise. The notion of a Global Village is to be a guiding light
for individual and collective action. Mwaipaya criticized African humanism
defined as a “metaphysical principle,” which rejects “hypocrisy, greed, self-
centredness, and the like” (1981, 5), a conception articulated by Kaunda
(1968) in its application to Zambia.
Generally, these ideas have not been implemented, yet within the con-
text of contemporary African states and their educational systems they have
been put in place or reproduced from the colonial experience. Thus, there
is legitimacy in the skepticism expressed by policy makers and scholars (Mwai-
paya 1981). However, this collective African philosophy and policy guide is
not presented as a recipe that is ready to be used uniformly across the con-
tinent and the world. Rather, the foundation may or ought to be used to
conceptualize, design, and implement policies factoring in new social and
unfolding realities. And studies on African social systems and institutions
ought to recognize and include this foundation.
Colonization and its ensuing policies operate in absolute terms of con-
trol and denial of cultural pluralism as a way of justifying colonial acts. Fur-
ther, strategically colonial rigidity can be explained by the assumption or re-
alization that deliberately allowing room for diversity can be a self-defeating
move, which can lead the colonized to find room to assert themselves even
when using passive resistance. Thus, the colonial and postcolonial context
in which research and learning have taken place, like slavery and the post-

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ASSIÉ-LUMUMBA

bellum context of research and knowledge production in general and in


learning, has an organic continuity. Hence, there are the continued contra-
dictions in educational processes and persistence of power relations that
shape academic disciplines and pursuit. In the West in general, especially in
the United States, solutions sought to create a rupture and address these
issues that included multiculturalism—especially in the 1990s (Torres 1998)—
and its intrinsic limitations, although it could be considered part of the per-
spectives offered in postcolonial, feminist, and critical race theories challeng-
ing “the notion of unqualified reason and universality” and the quest “to
decolonize the mind” (428).
The point is that there is a theoretical and cultural framework, which if
applied, both in Africa and globally, can be deemed universally acceptable
and beneficial. Infusing into the globalization that hitherto feeds on de-
pendency, marginalization, and “greed” a notion of either nurturing collec-
tive well-being or sowing the seeds of the real possibility of collective collapse
appears crucial. These ideas have been strongly articulated by leaders and
scholars such as Nkrumah (1964) in his pursuit of a global alliance that would
provide an alternative theory and policy base for world peace.
Contemporary African education has suffered from several fundamental
problems. One of them is the forced juxtaposition of the European and the
African systems of education on a hierarchical basis, with the European sys-
tem on the top and the only one considered legitimate. While it was denied
agency, the African system was not successfully eradicated by colonial policy.
Individuals and groups are forced to resolve the tension between the two
without the benefit of consistent, systemic, and sustained policy that attempts
to create a constructive dialogue between them. Another major problem is
the lack of systematized and appropriated mechanisms to permanently in-
vigorate the indigenous system as the foundation and using it with confi-
dence, thereby unfreezing Africa’s empowering and positive cultural refer-
ence, which was denied free agency for the purpose of justifying transatlantic
enslavement and colonial domination.
The task in creating a framework for purposeful fusion (Assié-Lumumba
2004, 2005, 2016) is to conceive a new space where the creative power and
scientific inquiry will simultaneously:

1. reenergize the lines between the contemporary realities and needs with
the African repository of knowledge and ways of doing things;
2. appropriate the “received knowledge,” dissect it, and make a selective
choice;
3. proceed with a fusion that entails linking past to present and that in-
corporates hitherto disparate elements to create a new cultural whole
with a common reference in a forward-looking perspective; and

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PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

4. position Africans to provide grounds for solving world problems be-


yond Africa (Mazrui 1992).

If Africans are free to hold new positions of strength based on a collective


ethos, they will be able to address, apart from their own problems, those of
the global community. I postulate that it is not only Africa that needs help.9
The global system of compulsive exploitation also needs help in order to
learn to see the good of collective well-being, rather than always seeking
opportunities for further senseless exploitation, accumulation, and domi-
nation. The 2008/2009 economic and financial crises lifted the veil over just
a corner of the antisocial faces of the agents and beneficiaries who created
the greed-driven and jungle-law-based global system of exploitation and the
resulting type of education system needed for reproducing themselves.
In order to succeed, we need a paradigm shift; that is, a serious study
with a new method and perspective to fully identify the actual hindering
factors is needed. An African philosophy of education in comparative per-
spectives, a redefinition of the content, and a new curriculum require at-
tention to clearly set the parameters for an educational policy toward higher
knowledge.
For instance, Ngunangwa refers to the Tanzanian case in which the
country “introduced the subject of political education and development stud-
ies to create awareness and commitment to operative endeavor, and social
goals of living and working together for the common good” (1988, 2). Nyerere
articulated the specific case of Tanzania as follows:

The education provided by Tanzania for the students of Tanzania must serve the
purposes of Tanzania. It must encourage the growth of the socialist values we aspire
to. It must encourage the development of a proud, independent, and free citizenry
which relies upon itself for its own development, and which knows the advantages
and problems of cooperation. It must ensure that all educated citizens know them-
selves to be an integral part of the nation and recognize the responsibility to give
greater service for the greater opportunities they have had. . . . Let our students be
educated to be members and servants of the kind of just and egalitarian future to
which the country aspires. (1968, 410–14)

This aspiration could be, and ought to be, that of the citizenry of the Global
Village. In this context, comparative and international education would take
on a new dimension in studies, teaching, and becoming global citizens.

9
The new United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals at least implicitly lean toward that
conception.

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ASSIÉ-LUMUMBA

Concluding and Forward-Looking Reflection

Regarding the two overlapping fields (comparative and international


education), the current challenges are in terms of acknowledging different
values for our collective sake within our common humanity. In her presidential
address, Ruth Hayhoe recalled a conversation with Vandra Masemann (1990)
whose presidential address a few years earlier acknowledged that she was in
agreement with Ruth about the importance of having “metanarratives after
all” (Hayhoe 2000, 423). This suggests that the journey for researchers and
the fields does not end, and it ought to concern all researchers in perma-
nently examining the paradigms, research methodologies, and the broader
questions of evolving ways of knowing. But changing ways of knowing has
complex ramifications and nuances, as it challenges the assumption of mo-
nopoly of canons.
Indeed, it may imply that the “usual” producers of mainstream knowl-
edge change the ways that they do their work and the interpretation of the
results. It may also imply or in fact require that the category of producers of
knowledge include those whose knowledge had been historically produced
as a norm or regular practice without their perspectives being taken seriously
into consideration. Thus, both the social spaces in which knowledge is pro-
duced about specific institutions such schools as well as knowledge producers
located in different spaces may engage in the process of forming their re-
spective perspectives. As Hayhoe argues: “We face the task of understanding
the experience of other civilizations in projects of modernity not yet com-
plete, listening to the wisdom they have gained as they have sought to adapt
the modernity project to their own context, and learning lessons that can be
applied to a redemptive process in our own civilization. Habermas’ concept
of communicative action—and his image of the interrelation of life world
and system—is one way of understanding this dialogue” (2000, 430).
Education systems in transformative frameworks proposed by authors
and activists such as Illich (1972) and Freire (1993) constitute deliberate dis-
ruptions of the conventional education process and its institutional appara-
tuses and ensuing ways of research. Some have argued that despite the fun-
damentally intractable nature of education as an institution set to reproduce
the existing social structure, it is possible to envisage and engage in actions
that deliberately aim at limiting conservative, nonprogressive, and consensus-
bound education. It is argued that even if it is not possible to completely
create a new system out of the old, it is possible to create spaces for construc-
tive subversion for the common good. For instance, authors such as Postman
and Weingartner (1971), hooks (1994, 2003), and Zaalouk (2006) articulate
the process and engagement for carving out constructive and redeeming pos-
sibilities for a transformative wider society.

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PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

In a typology of genres of “relational theorizing,” Ross stated: “A sec-


ond genre of relational theorizing is rooted in and inspired by indigenous or
local knowledge. This genre is illustrated by the current popularity and
evocation of the ideal of ubuntu” (2002, 416). As argued earlier, in this genre
there is the quest for equal footing in treatments, agency, and perspectives in
the social reference of respective societies and knowledge production.
The journey in search of the meaning of and requirement for learning
and knowing in comparative and international education seems to be an
endless process in acknowledging social dynamics and their constant move-
ments in asking, As we pursue comparative education, what are our criteria
for studying systems and practices? Trying to answer such a question, among
others, with an open mind can ensure a permanent corrective measure that
can offer possibilities of growth and renewal to the field of comparative and
international education.

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