What is quality assurance in higher education?: Part Two…need to satisfy national vision


IF one looks around Chinese buildings, one cannot escape a certain uniformity of shape.
Their architectural design reflects Chinese philosophy. For instance, the veranda-hat roof-tops signify perpetuity, that is; refusal to let go what has been gained from history.
Related to this, the fundamental question that their scholars have to satisfy to pass for a professor is: Of what value is your research to China?
Embedded in the question is the need to satisfy the national vision which derives from their philosophy, their worldview.
You go to their hotels and wish to express your appreciation of the comfort by giving the waiter/waitress a tip (something quite common in the US), you will be disappointed. Their hard work ethic dissuades Chinese people from donor-dependency syndrome. Such is the importance of philosophy in directing all human experience.
The two examples above amply demonstrate the role of philosophy in directing not only education in Africa but also quality-assuring it. The point has already been made that for any education to be relevant, it must serve the needs of the people for whom it is meant.
That means, for as long as people have different needs, they will have to receive different education menus.
Equally so, the quality of any education must be measured against the extent to which it satisfies the needs of the target client. It must speak to their needs, which needs are informed by the people’s national vision which itself derives from the national philosophy (the sum-total of values which give the people their view of themselves and their place in the cosmos).
Africans are not without such a philosophy. It has always been there from time immemorial. It has always defined who they are; how they relate with one another; how they relate to their natural environment; how they relate to their departed; and how they relate to their Creator.
That glue for cosmic order has always been there, only that it was never used to determine processes of the formal education systems imposed on Africans by competing ‘predators and destroyers’. Notwithstanding, it did inform earlier forms of African education. As Julius Nyerere (1967) accurately observes:
“The fact that pre-colonial Africa did not have ‘schools’— except for short periods of initiation in some tribes — did not mean that the children were not educated.
They learned by living and doing.
In the homes and on the farms, they were taught the skills of the society and the behaviour expected of its members.
They learned the kind of grasses which were suitable for which purposes, the work which had to be done on the crops, or the care which had to be given to animals by joining with their elders in this work.
They learned the tribal history and the tribe’s relationship with other tribes and with the spirits, by listening to the stories of the elders. Through these means, and by the custom of sharing to which young people were taught to conform, the values of the society were transmitted.
Education was thus ‘informal’ (and) every adult was a teacher to a greater or lesser degree. But this lack of formality did not mean that there was no education, nor did it affect its importance to the society. Indeed, it may have made the education more directly relevant to the society in which the child was growing up.”
Those who have been listening closely here should have established that the philosophy which drove the so-called informal African education was hunhu/ubuntu, whose purpose was principally to produce munhu/umuntu.
‘Hunhu’ is a Shona word which is ‘ubuntu’ in Nguni.
The concept of hunhu/ubuntu in Zimbabwe is similar to that of other African cultures.
Hunhu/ubuntu is a social philosophy which embodies virtues that celebrate the mutual social responsibility, mutual assistance, trust, sharing, unselfishness, self-reliance, caring and respect for others, among other ethical values.
It means behaviour patterns acceptable to people. It may be known by different nomenclatures depending on languages but the bottom-line is that this philosophy is clearly understood by all Africans.
The cornerstone of this humane philosophy is unity of purpose; that is, valuing others before oneself; hence common axioms such as:
l “Munhu munhu navanhu.” (You derive your identity and value from others).
l “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” (You derive your identity and value from others)
The point is that, only the people are qualified to give worth, measured against their values systems.
As Okot p’ Bitek (1986:19) explains, personhood (hunhu/ubuntu) is acquired:
“It is something to be achieved, not given simply because one is born of human seed. The human person is intrinsically a communal being embedded in a context of social relationships with fellow beings.
The human society is not a mere association of individual persons pursuing different personal interests; but a group of persons linked by interpersonal bonds (biological and social) defined primarily by common interests, goals and values enshrined in their shared culture (and philosophy).” (my emphasis).
This collective individuality can be expressed in different ways but the principle of oneness remains supreme.
For instance, Chinua Achebe sums up this concept of metaphysical unity in Nigeria creatively by saying:
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving.
They all have food in their own homes.
When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”
Even in this simplicity, Achebe makes it plain that Africans value both collateral value as well as collateral damage.
In a nutshell, they value both collective responsibility and collective accountability.
Education must therefore prepare the young to have values of hunhu/ubuntu.
Its content must teach values that tend towards sharing and mutual benefit; hence lessons are drawn from everyday language forms such as proverbs and idioms such as:
l “Kune wenyu kunzou.” (You will not be missed out as you have one of your own where distribution is done).
l “Ane maoko maviri haatsvi nenyemba.” (He who has two hands will not be scarred by hot beans).
l Varume ndivamwe kutsva kwendebvu vanodzimurana.” (Men are all the same, when their beards burn, they help each other to extinguish the fire).
l “Rume rimwe harikombi churu.” (A single person, no matter how big, does not encircle an anthill alone).
l “Gumwe rimwe haritswanyi inda.” (A single thump does not kill a louse).
All these point towards a philosophy which derives legitimacy and strength from the people.


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