Pluralism in African schools

Posted on February 20, 2016 12:21 am

Schools and institutions of higher learning are playing a significant role in promoting the values of pluralism and are adopting a spirit of maintaining diversity whether it is in ethnic groups, religions or culture which has helped embrace the values of mutual respect and tolerance.The term “”pluralism”” is increasingly becoming one of the most important catchwords in the era of Pan Africanism and globalization.The invocation of pluralism has become as much as a summons as a celebration, an urgent exhortation to the citizens of the Africa to come to terms with their increasing diversity.All of these hard realities have imparted the urgent need for better recognition and management of religious pluralism. One of the main reasons is the recognition of religious pluralism among the followers of religions promises to advance the principle of inclusiveness, which would enhance accommodation, not conflict, among competing claims to religious truth in religiously and culturally heterogeneous societies. Such an inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, should lead to a sense of multiple and unique possibilities for enriching the human quest for spiritual and moral well-being.Toleration does not require an active engagement with the other; it makes no inroads on mutual ignorance. In a continent in which religious differences historically have been manipulated to burn bridges between communities, recognition and understanding of religious differences require all the believers to enter into knowledgeable dialogue with one another, even in the face of major disagreements.Schools in Africa are playing a key role in pluralism and are regarded as miniatures of “true” African societies. “True” means societies outside the classrooms where members of the classrooms are from. As they are miniatures of society, classrooms are serving as a perfect site in which ideal, accepted and good values are taught, adopted and celebrated.

These are then being disseminated by the members of the classroom to the general public, once they go back to their “True” society.Of the many values and ideals that are taught to students in African schools as members of classroom society are awareness and understanding of pluralism.The idea of pluralism must be understood, here, as the inevitable fact that Africa societies are made up of various groups, ethnicities, beliefs and religions, of which we have to be aware. This awareness may be indicated by first, not feeling, thinking and believing that Black or Arab Africans are the one and only privileged group, holding the truth about all matters before learning what others have to say about their continent.It is also a form of Africans recognition of the possibility that other groups may be right about things in question and hold alternative truths about them.In brief, being aware of plurality and the idea of pluralism should prevent Africans from becoming a regime of truth that downplays, or worse, denies other groups that are different from them without justifiable grounds.In the context of Sub Saharan African countries, many believe that an awareness and understanding of pluralism is essential to be experienced, recognized, lived and held dearly.The fact that many social upheavals in the continent have been motivated by the arrogance and ignorance of a particular group over others has strongly encouraged those claiming to be pluralists to promote the idea of pluralism to the public in general.As members of African societies, teachers and lecturers should be able to share the idea of pluralism. They are expected to make their students aware and adopt pluralism.Staunch proponents of pluralism in Africa would think that, if possible, students should be “convinced” to be pluralists.

While the idea sounds logical and beneficial, there are some issues that teachers and lecturers are often faced with.For example, in African classrooms teachers and lecturers still play a dominant role in almost everything, including in deciding what constitutes right and wrong. It is an encouraging fact that there are teachers and lecturers who try to be democratic by accommodating different ideas and interpretations of particular matters being discussed in the classroom.However, at the end of the day, they have to decide that certain ideas are more important, which often translates as more ideal, than others. This means that opinions and ideas other than those agreed to be more important are not plausible, not ideal.As the ones learning to be academics, students in Africa have to rely more on and defend what has been agreed as the consensus of the class, and put aside, perhaps even reject, the ideas considered false.Many of African students cannot make their own decisions on certain matters when they are given the space and chance. This means that the “facts” often comes from their teachers or lecturers as the authority figures.Learning from this, students in Africa think that there are certain “powerful institutions” that define for them what constitutes the truth. Since they are powerful, their interpretation has to be right and adopted if they do not want to face the consequences of having a different idea.Also, the idea of pluralism itself needs to be critically approached and clarified further before Africans adopt it. This is important in order that Africans countries do not fall into the other type of anarchism since they need to recognize difference and cannot claim to be the one having access to and knowing the facts, then all ideas are right and all groups hold the facts.Arguably, it will be helpful to introduce a fact to the members of the classroom that the African continent is a contested arena, a site where Africans struggle to have a say on certain matters.What Africans can and should do is to search for justifiable grounds for the things they say and believe.

If others have different ideas on the matter, they should study their grounds before they judge that their ideas are false.Africans should listen and respect what they say and believe on the matter. At the same time, however, when Africans are convinced that their grounds are not justifiable, they should not hesitate to take a firm stand that their ideas cannot be accepted.Pluralism should not hinder Africans from sticking to their guns when they are convinced that their ideas are grounded and facts. This is especially true with religion.Africans should teach their students that they should recognize and respect the differences in and between religions.In addition, they should also be informed that all religions are not the same, that they should, as an adherent of any religion, believe that their religion is the only truth.This will avoid students from “manufacturing” a new religion from bits and pieces of wisdom found in various existing religions.In the event of any “discovering” between what they believe and what others believe, African students should be convinced that peaceful dialogue should come first before any other necessary actions are taken.In a continent where people compete to disseminate their ideas and beliefs, it is indeed a challenge for Africans not to fall into either extreme; refusing all others who are different on one side, and accepting everyone, even those who are fundamentally different, on the other side.It is even more challenging to teach African students these idea because as people with certain beliefs,they may want African students to adopt perspectives which might be biased and driven by own vested interests.Despite all the challenges, though, teaching pluralism to African students is worth the effort. It is a pluralism that should not hinder Africa from having a firm stance on fundamental matters that should be celebrated and disseminated in the classroom, not a pluralism that prevents Africans from having a clear stance because they try to cater to all ideas, even those fundamentally “untruth and risky”, in the name of freedom of expression.

Contador Harrison