Africa – Can Education Contribute to Development

Social and Moral Challenges

Two weeks ago, I left Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, a southern-central African country of great potentials, great problems. I am on my way to the USA, to spend several months in the task of fundraising for our new Loyola Jesuit Secondary School in Malawi. Now ““fundraising” is no ““FUN-raising,” so I have had to do some serious thinking about what it means to be part of a team starting up a new school in a country where educational opportunities are presently severely limited. But more about that later.

What I have been challenged to think about, to write and speak about, in my fundraising activities is the link between education and development, between relevant education and authentic development. My ideas are not so very new, so very radical. But they are ideas that I’m often surprised are not more widespread, more accepted, more implemented.

My own experiences have been more in the development field, working many years in Washington DC and then the past 24 years in Zambia and Malawi. So let me begin by sharing what I see are challenges to the understanding of development. For many of you in this audience, these challenges may not be new. But unfortunately, for many policy makers in both rich and poor countries today, these challenges are still not attended to.

Authectic Development 

About forty years ago, I was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University in the USA, doing research on something called ““social indicators,” non-economic measurements of the well-being of persons and society in terms of health, education, life expectancy, literacy, participation, cultural harmony, etc. Not simply GDP measurements of abstract economic growth, but real life pictures of how people actually were doing. My training was in political science and I was looking at the generation, use and impacts of these statistics.

My scholarly research turned into practical application in the advocacy work in which I became involved in Washington DC and in Zambia. For I faced the fact that an emphasis on the social dimensions, the human dimensions, of development was not in fact central to the dominant definition and prevailing direction of what was promoted as ““development.” Unfortunately, the key question was not always asked first: what is happening to the people?

The governing economic paradigm of the 1970s and 1980s (and still too influential today!) was the paradigm of Walter Rostow’s The Stages of Economic Growth, wherein development was seen primarily as a planned effort to for a ““developing” country to ““take off” by increasing economic growth, which – hopefully – would ““trickle down” to the masses. This guided the development policies of the World Bank and the IMF, the aid programmes of the United States and other rich donor nations, and the policy priorities and directions taken by so many countries in the so-called ““Third World.”

But it was a paradigm that came to be challenged both by results on the ground and by several significant analytical and ethical publications.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI published his Progress of Peoples (““Populorum Progressio“). As Donal Dorr has commented, this document ““raises crucial questions about the nature of human development, and about whose task it is to bring it about”¦.” Paul said that development is ““for each and for all, the transition from less human conditions to those which are more human” (#20) and ““In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every person and of the whole person” (#14). In other words, people first! The first and most important question to ask in any development planning and evaluation is: what is happening to the people, and not, what is happening to the economy?

This of course was the emphasis of the very influential book published a few years later, in 1973, E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful. (Really, a small but very beautiful book!) Its subtitle tells it argument so succinctly, so pointedly: Economics As If People Mattered. Yes, this was the test of true development: what is happening to the people?

Then came two very important works: the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) annual reports (beginning in 1990) and the ““human capabilities” measurement of Nobel Prize Laureate Amartya Sen in his monumental study Development as Freedom (2000). Both lifted up the social indicators approach to tell what was happening to people, to put people first.

I mention these publications because they were powerful analytical challenges to the dominant model of development that influenced – and I am sorry to say still does influence – so much of the policies, priorities, plans and programmes that hold sway in the increasingly globalised world of today.

Surely there are counter-emphases to the dominant model – for example, the human centred approach of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or Trocaire’s vision of ““a just and peaceful world where people’s dignity is ensured and rights are respected; where basic needs are met and resources are shared equitably; where people have control over their own lives and those in power act for the common good.”

But I have seen in too many instances, too many instances, that whereas clear data flows in about the human dimensions, appropriate directions don’t always flow out in the supported programmes. By that I mean that we may have some better understanding of development but this is not always implemented in development practice. Let me mention just two cases as examples I am familiar with from more than two decades of my work in Zambia and Malawi. Both are countries very, very low on the UNDP Human Development Index, Zambia 164 of 187, Malawi 170 out of 187. (For comparison, Ireland is 7 out of 187 – believe it or not!)

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been strongly promoted in Zambia, following the pressures of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) promoted by the World Bank and IMF in the 1990s. The copper mines have been a primary focus of this FDI. But whereas GDP figures, economic growth measurements, have increased significantly in the past decade, measurements of human improvement, of poverty eradication, have not always increased in parallel fashion. Taxes on mining have not been fare, with a consequent lack of improvements in social services such as health and education. Employment increases and good working conditions have been erratic. And pollution levels affecting community health have been dangerous. And so we can ask about Zambia: what is happening to the people?

In Malawi, the major investor and accepted driver of development is China. Big infrastructure projects of hotels, conference centres, shopping malls, stadiums, roads, leave a Chinese mark. But what about promotion of social services – no! Or decent working conditions — no! Or sustainable environmental concerns – no! Or protection of human rights – certainly, no! I don’t want to be unfair, but the previous President of Malawi had praised the Chinese because ““They don’t ask questions!” When I left Malawi two weeks ago, the words ““inflation” (as high as 40% this year) and ““devaluation” (as dramatic as 200% over this past year) described a development situation, guided by IMF instructions. In this situation, the answer to a central question was — unfortunately but not unpredictably – absent from the major factors determining policy decisions: what is happening to the people?

In the language of the day, both Zambia and Malawi are ““developing countries” – but surely we must ask, are Zambians and Malawians ““developing peoples”? Women, men, youth and children who are really humanly developing?

Relevant Education

So what about education in this situation of development, relevant education for authentic development? Relevant education that promotes human dignity, community values, basic literacy, skills training, social integration, gender equity, ecological sensitivity? It surely does not demand much proof to assert that there is no authentic development possible and sustainable without strong commitment to this well-rounded education of the population. This is the place of the stress laid upon promotion of the ““social capital” necessary for development to take place in the present and in the future throughout Africa. (I hesitate to use the words ““social capital” if they would divert our attention from human worth to economic value.)

Key components of ““social capital,” of course, are women and the importance of gender equity. More than enough evidence has been gathered to demonstrate the relationship between schooling of young girls and their future lives and the future of their communities and countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, 62% of the men are literate, while 54% for the women are literate. We know that good education for girls has consequences for lowering birth rates, lessening child mortality, reducing early marriages, increasing job opportunities, and engaging in civic, democratic activities. All necessities for authentic human development.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal #3 calls for the achievement of universal primary education, with the target of ensuring that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. The presumption, of course, is that it was not simply a full course of attending school but also a full course of being well educated in that school.

All too often, education for the poorest goes on, if it does at all, in highly inadequate facilities with untrained and badly compensated teachers. Scenes of students sitting under a tree are not uncommon. As you might appreciate, not much learning goes on during the rainy season! In too many instances, government budgets for education are grossly insufficient, poorly targeted and badly managed.

In the Kasungu district of Malawi that I am very familiar with, less than 25% of the youth attend secondary school. Of those who do, less than 40% actually complete school with even the most minimal of passing marks. Very few go any further in education.

Now I must make the obvious point that Malawi has no future in the world of today if it does not educate its youth. Bring in the Chinese, exploit potential oil reserves, promote tourism. But if we don’t educate our youth, there is no chance of authentic development!

Let me tell a story, an imagined story made up from true parts. It is a story about Thandiwe, a young Malawian woman who lives in the Kasungu district described above. Thandiwe’s story as constructed here is a composite of typical features that can be repeated many times throughout Malawi and wider in Africa today.

This year, Thandiwe will graduate from Standard Eight (8th grade) from a government primary school. And it is anticipated that she will finish with very high marks. She has always liked school. Her teacher says Thandiwe is ““very bright and works very hard,” so it’s no surprise she has consistently been at the top of her class.

Thandiwe wants very much to go on to a good secondary school next year and someday to become a nurse, maybe even a doctor. But she worries because most people she knows, especially women, never completed secondary school.

The closest government secondary school near to Thandiwe’s village home is 8 kilometres (5 miles) – a 90-minute walk each way. Like most government secondary schools in the Kasungu district, it has no electricity, library, science lab, or even running water. 60% of the students from these schools generally drop out, and close to half of those who remain fail the final exams.

It’s particularly hard for girls to succeed. That’s because they are required to cook, clean the house, work in the fields, and care for their younger siblings in addition to or in place of their studies. Girls are often sexually assaulted on the way to school, and many drop out due to early pregnancies. A private, well-equipped boarding school could help address many of these problems. But Thandiwe’s family simply could not begin to afford the fees at such a private school.

Given this reality, as bright, hardworking and ambitious as Thandiwe is, it’s likely that her formal education will simply come to a halt at the completion of her Standard Eight grade in primary school. Her ambitions for further education that would enable her to make some significant contributions to the real development of Malawi will be stifled.

Unfortunately, Thandiwe’s situation is all too common in the country, with immediate ill effects and long-term damaging consequences. The block to her present education will mean a block to future medical care in this very poor country, one more block to the true human development of the Malawian people.

I would argue, therefore, that the social challenge facing us here is to recognise that without relevant education, there is no authentic development.

And the moral challenge? Let me tell you of at least one concrete effort to make a difference in the lives of many young people like Thandiwe. And I personally do consider it a response to a moral challenge. That is the exciting project I am currently engaged with, the construction of Loyola Jesuit Secondary School in the Kasungu District where Thandiwe and thousands of other young women and men like her live.

When we Jesuits of the Zambia-Malawi Province of the Society of Jesus announced we would start a school in Malawi, many expected it to be a private boy’s school in the capital of Lilongwe. But that is not what is to be! We are locating in a poor rural area, Kasungu, some 120 km from the capital, and it will be a co-educational boarding school for 500 students. Loyola Jesuit Secondary School will be a grant-aided school where the government pays the teachers and staff. This means that tuition will be much lower and more readily available to families of lesser means. We will make a special effort to offer a very good educational opportunity to the young women and men around us in Kasungu.

Indeed, Loyola Jesuit Secondary School is a real ““option for the poor” on the part of our Zambia-Malawi Jesuit Province! (Perhaps Pope Francis (S.J.!) has us in mind these days!)

I repeat the obvious point of the connection between education and development: there is no real future for Malawi unless the people of Malawi are educated and therefore empowered - empowered to rear healthy families, start their own business ventures, raise needed agricultural produce, engage sensitively with the their environment, participate in their political processes, serve as doctors and nurses, teachers and counselors, and essentially help build their country from the ground up.

Our Loyola Jesuit Secondary School will have students from different churches, indeed, from different faith traditions. But surely we will pattern our education along the lines of a truly Jesuit ethos and Ignatian pedagogy. This means, as expressed in our vision statement, we aim to form graduates of conscience, competence, compassion and commitment. Young women and men who are ““people for others” (Arrupe). And our aim will be that our students learn not simply to make a living but to make a difference! Yes, those are all very nice phrases – please check up on us that they become very true realities!


Let me wrap up by returning to the story of Thandiwe. So much of what I’ve briefly discussed about development and education, about authentic development that is people-centred, and about relevant education that is people-empowering, in Africa (indeed, in the much wider world), is heightened when we consider the future of that young woman, Thandiwe. She deserves more, we deserve more.

I am convinced, I firmly believe, that that raises the social and moral challenges we all must face!

Peter Henriot, S.J.
Director of Development
Loyola Jesuit Secondary School
Kasungu, Malawi