Philosophy of Education as a Means to Educate Humanity in a Diverse South Africa (2023)

Philosophy of Education as a Means to Educate Humanity in a Diverse South Africa (1)


In 1948 the National Party won the election in South Africa and introduced its policy of apartheid. Education became a political battle field, without considering educating human beings for a human society. A narrative of power was followed. The school was used as an instrument to support and legitimise the position of the dominant group and its political interests.

The culturally divided population was kept divided to ensure the dominant group's position in all spheres of society. Conformity to and continuity of the ideologies and culture of the dominant group were more important than social change (Venter et al, in press) .

Christian National Education was the ideology which was responsible for the transmission of Eurocentric values and culture to everyone in the school system and assimilation to that became very important (Squelch, 1993; Venter et al, in press). The perception was that objective knowledge and education could only be found in Eurocentric content. This kind of knowledge resided outside the immediate context of especially the black student.

With the long-awaited political and constitutional changes taking place in South Africa a different societal structure has been established and a new democratic value system formally and officially embraced. It would, however, be naive to imagine that policy changes would change deeply-rooted attitudes, practices and existing structures overnight - the change into a democratic society does unfortunately not mean that a political, social and educational Utopia has been created instantaneously (Venter et al, in press).

There is, however, a clear distinction between the pre democratic and the new democratic South Africa. Not only does this distinction refer to a shift in political and constitutional conditions, but in more general terms, it refers to a major shift in the value and philosophical frameworks which underpin the basis of South African society (Venter et al, in press).

All learners in South Africa will have to develop the skills, knowledge, competence and attitudes to function effectively in a diverse society. It will require a major paradigm shift from most educators, philosophers of education and teacher trainers. This kind of transformation is not an easy task. It requires an open mind and the willingness to understand others and to change one's own presuppositions (Venter et al, in press).

The question, however, remains whether policy changes will necessarily cause a paradigm shift towards a more humane co-existence of a diverse population within the same society? Should philosophers, philosophers of education and educators in general not give more attention to educating humanity and education for humanity to bring a divided nation together?

With reference to the emphasis on social diversity, Svi Shapiro (1995) asks the following question: "If we all speak only from within our specific situations and identities (the sexually oppressed, native peoples, the old, the mentally disabled, women) who speaks for humanity?" - Perhaps humaneness might be a point to advance towards, instead of only concentrating on differences. A public discourse which includes the experience, needs and hopes of a broad spectrum of people without privileging any one group might be the answer; this discourse should have the healing of society as its concern. Unity in difference should become increasingly important (Venter et al, in press).

In this article I propose a way of educating humanity in a diverse society in Philosophy of Education. What is proposed is a pluralistic problem centred approach as one way of meeting the needs of student teachers to cope with a variety of viewpoints, but also of empowering teachers in practice to cope with difficult situations in their diverse classrooms.


South Africa is a country of many nations, cultures and value systems. South Africans differ inter alia in race, religion, heritage and ideology.

For decades the white Afrikaans speaking South Africans, through the social structures and mass media, dictated which values and cultural norms dominated in the country. The values in the school system, enforced through state policy, were Christian National in nature. Although the white Afrikaners were not the dominant group in numbers, they dominated politics, the church and the school system for years (Venter et al, in press). According to Schoeman (1995) general social stratification and human alienation were reinforced in this way.

Western culture and values dominated without acknowledging and considering the African origin of the vast majority of people. The western, capitalistic, individualistic view of life is often in direct opposition to the more group-oriented outlook of the African cultures. The task of getting balance in the core culture of such a disparate society is a difficult assignment for its people (Venter et al, in press).

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According to Mkabela and Luthuli (1997) the building of a unified South African society will require the recognition of diversity in the country in its education system. "Integration, separatism, accomodation and tolerance will provide an education base for understanding interracial relations across the country... An ideal type of education places emphasis on unity in diversity."

In the African culture the concept of 'ubuntu' plays a major role. It emphasises the humanity of a person and is seen as the most important quality of a person. "Humanness is characterised by generosity, love, maturity, hospitality, politeness, understanding and humility. It has to do with ... existential peace. It implies treating other people with dignity and respect" (Mkabela&Luthuli, 1997). Teachers should be educated to nuture humanness among the youth. Teachers and learners should realise that we have our humanness in common, despite differences.


South Africa's first democratic election took place in April 1994. Part of the preamble to the Constitution which was amended in October 1996 sounds as follow:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

An overview of the prominent policy documents released since the establishment of the new political dispensation in South Africa, displays a marked change in attitude and spirit in favour of democratic principles and human rights at all levels and areas of governmental concern (Venter et al, in press).

Section 29 of the Final Constitution of South Africa (1996) determines:

-the right to basic education

-equal access to education institutions

-instruction in a language of choice where it is reasonably possible

-the right to establish educational institutions of common culture and religion provided that there is no discrimination on the grounds of race.

In a formal sense the Constitution obliges education authorities to ensure that democratic structures, education models and curricula are put in place. In a more informal sense it has to be ensured that democratic values and tolerance are cultivated in schools and that a change in attitudes is brought about (Venter et al, in press).

The increased awareness of human dignity and diverse perceptions in a multicultural South African society form part of the change in the moral perceptions of many South Africans. There is an awareness that individuals and their personal contexts and values are important and these values should be accommodated in a more humane South Africa (Venter et al, in press).

To function in a democratic system, cultural differences and value plurality need to be acknowledged, but somehow, South Africans now also need to recognise similarities. Because of its variety of cultural groups, adequate cultural interaction becomes very important. Young ([1990] cited in McLaren, 1994; Venter et al, in press) affirms the necessity to assert the positivity of group difference by inter alia claiming that formerly oppressed groups have distinct cultures, experiences, and perspectives on social life with humanly positive meaning. The emphasis on humanness and that which would promote humanity is, thus, very important.

Trinh T. Minh-ha (see McLaren, 1994) says that multiculturalism is not

"...the juxtaposition of several cultures whose frontiers remain intact, nor is it to subscribe to a bland 'melting pot' type of attitude that would level all differences. It lies, instead, in the intercultural acceptance of risks, unexpected detours, and complexities of relation between break and closure".

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This attitude of unity in diversity is also echoed by Bhiku Parekh (see Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993) who gives the following description of multiculturalism:

"Multiculturalism doesn't simply mean numerical plurality of different cultures, but rather a community which is creating, guaranteeing, encouraging spaces within which different communities are able to grow at their own pace. At the same time it meant creating a public space in which these communities are able to interact, enrich the existing culture and create a consensual culture in which they recognize reflections of their own identity".


Burbules (1996) is of the contention that difference theory should be committed to "promote the agenda of solidarity and self-respect within diverse groups, freed to define the meaning and significance of their own identities". Communication, however, is important for identifying grounds of common interest and understanding, because contexts of radical or incommensurable difference are rare.

In South Africa relationships between people from different cultures are torn between on the one hand the tendency to embrace otherness and difference and on the other hand there is the fear of otherness. Bishop Tutu ([1995] cited in Segal, 1997) articulated the fear of otherness as follows:

In a time of transition such as ours, people are insecure and uncertain because well-known landmarks have shifted or are shifting, and they look for security in sameness and homogeneity. They are scared of difference which heightens their anxiety, and so we see an aversion to diversity, be it of opinion or ethnicity or whatever.

If people could learn to listen and talk to each other with the humanness of the other in mind, the possibility exist to transcend the barriers of race, gender, class and religion.

Educating humanity and education for humanity in a diverse society should start at school level, but before that could happen teachers need to be educated to assist the children in their classrooms to explore humanity and their own humanness. People should learn to listen to each others' stories, even if they differ in background and belief. Education should assist the individual to live life to its fullest within a heterogeneous society.

Education should have as its concern that which is perennially distinctive of the human condition. Human values, rather than particular cultural values are important. It is, however, not a denial of social or cultural values or a negation of particularity, for human values are captured and expressed in human particularity (Higgs, 1994). It is an attempt to enable individuals to understand themselves in relation to other persons and to understand what it is to live a human life (Taylor, 1985).

Giroux (1995) contends that it is "crucial for educators to develop a unity-in-difference position in which new forms of democratic representation, participation, and citizenship provide a forum for creating unity without denying the particular, the multiple, and the specific".

Educators need a "definition of multiculturalism that offers schools the possibility to become places where students and teachers can become border crossers engaged in critical and ethical reflection about what it means to bring a wider variety of cultures in dialogue with each other ... [W]e need a language of politics and pedagogy that is able to speak to cultural differences not as something to be tolerated but as essential to expanding the discourse and practice of democratic life" (Aronowitz&Giroux, 1993; Giroux, 1995).

Giroux (1981) suggests that students should be provided with theoretical models that would support interests such as "human understanding, contextual inquiry, aesthetic literacy, and social reconstructionism". These models could be drawn from fields such as "hermeneutics, symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, semiotics, and neo-Marxism". A climate for dialogue and critique, as well as heuristic devices based on different languages and different modes of rationality should be provided.

According to Mkabela and Luthuli (1997) a "course to prepare teachers to deal with diversity should be included in the teacher education curriculum. South Africa needs to restructure teacher education programmes if teachers are to be trained and equipped with the necessary skills, attitudes and behaviour that will allow learners to be comfortable to learn in a culturally diverse classroom ... Teacher education programmes should encourage all teachers to adopt a pluralistic approach".

A pluralistic, problem centred approach to teacher education and training could be helpful to educate students to respect humanity and diversity. By critically studying different metatheories, as well as several education theories, and by being exposed to divergent ways of thinking in Philosophy of Education, student teachers might be better prepared to accommodate children from different cultures and backgrounds in their own classrooms. In this respect, metatheories and education theories should always find application in the various practical teaching situations.

Whilst being exposed to the wealth of insight to be gained from exposure to more than one perspective, people also learn the need to respect the unique contribution of each perspective and to be on the lookout for possible points of convergence. Higgs (1995) argues that a pluralistic approach in their studies will involve philosophers of education in the task of:

* analysing, researching and critically reflecting on the influence of different metatheoretical perspectives in educational discourse;

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* assisting teachers and students with concepts necessary for critically assessing claims made about the nature of education and teaching;

* providing teachers and students with conceptual tools necessary for creative and independent thought; and

* assisting teachers and students to develop an understanding of the relationship between education and the context in which knowledge and understanding are created and shared.

After being exposed to different metatheories and education theories, student teachers should learn how to apply these theories in the practical classroom situation by using the problem centred approach. Knowledge, thus, becomes context bound again.

By contextualising knowledge learners would realise that knowledge is largely relative and that each person should decide his/her preferred way of constructing it by appropriately addressing problems from a variety of contexts (Van der Vyver, 1998).


"Teacher education has to undergo fundamental change if it is to adequately prepare learners for the challenges presented by a pluralistic and democratic dispensation ..." (Mkabela&Luthuli, 1997).

Shapiro (1995; Venter et al, in press) affirms that the young should be educated for a socially just, socially responsible, democratic, and compassionate community, but at the same time education should not turn into a monolithic, moral straitjacket where educational concerns are narrowly defined. The struggle for a more humane society may mean different objectives in different contexts - in one place it may be literacy; elsewhere it may mean the possibility of jobs; or in some other place political participation and empowerment.

People should be enabled to accommodate the cultural diversity of their own society, before being exposed to cultures in the global community. In a world where borders are becoming more and more diffuse, South Africans will have to work hard on accepting each other in order to enter into the global world (Venter et al, in press).

Education is one way of humans to define their humanity, to practice humanity, to maintain humanity and to change humanity. Education is a way to connect oneself to the past and to project into the future (Boyd, 1992). Philosophy of Education might be one vehicle to use towards this purpose.

Philosophy of Education as a Means to Educate Humanity in a Diverse South Africa (2)


ARONOWITZ, S. and GIROUX, H.A. (1993) Education still under Siege. In: Critical Studies in Education and Culture Series edited by H.A. Giroux and P. Freire. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.

BOYD, D. (1992) The Moral Part of Pluralism as the Plural Part of Moral Education. In: The Challenges of Pluralism Education, Politics and Values edited by F. Clark Power and D.K. Lapsley. London: University of Notre Dame Press.

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BURBULES, (1996) Deconstructing 'Difference' and the Difference this makes to Education. Paper delivered at the 30th Annual Conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain in Oxford, England.

DE VILLIERS, S.L. (1994) Guidelines for the Development of a Curriculum for a Multicultural Society in South Africa. Unpublished M.Ed Theses, University of South Africa.

GIROUX, H.A. (1981) Ideology, Culture & the Process of Schooling. London: Falmer Press.

GIROUX, H. A. (1992) Border Crossings - Cultural workers and the Politics of Education. New York and London: Routledge.

GIROUX, H.A. (1995) The Politics of Insurgent Multiculturalism in the Era of the Los Angeles uprising. In: Critical Multiculturalism - Uncommen Voices in a Common Struggle edited by B. Kanpol and P. McLaren. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvin.

HIGGS, P. (1994) Towards a Paradigm Shift in Fundamental Pedagogics. South African Journal of Education, 14(1):13-21.

HIGGS, P. (1995) Metatheories in Philosophy of Education: Introductory Overview. In: Metatheories in Philosophy of Education edited by P. Higgs. Johannesburg: Heinemann.

MCLAREN, P. (1994) Life in Schools - an Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. New York, London: Longman.

MKABELA, N.Q. and LUTHULI, P.C. (1997) Towards an African Philosophy of Education. Pretoria: Kagiso Publishers.

SCHOEMAN, P.G. (1995) The 'Open Society' and Educational Policy for Post-Apartheid South Africa. In: Metatheories in Philosophy of Education edited by P. Higgs. Johannesburg: Heinemann.

SEGAL, S. (1997) Developing the Forms of Dialogue for a 'Rainbow Nation'. South African Journal of Philosophy, 16 (3): 79-84.

SHAPIRO, S. (1995) Educational Change and the Crisis of the Left: towards a Postmodern Educational Discourse. In: Critical Multiculturalism - Uncommon Voices in a Common Struggle edited by B. Kanpol and P. McLaren. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.

SQUELCH, J. (1993) Towards a Multicultural Approach to Education in South Africa. In: The Black Child in Crisis - a Socio-educational Perspective edited by J. le Roux. Pretoria: JL van Schaik.

TAYLOR, C. (1985) Philosophy and the Human Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

VAN DER VYVER, J. (1998) The Democratisation of Assessment in a Pluralistic, Problem-centred Module in Philosophy of Education at Post-graduate Level. South African Journal for Higher Education, 12(2):183-197.

VENTER,E. FRANZSEN, K. AND VAN HEERDEN, E. (in press) An Analysis of the Effect of Recent National Policy Changes on Values and Education in South Africa. In: Education, Culture and Values - Volume 1. Systems of Education, Theories, Policies and Implicit Values edited by Mal Leicester, Celia Modgil and Sohan Modgil. London: Falmer Press.

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Philosophy of Education as a Means to Educate Humanity in a Diverse South Africa (3)


What are the main ideas in an African philosophy of education? ›

An African philosophy of education is a scientific enterprise which has three constitutive aspects: firstly, to be reasonable in one's articulations; secondly, to demonstrate moral maturity; and thirdly, to be attuned to deliberation.

Why is it important to have an African philosophy of education in the South African context? ›

It allows education students to search for meanings that relate to their chosen field. An African philosophy of education offers a discourse to address the continent's many problems. These include famine, hunger, poverty, abuse, violence and exclusion of the other.

What are the 7 philosophy of education with explanation? ›

These include Essentialism, Perennialism, Progressivism, Social Reconstructionism, Existentialism, Behaviorism, Constructivism, Conservatism, and Humanism. Essentialism and Perennialism are the two types of teacher-centered philosophies of education.

What is the main purpose of philosophy of education? ›

Briefly, the philosophy of education has as its primary objective to clarify educational knowledge, prioritizing pedagogical theories, through dialectical, logical and rhetorical analyzes. These, in the case of logic, are based on tools constituted to carry out verifications of statements that relate to the truth.

What is the implication of the philosophy of Africanism in education? ›

An African philosophy of education is a scientific enterprise which has three constitutive aspects: firstly, to be reasonable in one's articulations; secondly, to demonstrate moral maturity; and thirdly, to be attuned to deliberation.

What is the summary of philosophy of education? ›

Philosophy of education is the branch of practical philosophy concerned with the nature of education, as well as the philosophical issues that can arise from educational theory and practice.

What aspects of African philosophy based teaching can you integrate into your own teaching? ›

What aspects of African-based teaching can you integrate into your own teaching philosophy? It yields bits of knowledge of human experience made remarkably accessible through African otherworldly convictions and regularizing responsibilities.

What is the most important philosophy of education? ›

Progressivism being the philosophy that says ideas should be tested to find their truths. This philosophy also says the value of questions from students are very important because it leads to learning. Progressivism involves both cross discipline learning and problem solving in its instruction.

Why is there a need to study Philosophical Foundations of education what is its significance in designing the curriculum for the three levels of education? ›

It helps educators in formulating beliefs, arguments, and assumptions and in making value judgments. Philosophy develops a broad outlook, and it also helps in answering what schools are for, what subjects are important, how students should learn, and what materials and methods should be used.

What are the 3 major philosophy of education? ›

There are many different types of philosophies in education. Here we will focus only on the four main types of philosophies that may help you to form your teaching philosophy and write your teaching statement - Perennialism, Essentialism, Romanticism and Progressivism.

What are the five features of philosophy of education? ›

  • 5 Key Characteristics. ...
  • Learning Goals. ...
  • Teaching Methods. ...
  • Assessment. ...
  • Inclusive pedagogy. ...
  • Organization and clarity.

What are the 5 major philosophy of education? ›

The purpose of education is embodied through its five philosophies: Essentialism, Perennialism, Progressivism, Existentialism and Behaviourism.

How can philosophy contribute for the good of the humanity? ›

It helps us to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It contributes to our capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from large quantities of information.

What are the contributions of the educational philosophies to education? ›

The discipline of philosophy contributes in an indispensable way to the realization of four goals that should be fundamental to any institution of higher learning: instilling habits of critical thinking in students; enhancing their reading, writing, and public speaking skills; transmitting cultural heritages to them; ...

What are the five philosophical foundation of African traditional education? ›

The philosophical foundations of African traditional education are the five principles of preparationism, functionalism, communalism, perennialism and holisticism. We have highlighted the physical, social and spiritual content of African traditional education and the practical method of teaching and learning.

Why is it important for black students to pursue higher education? ›

Higher education teaches students to think critically in ways that high school doesn't offer. Building these skills enable young men to make more thoughtful and informed decisions in their personal lives as well as their academic lives.

What is philosophy in your own words? ›

Quite literally, the term "philosophy" means, "love of wisdom." In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.

What philosophies are commonly used by the teachers in classroom please explain? ›

These educational philosophical approaches are currently used in classrooms the world over. They are Perennialism, Essentialism, Progressivism, and Reconstructionism. These educational philosophies focus heavily on WHAT we should teach, the curriculum aspect.

What is the best way to approach the question what is African philosophy? ›

African Philosophy can be formally defined as a critical thinking by Africans on their experiences of reality. African philosophy is "that which concerns itself with the way in which African people of the past and present make sense of their destiny and of the world in which they live.

Why is it important to understand the philosophy of inclusion in education? ›

Inclusive education values diversity and the unique contributions each student brings to the classroom. In a truly inclusive setting, every child feels safe and has a sense of belonging. Students and their parents participate in setting learning goals and take part in decisions that affect them.

What are the 4 importance of philosophy? ›

It teaches critical thinking, close reading, clear writing, and logical analysis; it uses these to understand the language we use to describe the world, and our place within it. Different areas of philosophy are distinguished by the questions they ask. Do our senses accurately describe reality?

What are the four 4 main points of philosophy? ›

There are four pillars of philosophy: theoretical philosophy (metaphysics and epistemology), practical philosophy (ethics, social and political philosophy, aesthetics), logic, and history of philosophy.

What is an example of a philosophy of education? ›

Example #1

My philosophy of teaching is to create an environment that allows for supervised exploration. I believe that the most significant learning occurs in situations that are both meaningful and realistic.

What are the seven 7 philosophical foundations of education? ›

Idealism, Realism, Naturalism, Pragmatism, Existentialism, and Marxism with special reference to the concepts of knowledge, reality and values their educational implications of aims, contents and methods of education.

What is the most important value of the philosophy of the human person to you? ›

By studying Philosophy of Human Person, people can clarify what they believe, and they can be stimulated to think about ultimate questions. A person can study philosophers of the past to discover why they thought as they did and what value their thoughts may have in one's own life.

What are the 4 main ideas of philosophy? ›

There are four pillars of philosophy: theoretical philosophy (metaphysics and epistemology), practical philosophy (ethics, social and political philosophy, aesthetics), logic, and history of philosophy.

What is the concept of African philosophy? ›

Anyanwu defined African philosophy as "that which concerns itself with the way in which African people of the past and present make sense of their destiny and of the world in which they live.

What are the 4 trends of African philosophy? ›

The four trends in the order in which they are discussed here are ethno-philosophy, philosophic sagacity, nationalist/ideological philosophy, and professional philosophy. Nevertheless, these trends should be regarded not as distinct from one another, but rather as a continuum (Oruka 1987).

What are the 5 philosophy of education? ›

The purpose of education is embodied through its five philosophies: Essentialism, Perennialism, Progressivism, Existentialism and Behaviourism.

What is philosophy of education in simple words? ›

A philosophy of education is a statement (or set of statements) that identifies and clarifies the beliefs, values and understandings of an individual or group with respect to education.

What is African philosophy of education essay? ›

Education is the process whereby an educator engages him/herself with the learner in sharing information and knowledge. The African philosophy of education is a system introduced to establish and engage African people in the activities of the country, for them to be able to participate in bettering the country.

What are the 3 concepts of philosophy? ›

Introduction to Philosophy

This course examines the main areas of philosophy, which include ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.

Why is African philosophy important? ›

First, African philosophy queries the habitual universality claims of Western philosophy; second, African philosophy offers insights into dimensions of human experience made uniquely available through African metaphysical beliefs and normative commitments.

What are the five trends in African philosophy? ›

A Kenyan philosopher, Henry Odera Oruka (1944-1995), conceptualised and articulated the six trends in African philosophy. These are ethno-philosophy, nationalistic-ideological philosophy, artistic (or literary philosophy), professional philosophy, philosophic sagacity and hermeneutic philosophy.

What is African philosophy and culture? ›

Africana philosophy is a species of Africana thought, which involves the theoretical questions raised by critical engagements with ideas in Africana cultures and their hybrid, mixed, or creolized forms worldwide.


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