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Should We And Can We Develop An African Philosophy Of Education?: Pedagogy Of Sagacity

MICHAEL KARIUKI – 0721 666 098, mickariuki@yahoo.com

Should we and can we develop an African philosophy of education?: Pedagogy of Sagacity

In 1986, Njoroge and Bennaars, published Philosophy and education in Africa; an introductory text for students of education. Since the publication of this textbook there has been an intellectual aridity in this area of educational philosophizing in Kenya. This is in spite of the said textbook being merely introductory or prolegomenon. More importantly is the model proposed and formulated in this textbook intended as a conceptual framework for developing an African philosophy of education (1986; 92). This model has remained un-attempted. 

My paper will argue in the affirmative while distinguishing should as a non-moral normative imperative and can as a question of ability. While indeed we should develop African philosophy of education this imperative remains unachievable until we have experts with requisite scholarly abilities.

Problem of shortage of educational philosophers

Experts in philosophy of education are called educational philosophers. They should be trained in technical philosophy and educational sciences. The two disciplines must meet in one. To ‘meet in one,’ means that an educational philosopher should integrate both technical philosophy and educational sciences as an integral area of academic specialization. Educational philosopher is the middle term between technical philosophy and educational sciences. In other words one should have academic qualification as a technical philosopher and as a trained professional teacher.

Lack of this ‘meeting in one’ of the two areas is to blame for lack of resources in this area. It means persons who are lesser than the ideal are teaching this discipline. There are two types of categories of teachers of philosophy of education in Africa who are lesser than the ideal.

The generalists and the specialists, the former are professional educators without philosophical footing. The latter are academic philosophers without educational training. Both as Plato would say must be debarred and be made to give way for educational philosopher.

Generalists make philosophy of education be about general principles, aims and goals of education. The technical philosopher makes philosophy of education too abstract and unrelated to everyday concerns of professional teacher in schooling. The latter stand accused of arm chair speculation, the latter stands accused of generality.


The model of African philosophy of education: Pedagogy of sagacity


Pedagogy of Sagacity stands on two feet – one foot is planted in Sage philosophy and the other in Pedagogy of Oppressed – both feet are rooted in the conceptual model for developing African philosophy of education as articulated by Njoroge and Bennaars (1986, 88-89).




Pedagogy of Sagacity or Sagacious Pedagogy is developed as an attempt to transcend the original impetus of the project of Sage philosophy of Nairobi School. As Gail Presbey states,

I suggest that the original impetus for starting the sage philosophy project – the defense against Euro-American skeptics who thought Africans incapable of philosophizing – has been outgrown. The present need for studies of African sages is to benefit from their wisdom, both in Africa and around the world. I also suggest that the title ‘sage’ has to be problematized. While there were good reasons to focus earlier on rural elders as overlooked wise philosophers, the emphasis now should be on admiring philosophical thought wherever it may be found-in women, youth, and urban Africans as well. In such a way, philosophy will be further relevant to people’s lives, and further light will be shed and shared regarding the lived experience in Africa.

Gail concludes by pointing out that

Whether, and in what way, sage philosophy continues and grows will be determined in part by the ideas of those who have the will to continue it; their works will help define the terms “sage” and “sage philosophy” in the future.

Pedagogy of Sagacity is contemplated here as a possible contribution to the development of Sage philosophy in terms of African philosophy of education. Njoroge and Bennaars (1986, 98) have formulated

…a basic framework within which philosophical thinking about African education must be located. Within this model we identified four distinct areas of concern each reflecting a specific function of Technical Philosophy, a specific approach in educational Philosophy and a specific trend in African Philosophy. These areas of concern are: the Ethnophilosophy of Education, the Phenomenology of African Education, the Critique of African Education and the Philosophical analysis of African Education.

The authors (1986, 88) intend this to be a normative ‘framework within which to locate educational philosophy in Africa.’ Thus they state that (1986, 89),

…we can now establish what ought to be the major features or concerns of an African Philosophy of Education; thus we may arrive at a MODEL that brings out the specific features of a truly African Philosophy of Education.

For this model to be realized two criteria or conditions must be fulfilled, namely technical and African. As regards the former criterion ‘an African Philosophy of Education, to be recognized as truly technical, (it) must display similar functions and approaches as the Technical Philosophy of Education’ (1986, 89). There are four functions of technical philosophy namely, critical, rational, phenomenological and speculative (1986, 23-24). Corresponding to these four functions respectively are four approaches to philosophy of education namely, implicational, existential, critical and analytical approaches (1986, 89).

With regard to the second criterion or condition African philosophy must be African that is ‘it must reflect the trends characteristic of philosophical thinking in Africa’ (1986, 89). Njoroge and Bennaars (1986, 83-89) have delineated four trends in African philosophy namely, ethno-philosophy, cultural philosophy, political philosophy and formal philosophy. Each of these trends is paired with a corresponding function from the four technical functions of philosophy. The resulting combinations are four distinct approaches to African philosophy of education these are; ethno-philosophy paired with speculative function results in implications approach in African philosophy of education; cultural philosophy paired with phenomenological function results in existential approach; political philosophy paired with critical function results in critical approach; and lastly formal philosophy paired with analytical function results in analytical approach (1986, 89).

We can therefore identify ‘four major areas of concern, which may be called the basis … of a truly African Philosophy of Education.’ These are ethno-philosophy of education; phenomenology of African education; critique of African education; and philosophical analysis of African education.[1] In Aristotelian causality technical functions of philosophy are the formal causes while trends in African philosophy are the material causes. Formal and material causes are co-constitutive principles of substantial being, the substance of African philosophy of education is possible within the framework of Njoroge and Bennaars. As Wittgenstein states (1981;2.14) ‘what constitutes a picture is that its elements are related to one another in a determinate way,’ this is ‘the pictorial form’ of reality (2.15). In a pictorial form of reality ‘a picture … attached … to reality … reaches right out to it’ so that the picture is the measure of what reality should be. (2.1521). The framework of Njoroge and Bennars is the measure of what is to be regarded as African philosophy of education.

Platonic middle term

The model proposed by Njoroge and Bennaars has not yet been worked out in practice. This could be due to lack of experts who are ‘extremely rare’ (1986;78) with the right combinations namely, training in technical philosophy and training as professional educators (B.Ed). Further still development of African educational philosophy requires experts with knowledge and skill in African philosophy. The requirement that African philosophers of educators be doubled edged experts in technical philosophy and professional educators (1986; 77-80) is akin to Plato’s (Republic Book, V. 473d) observation that

Cities will have no respite from evil … unless philosophers rule as kings in the cities, or those whom we now call kings and rulers genuinely and adequately study philosophy, until, that is, political power and philosophy coalesce, and the various natures of those who now pursue the one to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from doing so. Otherwise the city we have been describing will never grow into a possibility or see the light of day.


To paraphrase Plato in the framework of Njoroge – Bennaars we can state that: Kenya will have no African philosophy of education unless philosophers teach and research in educational foundations, or those who teach philosophy of education genuinely and adequately study philosophy; until, that is, technical philosophy and educational sciences coalesce in African educational philosophers and the various scholars who now pursue one to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from meddling in this area. Otherwise the proposed model of African philosophy of education will never develop into a possibility or see the light of day. Plato in the cited place provides a middle term which logically links technical philosophy and educational sciences in philosophy of education in Africa. The middle term is a technical African philosopher who is also a professional philosopher i.e. a scholar who integrates both technical philosophy and educational profession. It is from such a one that hope lies for possibility of developing an African philosophy of education. With such rare experts we can develop African philosophy of education.

Pedagogy of Sagacity: Thought Experiment on African Philosophy of education

Of the four trends in African philosophy identified by Njoroge and Bennars Sage Philosophy is not included, yet Odera Oruka (1990;16-17) includes it as a distinct trend in African philosophy. There are four trends in African philosophy identified by Oruka (1990, 13 – 20) namely, ethno-philosophy, philosophic sagacity, nationalist-ideological philosophy and professional philosophy. For Oruka (1991,43) ‘sage philosophy comes as a third alternative’ it lies between folk philosophy or (ethno-philosophy) and ‘the written critical discourse’ or  (professional trend); sage philosophy ‘demonstrates the fact that traditional Africa had both folk wisdom and critical personalized philosophical discourse.’ Sage philosophy is here subjected to phenomenological analysis within the model of Njoroge – Bennaars in attempt to develop African philosophy of education. As the model of Njoroge – Bennaars requires African philosophy of education should be worked out on two-fold points, firstly, technical method of philosophy and secondly a trend in African philosophy. To develop pedagogy of sagacity, phenomenology is the opted technical function of philosophy while philosophic sagacity or sage philosophy is the trend in African philosophy; from these two a new area in African educational philosophy arises namely, pedagogy of sagacity.

Banking versus problem-posing education

Pedagogy of sagacity is influenced by pedagogy of the oppressed. Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educationist developed a trend in philosophy of education called pedagogy of the oppressed (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed ‘is an instrument for … critical discovery … of dehumanization’. ‘The central problem’ of pedagogy of the oppressed ‘is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation?’ ‘This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation. And in the struggle this pedagogy will be made and remade’ (1972, 25). Pedagogy of the oppressed is a critique of traditional pedagogy that is teacher-centered; the teacher assumes the dominant role while the learners are passive. In traditional pedagogy Freire identified two dialectically opposed poles, the oppressors – who happen to be teachers, and the oppressed – who happen to be learners. The teacher is in a dialectical opposition to the learner in which case the teacher has-knowledge but the learner has-not knowledge, he is assumed to be tabula rasa. Freire employs analogy of the banking industry to expose ten contradictory pedagogical ‘attitudes and practices, which mirror oppressive society as a whole’ (1972, 46-47). The teacher acts as the ‘bank-clerk’ by use of ‘banking methods of domination’. Freire institutes a pedagogical paradigm shift where he replaces ‘the educational goal of deposit-making …with the posing of problems of men in their relations with the world’ (1972,52). This is also called liberating education which ‘consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information’ (1972,53). The ‘practice of problem-posing education first of all demands a resolution of the teacher-student contradiction. Dialogical relations – indispensable to the capacity of cognitive actors to cooperate in perceiving the same cognizable object – are otherwise impossible’ (1972, 53). Iconoclasm of banking education allows freedom for ‘the critical reflection of both teacher and students’ this leads to ‘emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality.’ (1972, 53-54).To contrast ‘banking education … and … problem-posing education’ Freire (1972;56-57states

… the two educational concepts and practices under analysis come into conflict. Banking education attempts, by mythicizing reality, to conceal certain facts which explain the way men exist in the world; problem-posing education sets itself the task of de-mythologizing. Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the acts of cognition which unveils reality. Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world, thereby denying men their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human.

Freire is in total rejection of banking education the means for emancipation from ‘authoritarianism and an alienating intellectualism’ is to begin with people ‘in the ‘here and now’, which constitutes the situation in which they are submerged, from which they emerge…. To do this authentically they must perceive their state not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limiting – and therefore challenging.’ (1972;57-58)

Pedagogy of sagacity is an attempt to develop African philosophy of education.  It is a critical reflection on possibility of African pedagogy, as Freire notes ‘critical reflection is also action’ in the sense that ‘action and reflection occur simultaneously’ (1972, 99).

Two Typologies of Sages

Odera Oruka (1991; 34) identifies two types of sages in Africa, namely, folk sage and philosophic sage.

Findings in Kenya show that there are two main divisions of sage philosophy. One is that of the sage whose thought, though well informed and educative, fails to go beyond the celebrated folk-wisdom. Such a sage may not have the ability or inclination to apply his own independent critical objection to folk beliefs. He is, therefore, a folk sage in contrast to the second type of the sage, the philosophic sage. The former is a master of popular wisdom while the latter is an expert in didactic wisdom.

The philosophic sage may know, as the folk sage does, what the cardinal beliefs and wisdoms of his community are, but he makes an independent, critical assessment to what the people take for granted. Thus, while the sagacity of the folk sage remains at the first order level of philosophy, that of the philosophic sage is a second-order philosophy, that is a reflection on and a rationalized evaluation of what is given in the first order. What is given in the first order is a mixture of conventional-cum-customary beliefs and practices.

Oruka (1991, 37) believes that ‘There are and there will be sages even among Africans with modern education’ for instance Nyerere. To be a sage one needs ‘to be wise and able to utilize that wisdom for the benefit of one’s community.’ ‘The concern in the sage research is not to claim that sagacity is, by definition, philosophy but to look for philosophy within sagacity, that is, to get to their overlap.  ‘Within this overlap, both the philosopher and the wise man have the same function: they employ abstract reasoning for the understanding and solution of the basic questions of human life’ (1991, 41). Odera Oruka (1991, 34) carried out his research project in Kenya. ‘One major aim is to look for philosophy or traces of philosophy in traditional Africa….by talking to the living sages…. Exposing the value of such thoughts is again one other important aim of the sage research’ (1991, 41). However, most importantly the sage project was meant ‘to help substantiate or disapprove the well-known claim that ‘real philosophical thought’ had no place in traditional Africa.’ This claim implied that ‘existence of philosophy in modern Africa is due wholly to the introduction of western thought to Africa’ (1991, 34). The invalidation of this claim could only be established if traditional Africa was found to host philosophic sages. The project was successful for it identified philosophic sages (individuals with didactic wisdom) in Kenya while distinguishing them from folk sages (individuals with popular wisdom) (1991, 33-34).

This European prejudice is reflected in the work of Mullin J (1965) which was meant to be an attempt ‘to lay down guide-lines for the … Christian apostolate in modern Africa’ (1965, 3). Mullin (1965, 32-33)contrasts African mentality with European mentality he states:

The African’s reasoning methods are not discursive; he knows nothing of the syllogism, he thinks inductively rather than deductively; nor is his thinking analytic: it is intuitive and synthetic …. This is a mentality different from the European, and to be respected as such …. One consequence of it is a circular manner of thinking, a collecting of impressions, a feeling of the way before coming to the kernel of a problem …. A more important consequence is the primacy in his thought of the concrete over the abstract; and the human over the institutional …. European teachers, trained in deductive thought, pass on ideas in a way impossible for the African to assimilate. They do not square with his reasoning’.

While the philosophic sage engages in sagacious didactics, the folk sage engages in narration. Philosophic sagacity is often ‘a product and a reflective re-evaluation of the culture philosophy. The few sages who possess the philosophic inclination make a critical assessment of their culture and its underlying beliefs.’ They use power of reason to produce ‘a system within a system, and order within an order’ (1991, 49). Folk sagacity is first order culture philosophy. ‘It is absolute in its ideas and truth claims and has an ideological war with anything to the contrary.’ Folk sages ‘are specialists in explaining and maintaining this order…. Their explanations or thought do not go beyond the premises and conclusions given by the prevailing culture’ (1991, 49). Philosophic sage is critical reflection on the first order philosophy of culture. It is ‘a critical rebellion against the first order conformity and anachronism’. While the first order glorifies the communal conformity, philosophic sagacity is skeptical…it employs reason to assess it. The first order is purely absolutist and ideological, the second order is generally open-minded and rationalistic. Its truths are given as tentative and ratiocinative, not as God-sent message (1991, 49). Further contrast between the two sage includes (1991, 36)

The folk sage is versed in the common-place culture, customs and beliefs of his people. He can recite or describe them with much competence.  However, he is unable to raise any critical question about them, nor is he able to observe the inherent contradictions. The philosophic sage, like the folk sage, may equally be versed in the beliefs and values of his society. His main task is to make critical assessment of them and recommend, as far as the communal pressure allows, only those beliefs and values that pass his rational scrutiny. The folk-sage is identifiable by his consistent inability to isolate his own opinion from the beliefs of the community and his ready inclination to take refuge behind the popular unexamined wisdom wherever he is intellectually challenged. The philosophic sage, on the other hand, is clearly able to isolate the given beliefs of the community from his own evaluation, rationalization and even criticism of those beliefs. He is also able to enjoy a dialectical or intellectual game with the interviewer.

Mullin’s characterization of African mentality is a fallacious generalization which collapses African thought to folk sagacity. There are philosophic sages capable of syllogistic reasoning in Africa both in literate and pre-literate societies. ‘There is possibility for sagacity both in pre-literate and literate societies’ (Oruka 1991, 37). To be a sage is not necessarily to be philosophic

Pedagogy of sagacity

Pedagogy of sagacity uses phenomenological method of philosophy to anayze two typologies of teachers based on the paradigms of Oruka’s two sages, philosophic and folk sages. This is in attempt to fructify Njoroge – Bennaars (1986) model or conceptual framework for developing African Philosophy of education.

Folkish teacher versus philosophic teacher

By use of phenomenological analysis we can draw implications from the two sages. Philosophic-sage points to a teacher who is critical and empowers learners to think for themselves. He uses student-centered pedagogy. His classroom is community of researchers; his role is to midwife students in their search for solution to problems. Classroom is related to real life problems. Folkish-sage points to folkish-teachers who merely recycle old lecture notes. They do not update themselves they dictate notes to learners who are expected to be passive recipients. Such teachers fail to criticize educational theories and practices. They are authoritarian and aim at making learners memorize notes in order to pass examinations. Such a teacher fears questions and fails in self-criticism. The folkish-teacher uses banking pedagogy, while philosophic-teacher uses problem-solving pedagogy.

In the movie Sarafina Mrs. Masumbuka exemplifies philosophic-teacher who is gadfly that stings learners to dare to think, that is to critically question the received traditions. She midwifes regeneration of learners as enlightened and emancipated active learners who demystifies the stratified sanitized syllabus. The teacher who replaces her is an example of folkish teacher. He can at best impose and popularize authorized apartheid pedagogical narrative which  is oppressive to the African students. That teacher mechanically transmits fossilized pre-packaged ideas without critical reflection. This is a dogmatic teacher who fails to emancipate himself from dominant oppressive pedagogy of white supremacist in apartheid South Africa.


Model by Njoroge – Bennaars is useful in developing African philosophy of education. Pedagogical Sagacity is a product of that model and proves that it is pragmatic and relevant to African philosophy of education. There remains more areas in education in Africa where sage Philosophy needs to be explored and logical conclusions be drawn to improve teaching/learning in philosophy of education in Africa, Kenya in particular. Sage Philosophy furnishes a productive conceptual framework for educational philosophizing not only in Africa but also anywhere else where critical analysis of pedagogical theory and practice is to be carried out. This is a proposal of one possible direction among others where Sage Philosophy can be relevant beyond Oruka’s original concern. It points at possible contributions of Sage Philosophy (in department of Philosophy) to educational philosophy (in department of Educational Foundations).




Freire P, (1972) Pedagogy of the oppressed, translated by Myra Bergman Ramos, Middlesex: Penguin Books.


Mullin, J. (1965) The Catholic Church in Modern Africa, a pastoral Theology, London: Geoffrey Chapman.

Njoroge – Bennaars (1986) Philosophy and education in Africa: An introductory text for students of education. Nairobi: Transafrica.

Odera O, (1990) Trends in Contemporary African Philosophy. Nairobi: Shirikon

________  (1991) Sage Philosophy; indigenous thinkers and modern debate on African Philosophy. Nairobi: ACTS



Source by kariuki michael w

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