1/20 –Education as Development – Integral Transformative Vision for Africa

Oliver Ngodo

Oliver Ngodo 

Oliver Ngodo

Oliver Ngodo


Africa’s problems keep mounting, assuming greater complexity by day. Concerned individuals and groups seek solutions in their different areas of interest or specialization, thus being partial ab initio, with the result that their different perspectives are everything except holistic. Solutions proffered consequently differ greatly among scholars and practitioners on even the basic definition of what these problems are.

All around the continent, people look up to leadership for comfort, but this does not seem to be readily available. Instead many African leaders have themselves become a matter of concern for the generality of the people, by their performance and conduct in public office. Many of the leaders seem to be living in a world of their own as individuals, almost totally disconnected from the world of the people they are supposed to be leading. Every day questions arise: What kinds of leaders are presiding over Africa’s public affairs?  Do these leaders have the requisite competence and character necessary to lead in the increasingly complex world of our time?  What is the vision or model of leadership throbbing in the heart of these leaders with which they intend to inspire the people for collective effort? Turning attention to the educated elites, the professional and the bureaucratic class, does not offer any hope as nearly all seem to be sucked up into mad quest for material acquisition for self and for philistine consumptive propensity. The traditional communal spirit that defined Africa and her people in the past, and even in the present in many rural communities, have become altogether desecrated by the new found ego-trips to self-aggrandisement.  The primary purpose of this paper therefore is to articulate a transformative vision of education for Africa, which is integral in approach, and therefore holistic, as a new direction in the quest for development in the continent. This is in recognition of the fact that the problems that confront the continent and her people have since exceeded what reforms, no matter how intellectually couched, can even come close to addressing.

What the situation calls for is a new paradigm: a new vision of reality, a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions and values. The vanguard of this change can only be the education system where as in the African indigenous educational process, education is viewed as the ability to use the behaviour and abilities one has acquired through the learning process to develop oneself and one’s immediate and then wider communities. Indigenous education systems in pre-colonial Africa were aimed at passing on to the young the accumulated knowledge to enable them to play adult roles, to ensure the survival of their offspring, to cope with their environment and to ensure the continuity of the community (Malunga, 2006). The holistic and ecological orientation of this indigenous education system is at once perceivable. This exemplifies integral approach. Education, within the context of integral transformative vision espoused in this paper therefore would entail that concern for the totality of life’s context is embodied in the conception and practice of education at all levels. Development is viewed as transcending and including the definition of this concept as development of industrial production and the distribution of material goods as well as physical infrastructure to embrace human development in a holistic sense. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1986) defines integral as essential to completion, formed as a unit with another part, integrated: lacking nothing essential. This simple definition of integral will carry the meaning attached to the term in this paper. According to O’Sullivan (2001) transformative learning involves experiencing a deep structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feeling and actions. This is a shift in consciousness which dramatically and permanently alters our way of being in the world. Transformative learning therefore would encompass an education for survival, which is the key component of African indigenous educational process; an education for critical understanding of the world around us and our proper place and role in it, and an education for integral creativity, flowing from a totally transformed mind.

The Rationale

In recent times it has become clear that humanity is in a state of profound world-wide crisis. We are referring to a complete multidimensional crisis. The facets of this crisis impact every aspect of our lives. Capra (1982) and Wheatley (1994) trace the root cause of this crisis to the worldview and value system that have continued to be the basis of our culture and perception since the sixteenth century. This outdated mode of viewing our universe as existing in fragments and as working as machine now stands urgent need to be carefully re-examined for the first time since they were formulated in their essential present outline in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. According to Capra to understand our multifaceted cultural crisis we need to adopt an extremely broad view and see our situation in the context of broad human Cultural Revolution. The crisis manifests in symptoms such as economic meltdown, environmental degradation, health hazards, perversion in application of science and technology for destructive uses, breakdown in social relationships, prevalence of violence and myriad others. This is a crisis that touches on intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimensions of our lives and living, the totality of our existence.

In Africa particularly, it assumes added dimensions because of the confusion arising from the conventional stereotypic images of the continent as “Third World” or “Underdeveloped” – tags which are based on distant and therefore exterior view of the continent and her people. This partial view becomes solidified into a stereotypic mental image and propagated by Eurocentric intellectuals who rank intellect according to the matrix of their value system. This tends to engender inferiority complex on preponderant people so tagged who through colonial conquest were made to abandon the path of development of their own hitherto human based values in pursuit of goals which are both dangerous and unethical in that they promote material acquisition and individualism with the attendant propensity to legitimise such social ills as gluttony, pride, selfishness and greed, social ills that were unknown in pre-colonial African societies. This is how the situation came to be created in which physical infrastructure are being erected as evidence of “development” in an environment where people’s interior still functions at the SDi levels of Purple and Red, which includes individuals occupying formal positions of leadership in public affairs all around the continent. This in turn causes intractable, self-reinforcing problems such as poverty, corruption, chronic instability, unstable and ineffective health and education systems.  These problems can be better understood from the perspective of complexity and human systems development, in the context of which it can be viewed as adaptive challenges, which are problems that require not just conventional technical treatments, but profound shift in behaviours, beliefs, and worldview. Conventional education systems cannot bring about this kind of fundamental shift. This can only be achieved through integral transformative learning.

The complexity and the urgency of these problems crystallize in the awareness that something is very amiss with the system that has led to, or at least cannot reverse both human suffering and environmental disaster, which has continued to be our lot up until this moment. Attempts to solve these problems on sector basis have not amounted and cannot amount to anything as it tries to fragment our existence. Human nature is not compartmentalised into sectors. Instead we live in a globally interconnected world, in which biological, psychological, social, and environmental phenomena are all interdependent and interconnected. We therefore need a holistic and ecological perspective to figure out appropriate solution for our problems. The current worldview which seeks to fragment reality is a colonial imposition, which Thought Leaders in the North are currently re-examining. Africa therefore needs a cultural worldview that captures the essence of what it means to be human, which entails holistic, integral, ecological well being for all.

From the existing system of things, patterns of devastating destruction and confusion that can neither be regarded as random nor accidental have arisen. These are the effects of a consciousness that fragments existence. The matrix of western culture, originating in the modern European culture and transplanted all over the world including Africa through colonialism, which considers human existence and above all, human consciousness and spirit as independent and above nature, dominate the world’s imagination. It is this dynamism that drives the dispensation of the global economic system and its offspring, the global market, which has continued to erode the sustenance of human well being at personal, communal and planetary levels in an unconscionable quest for promotion of ill-conceived concepts of profit and economic growth. It is the effect of this aberration that continues to negatively impact the world in the form of civil strife, environmental devastation, human rights violations, the tendency to view the races in hierarchies, the idea of technological progress as an end in itself rather than a means for the advancement of human values, and the problem of failing economies, which now confound even the brightest of the world’s economists and scientists. To understand these complex problems one must transcend the simplistic tendency to analyse them within artificially compartmentalised subject boundaries. Attempts to understand these complex issues in isolation threatens the very survival of the Earth in its total and holistic context, which encompasses the concepts of planetary and cosmological context as well as the human and the larger biotic species. This is the broad context in which integral transformative vision is appropriately situated.

The Vision

O’Sullivan (2001) developed the idea of integral transformative vision, which is adapted, with gratitude, in this paper. This has four aspects, namely: education for planetary or universal consciousness, for integral development, for quality of life and for spiritual roundedness.

The first aspect is education for planetary consciousness. For over three hundred years now humanity has held so tight to the thought that the best way to understand the universe is to study its constituent parts, believing that through this kind of study they would arrive at knowledge of the whole. This reductionist tendency and its attendant prevalence of separation of things as independent of each other has become characteristic of everything in the world ever since.  This in turn created the mental image of the world as full of boundaries instead of an organic whole. It is in the context of this kind of mental limitation that the idea of globalisation sounds so great. At the moment, Quantum Theory has effectively enacted a new mental picture of the world, one in which the underlying currents are a movement toward holism, toward understanding the world as a system, and which gives primary value to the relationships that exist among seemingly discrete and distant parts (Wheatley, 1994). Viewed from this new perspective of the world as holistic, therefore, in spite of its apparently powerful dynamics in our world today, the idea of globalization or global market must be seen as a small idea. The globe as we know it today is only a construct of human imagination. Humans live and function on the planet and not on a globe. From the systems perspective, the world can only make full sense if analysed in terms of relationships and integration.

A system is an integrated whole. The properties of a system cannot be reduced to those of the smaller units that make up the system. Observation of the nature of the universe indicates that it is an organic totality, a system which is holistic and not a cartographic map. All of us are one species living on a planet called Earth. All living and vital energies of all the species come out of this organic cosmological context. Before 1492, the cartographic procedures for mapping commerce routes around the world were indicated as flat. For Europeans, Christopher Columbus moved that mapping system for commerce from a flat surface to a globe. The globe was therefore originally made for commerce. This is what is captured in today’s language and essence of globalisation: it is first and foremost for commercial purposes. The only observable shift away from this idea in our time is that the power structures operative on the globe have shifted from national state business to transnational business, with its attendant threat to the world monetary stability and in Africa to the sovereignty of most nation states, in addition.

It should be conceded however that we cannot totally dispense with global language in our present dispensation, but it is absolutely necessary that it be the subject of deep-order cultural criticism at a world level in order to evolve a globalisation concept, which meets the need for harmony of all nature in our universe. For this reason, any educational vision in the twenty-first century will need to be situated within a planetary, a universal context and not on a fragmented notion of a globe or a particular activity, like commerce, whose sole purpose is to enable profit for individuals, whether they are persons, organisations or nations.

We therefore need to broaden our view of life to a larger cosmological context much more breathtaking than the reductionist market vision of the world. In presenting a larger cosmological context for our lives, one does not need to advocate for a new cosmology in contradistinction to the one that has underpinned modernity. In this post-modern dispensation, in a visionary context for transformative learning, the need is to articulate a planetary context for learning that can effectively challenge the present day hegemonic culture of the market vision, and can orient people, in their daily lives, to create an environmentally sustainable world in our present time. In a way this is not an original idea, but a call for return to what was an established cosmological view of the pre-colonial African world. In this, African indigenous education sought to produce men and women who were not self-centred; who put the interest of the group above their personal interest; who dutifully fulfilled obligations hallowed and approved by tradition, which is rooted in reverence for ancestors, gods, and the unknown universe of spirits and forces. There was always the awareness that human life was the greatest value (Malunga, 2006). What a contrast with the contemporary Eurocentric worldview, which makes the individual a universe of its own almost totally independent of and unconnected to any other!

The foregoing indicates that the idea of transformative vision must start with the notion of transformation within a broad cultural context. In the larger cultural context, transformation carries the dynamism of cultural change as indicated earlier on. When any culture is in synchrony with the overall well being of the people, the educational and learning tasks and the processes are uncontested simply because the culture is of one mind regarding what is ultimately important to the people and the community. In a situation such as this, there is a clear sense of purpose about what education and learning should mean to all. There will also be a predominant feeling that this state of affairs should continue in the same direction. Here one can say that the culture is in full form and the form of this culture warrants continuity. But it would be different when a culture seems to have lost its purpose or the essential qualities or features that have made it harmonious with what is ideal for the generality of the people, which means that some sense of purpose is still distinct and clearly identifiable in this culture. In this case what might be called for is a reform, which should seek to call the culture to task for this loss of purpose. This means that the underlying notion of the cultural heritage is still basically acceptable, and what the reform seeks to do is a sort of bringing the culture back on track.

There is a radically different situation which may arise to call into question the fundamental principles on which the foundation of the culture was established and indicates that the culture can no longer viably maintain its continuity and vision. This situation would call into question all of the culture’s educational visions of continuity. This would mean a call for total transformation of the culture. In contrast to reforms, transformation suggests a radical restructuring of the culture and a fundamental rupture with the past. Thus from the perspective of transformative learning, real learning is not something added to a system in order to realize some sort of adaptation. Transformation means, in essence, the reorganisation of the whole system. In this process the viewed world is different and so is the view point of the viewer. Transformative learning processes are therefore counted as the creative function out of cognitive crisis. Creativity occurs within a cognitive system when old habitual modes of interpretation become dysfunctional, demanding a shifting of ground or view point. The breakdown or crisis motivates the system to self-organise in more inclusive ways of knowing, embracing and integrating data of which it had been previously unconscious.

Our present cultural manifestation in Africa exemplifies great confusion between the technical-industrial values of Western Eurocentric culture, and the remnant of the African indigenous worldview and ideals, which still forms large part of our subconscious field. The resulting conflict in perception easily becomes dysfunctional in its larger social dimensions, as we continue to firmly hold both realities simultaneously without reconciling them. It is the task of education in the twenty-first century Africa to rationally re-examine our indigenous heritage, on the one hand and our colonial heritage, on the other hand, with a view to harmonising the two in consideration of the present need of the generality of the people. It is no longer acceptable to keep blaming it all on colonial imposition over fifty years after independence from colonial rule. We are therefore in pressing need of a radical re-assessment of our present situation, especially concerning those basic values that give life some satisfactory meaning. We need an integral transformative learning that will educate us, that will heal, guide and discipline us and that will enable us to leave behind for future generations a continent that is close to the ideals of our ancestors, but still makes us respectable players in our indivisible, interdependent and interconnected one world.

The second visionary theme in the integral transformative learning being espoused in this paper is education for integral development. Africa of the twenty-first century must have a creative visionary education, which must be based on a conception of development that will transcend the limitations of the western-type ideas on development with their attendant conception of underdevelopment. This subsisting model of education and development necessarily creates dependency syndrome. This phenomenon results from the simplistic assumption of a linear path to development in which all must fall in, and since the North are assumed to have been on this path before others, they are automatically presumed to have head start over others. This creates mental image of others trudging behind the North in perpetuity. It further implies that others have to depend on the North for help and approval for whatever they do as it assumes zero starting point for others on the linear path to development.

This notion of development creates unsustainability because it tends to take cultural principles as universal values and then assume that they should be taken up by all irrespective of variation in circumstances and contexts. This conventional development paradigm has as its primary goal superimposing on the so-called “Third” or “Underdeveloped” world preconceived notion of development indexed in exterior and material things such as physical infrastructure, superficially defined economic growth, scientific and technological innovations that literally stand apart from the real needs of the people and new ethical directions in governance and law, which alienates the people from the institutions of governance in their immediate and wider communities. This conception of development fails to address full range of human needs that foster prosperity and cultivate happiness. It does not bother about dialogue and group processes as well as qualitative needs of indigenous communities.

In contrast to this conventional conception of development, integral development would necessarily evolve methodologies to broaden the scope of development to include working with human interiority exemplified by worldviews, values and consciousness. Humanity, not just Africa, needs a new approach to development, not only in order to find mechanisms and tools for addressing unsustainability in development, but also to foster mutual understanding within and between societies. Therefore integral development links the creative evolutionary processes of the universe: the planet and the totality of its environment, the earth community, the human community and the personal world. It is a development that must be understood as a dynamic wholeness that encompasses the entire universe and a vital consciousness both within us and at the same time all around us in the world. The endpoint moves toward a deep personal planetary consciousness that we can identify as ecological selfhood. True development is thus a never-ending process that has to do with satisfying the best material needs of the people together with their intangible psychological needs. It is these psychological needs that make up the qualitative aspects of life: the health, love, respect, safety, and the community well being, which manifest as collective feeling, ideals, beliefs, emotions and perspective of individuals within the culture itself. These things cannot be reduced to economic growth and other quantitative indicators.

The third theme to be addressed within this context of integral transformative vision relates to quality of life as part of learning frame of reference. The North, a very tiny minority of the world, stands in need to be conscientized to confront and come to terms with the quality of life they have appropriated for themselves. They also stand in need to be conscientized to assume the responsibility of how that manner of living has diminished the manner of living of countless people in the majority of the world who populate the South. In the same manner, the few elites in Africa who happened to have access to western-oriented education, which was misconceived as primarily bringing personal and economic returns rather than as shared and collective ownership of opportunities, responsibilities and challenges as in the indigenous education system, are in need to be conscientized to confront and come to terms with the plight of the majority of their own people who have been dehumanized by the same system that made the few elites beneficiaries at the expense of the majority. Fundamental re-assessment of this social injustice in our world is the survival task of education which only integral transformative process of learning is capable of carrying through.

The rise of globalisation in recent years has continued to compound the trend of making the rich richer and the poor poorer by the western-dominated economic order. The bottom line, in the global market economy, is profit, pure and simple. The singular major goal is economic growth indexed in the gross national products (GNP). The West has sold this unconscionable dream of profit to our African world by commodity fetishism. The western-style labour force, the outcome of the western-oriented education system, has brought the notion of standard of living, unmindful of the fact that standard of living can only be a comparative phrase to indicate if buying power has increased or decreased in wage potential to buy market commodities. Standard of living does not add up to quality of life. Any examination of quality of life must attend to our deep-seated need for community and sense of place. Globalization has thus compounded the rootlessness, transitoriness and dispossession of the people in the South, which western-style education introduced through colonialism and perpetuated through neo-colonialism. The restlessness induced by this state of affairs results in an increasing number of communities around the world, people are moving all around to find better-paid  jobs at the same time  corporations and other employers of labour are moving all around to find cheaper labour. Products for consumption, such as food, are transported to very distant places to reach global market while in the neighbourhoods where this food is produced people are starving to death alongside a few others in both ends who eat themselves into obesity. Our sense of belonging to a community and our security are lost all together in the shuffle of accelerated change and mobility. This loss of connection to where we live, to people in our communities, and to the natural world that surrounds us is tangible and disquieting. In a time when the global economy can no longer be relied on to provide the basic necessities of life, the cultivation of a sense of locality and place has the potential to build within the system a corrective to the vagaries of globalisation. This is a survival task of education.

Our economic market vision has left our whole culture with a crisis of meaning. But in the final analysis, what the human individual hungers for are more meaning and purpose in life. Our present day cultural values, fixated on the marketplace, have resulted in a profound cynicism that makes us question whether there is any deeper meaning and higher purpose to life beyond material self-interest. The bottom line of all this materialism and glorification of self-interest is that we find ourselves in greater confusion with more development of this dysfunctional system. We are living in a period of human and Earth history that is in a state of radical transformation. Much of the habitual patterns that we have inherited from our contact with the western world have become dysfunctional for our present circumstances. Each individual is being driven by necessity, to device some ways, no matter how unethical the ways are, for living to survive in a manner that gives us sustainable quality of life. But we cannot deal with our present historical moment by surface responses to our difficulties. It is now becoming very clear that our western scale of progress and development is not tuned to human scale or, for that matter, the scale of Earth. Our task must be to deepen our understanding of development in a manner that takes into account a much wider spectrum of human needs. An education system that is alive is what Africa needs to carry out a systematic re-assessment of our present state of affairs with a view to bringing about a total transformation that will meet our needs and those of future generations.

The fourth and final theme of this vision of integral transformation in our education is the cultivation of the sense of spirituality. No in-depth treatment of transformative education can be complete without addressing the topic of spirituality. The transformed education system must take on the development of the spirit at a most fundamental level. African indigenous education drew strongly on the spiritual dimension. This pervaded all activities and all relationships. Education in this system inculcated a religious attitude to life. This was manifested in reverence for nature and the unknown universe whose consciousness was developed in all from very early childhood. In contrast to this, contemporary education today suffers deeply by its eclipse of the spiritual dimension of our world and universe.

Spirituality in our time has become seriously compromised by its identification with institutional religion, which in recent times has brought about more violence than other social institutions in our milieu. It also has been compromised by the vision and values of the market. In a world economy governed by the profit motive, there is no place for the cultivation and nourishment of spiritual life. Leisure, contemplation, and silence have no value in this system because none of these activities is governed by the motivation of profit. People who attend to their spiritual life are seen as non-productive or underdeveloped. Our world economy is geared to material wants and needs, and ignores the ever present hunger of the spirit in every human heart. We must therefore begin to consider education as a spiritual venture, which is what it really has been in all human history. The sense of the sacred will have to encompass all aspects of transformative vision. It is a dimension that is integral to all three other themes of transformative learning and cannot be separated from any one of the other themes.


In conclusion we must understand that transformative education fundamentally questions the wisdom of all our current educational ventures. Our present educational institutions, which are in line with, and feed into, industrialism, rationalism, competitive trans-nationalism, individualism and self-aggrandisement, must be put into question. All of these elements coalesce into a worldview that exacerbates the crisis we are currently facing. There is no creativity because there is no viewpoint or consciousness that sees beyond the present mad quest for lucre, to perceive the need for new directions. It should be a very strong indictment that our conventional educational institutions are defunct and bereft of understanding of our present planetary crisis. What is significant in the whole situation is that the risk we run is not a single crisis, but a crisis of crises, many breakdowns and dislocations all happening simultaneously throughout our entire socioeconomic system and all around our environment. Our education system must take up this challenge to redeem the continent from the shackles of its immediate past.


Capra, F. (1982) The turning point: science, society and the rising culture. Toronto: Bantam Books.
Malunga, C. (2006) Learning leadership development from African cultures: A personal perspective. International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), Praxis Note 25.
O’Sullivan, E. (2001) The project and vision of transformative education – Integral transformative learning. In O’Sullivan, E.,Morrell, A. & O’Connor, M. (2001) Expanding the boundaries of transformative learning. New York: Palgrave.1 – 12.
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1986). New York: Merriam Webster Inc.
Wheatley, M. J. (1994) Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe San Francisco CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

About the Author

Oliver Ngodo, PhD, is a Consultant for Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO International) in the project: Developing the Foundation for Ecosystem-Based Natural Resource Management for Nigeria. He is also Associate Editor & Bureau Chief for Sub-Saharan Africa, Integral Leadership Review (ILR). Tel. +234-8168985724, +60198152810;;



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