The late Julius K. Nyerere, the independence leader and founding president of the United Republic of Tanzania and previously Tanganyika, once said the independence movement in Tanzania was the largest adult education campaign in the history of his nation. His people knew President Nyerere as an educator, “Mwalimu” in Kiswahili. He believed deeply in the power of adult learning.
While studying and living in Scotland and England, prior to his role as the independence movement leader, Nyerere visited Ruskin College, the adult education college at Oxford University. There he witnessed the work linking adult education to political change. Nyerere took that example and when he returned to Tanganyika he founded Kivukoni College, an adult and political education college where the independence officers and later national politicians would study. The institution still exists and has been studied by scholars all around the world and duplicated in some countries.
When Nyerere returned to Tanganyika, he was forced by colonial authorities to make a choice between his political activities and his teaching. In 1954, he successfully brought a number of different nationalist factions into one group with the formation of the Tanganyika African National Union. The group’s main objective was to achieve national sovereignty for Tanganyika. Nyerere became president of the union and entered the Legislative Council in 1958 and became chief minister in 1960. A year later Tanganyika was granted internal self-government and Nyerere became the premier. Full independence came shortly after that and he was elected president in 1962.
During his presidency, Nyerere worked to change the elitist ideas about education in Tanzania. He argued that the education system catered to the needs and interests of a very small proportion of people who managed to enter the hierarchical pyramid of formal schooling. Nyerere set out his vision in “Education for Self Reliance.” He explained education had to work for the common good, foster cooperation and promote equality. He encouraged teachers and students to engage together in productive activities and students to participate in the planning and decision-making of these activities. Nyerere said children should begin school at age seven and primary education should be complete in itself, rather than a means to higher education. He believed living is learning and learning is about trying to live better.
In 1970, Nyerere declared that Tanzania would celebrate Adult Education Year throughout the nation and throughout all political and governmental bodies. Nyerere understood adult education, believed in it and built structures to support it. He served as the founding honorary president of the International Council for Adult Education and he hosted the First World Assembly of Adult Education in June 1976.Nyerere’s life and career are an inspiration to many who dismiss the notion in elite circles that justice, dignity and freedom should be subordinated to the single-minded pursuit of prosperity through economic liberalization and structural adjustment. Nyerere died in a London hospital of leukemia on October 14, 1999.
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