Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
Dealing with “évolués” in Belgian Congo - a question of paternalism until the bitter end?
Marc Depaepe

Última modificación: 2017-07-16


Since the 1990s, “we” (as a team) have been busy studying the history of education in the former Belgian Congo. Of course, since then we have not only closely monitored the theoretical and methodological developments in the field of colonial historiography, but have ourselves also contributed to that history being ever more of a story that has been conceived in two directions. No matter how difficult this may be for educational historiography, we have searched from the start for effects of Belgian educational actions among the Congolese. Did that “civilisation process”, which was almost exclusively targeted at “paternalism”, finally contribute to the current debacle in the Congolese educational world? Alongside the World Bank, organisations such as Unicef very regularly point out that the defects of the system (the internal corruption, the high drop-out rate at schools, underpayment or non-payment of those employed in the sector, inflation of diplomas, etc.) will have to be tackled in a structural manner. But changes in mentality naturally cannot happen overnight. And educational historians can only be expected to contribute to this indirectly via renewed and in-depth historical insight. For this reason, we have assessed, among other things via interviews in Kinshasa and in the Matonge quarter in Brussels, the school experiences of “évolués” who lived through the education action of the overwhelmingly Catholic missions just before independence (in 1960). This took place according to the possible role that upbringing and education, in defiance of all paternalism fostered from above, nevertheless played in the areas of the development of personal life, individual autonomy and/or emancipation, etc.

It goes without saying that this is one of the most intrinsic history of education questions. It is hard to answer, because it goes hand in hand with the specificity and normativity of the source material that is traditionally kept and studied about schools. But it goes without saying that interviews, as well as biographical and autobiographical material, can indeed generate partial insights, which furthermore can also contribute to a better conceptualisation of the history of education in general. One of our basic principles is precisely that the structure and the effects, as well as the systemic faults, of the “modern” pedagogical life are best visible in a colonial context, whereby it was as it were necessary to completely redo that modernisation, often due to the naive belief in the supremacy of the Western (in this case Catholic) culture. For internal use, we labelled that process “cooking at high pressure”.

However, before it is possible to move on to such speculations, there must be sufficient empirical evidence at our disposal. From the rear-view mirror of history, we are in this regard zooming in on the crucial 1950s, during which decade thoughts first turned to the education of a (very limited) “elite”. The thesis we are using in this respect is that the “mental space” of colonialism was not of a nature as to have a very great widening of consciousness among the local population as its effect.