The educational situation in Africa today is so beset with problems, particularly in terms of output and efficacy, that alarmists and pessimists would like to characterize it as desperate, if not hopeless. In contrast to this position, we wish in this article to argue for a more positive approach, that is, for a "pedagogy of hope".

When we speak of "hope" in this context, it will be in a philosophical rather than in a theological sense. Hope to the Christian theologian is a divine virtue along with faith and charity. Hope and the other two virtues are viewed as gifts from God. The approach adopted here is more mundane: we locate hope within a purely human context and in so doing view it primarily as a human quality, a basically human virtue. No doubt, one may envisage here a possible link between the natural and the supernatural, but that is not our concern in this article.


What is hope? This simple question has unfortunately no simple answer. Of course, one can consult a dictionary and find that hope is a) expectation and desire combined, and b) a feeling of trust. Hope, according to Gabriel Marcel, does not belong in the realm of problem, but in that of mystery. Marcel argues that a problem is something tangible, something objective, like a tree that blocks our way; the problem can be solved or removed like any obstacle. But a mystery is different from a problem in as far as the subject is directly involved in it; it is intrinsically interwoven with one’s existence; it cannot be solved in an analytical manner, but only be acknowledged as an integral part of me.2

For this reason Marcel hesitates to define hope in precise words; he tries rather to describe the very human experience of hope in all its concreteness. At this point one finds that hope does imply expectation and desire, a looking forward to something good; it also implies a belief that what we wish for will actually come true. There is, however, one element of hope which is not normally mentioned in the dictionary: that hope cannot be separated from human trial and affliction, be it individual or collective, such as disease, poverty, war. In such a situation one hopes for deliverance, rescue, improvement, liberation. In this context we could refer to Paulo Freire who asserts that "hope is rooted in men’s incompleteness.3

Let us elaborate: human beings are constantly confronted with their own limitations. They realize that the love, or freedom, or truth or joy they experience in their daily lives is never adequate: it always falls short. FolIowing this realization, they move out in constant search for a better world, a brighter future, or as Freire puts it, for more humanity.4 This search, which includes a wish for, and a belief in, something good to come, is at the basis of human life and progress. Hope follows in the wake of trouble and tribulation, of disappointment and disaster; it is the human answer to human incompleteness.

Fundamental to such human hope is that it must be a common search, carried out in communion with other people, requiring dialogue.5 Hope demands an active orientation, a going out to the other, to the community; hope implies being available, or rather, putting oneself at the disposal of the community. Despair, in contrast, is a form of silence, of refusal, of non-participation.

The above idea of hope stems from a well-defined philosophical anthropology, a philosophy of man that views human beings as consciously acting upon the world in order to change and transform that world. In a climate of hope and confidence humans set out collectively and cooperatively to overcome the limit situations (to employ Jaspers’ terminology) such as sickness, death, failure, rejection, etc. and to create a new reality, that is, a new culture, a new world. It is worth noting that both Marcel and Freire share this kind of philosophy, which implies a belief which makes hope possible by providing a trustworthy ground. Hope, then, is not the same as optimism which is often not much more than a sunny outlook without much justification. Hope, however, finds its justification in the human search for a better existence, a more human world.

At this point hope may be linked in a transcendental manner to the supernatural. In doing so, one goes beyond a strong belief in humanity to find the ultimate justification of hope in God’s love. But however hope is justified, be it in natural or supernatural terms, despair always remains a distinct possibility. Ultimately, despair is a lack of faith, in humanity as well as in the divine; hope, on the contrary, is a constant affirmation of faith in both.


No society anywhere in the world educates its. people without having good reasons for doing so. Education is a serious business, and today it is also very expensive. Obviously, no society or government will spend so much time, energy and money on an activity like education, if it does not serve any purpose at all.6 But having stated the obvious - that education has a goal, an aim, a purpose - we must now try to be more specific when answering the question: education for what?

Within the Kenyan context we must first and foremost refer to the various educational reports, such as the Ominde Report (1964), the Gachathi Report (1976), the Kamunge Report (1988), all of which have attempted to define Kenya’s educational objectives. There is no need here to record the different versions in detail, but we may provide a general summary. One may start by clearly distinguishing between collective and individual aims of education. First, several collective aims or goals.7 have been stated, such as to foster national unity, to promote national development, to foster international awareness. Second, we mention individual aims, like promoting the full development of talents and personality, equipping the youth with knowledge, skills and expertise to play an effective role in life, promoting social morality, social obligations and responsibilities. All these aims, both collective and individual, remain of necessity rather general, considering that they must serve the total system which includes many modes of education, from primary to teacher education.

When, however, we look at the objectives of primary and secondary education, we find that they are highly specific, such as developing self-expression, logical thought, critical judgement, social and environmental awareness. We may refer here to the objectives of the four-year secondary education of the 8-4-4 system, as stated by the Kamunge Report:

* To provide for an all round mental, moral and spiritual development;

* To provide relevant skills towards positive contribution to the development of society;

* To ensure balanced development in cognitive (knowledge), psycho-motor (manipulative and practical) and affective (attitude and value) skills;

* To lay a firm foundation for further education, training and work;

* To lead to the acquisition of positive attitudes and values towards the well being of society.8

What more can one ask for? By any standards these objectives, as they pertain to secondary education in Kenya, are of very high quality. To substantiate this point in a limited manner, we find that these objectives contain direct references to the important dimensions of education, notably the cognitive and normative dimensions; indirectly they also point to the creative and dialogical dimensions.9

Unfortunately, the excellent quality of these objectives is not reflected in educational practice; apparently there is a gap between theory and practice, or so it seems. Even a cursory glance at schooling in Kenya today will show that educational practice suffers chronically from what R. Dore has called "the diploma disease".10 Both the formal curriculum and its objectives are subverted in order to give way to an entirely new curriculum, informal in character, intended to promote success in the examinations. The sole criterion of educational quality, it appears, is good performance in the examination. Whatever the various education reports have said about the importance of attitudes and values, of practical skills, of an all-round development is being replaced by a very opportunistic theory of education. What is evident is that in Kenya we have two distinct educational theories, one idealistic and another opportunistic; only the second is put into practice, the first remains an ideal.

Given this opportunistic or instrumental theory of educational11 and its subsequent practice, one observes a number of very fundamental problems affecting both society and its individual members. One of these problems is that this informal theory (and practice) has given rise to false expectations, to false hopes. Students, teachers and parents alike wrongly expect and believe that those who perform well in examinations will be greatly rewarded, in the form of high salaried jobs. By contrast, those students who do not perform well will be automatically dismissed as failures. Considering that presently only 10% of the total student population is successful in passing from primary to secondary to tertiary level, one finds that these "failures" are many indeed. When in March 1990, the KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) results were announced they indicated that less than 5% out of 130,000 candidates had scored B- or above – this being the minimum requirement for university entrance. Subsequent to this announcement many voices were heard which spoke of "mass failures". Obviously, when only 2 to 3 students out of a class of 40 manage to enter university, and when this is a nation-wide phenomenon, then one observes failure and frustration everywhere. To many, be they students, teachers, or parents, Kenya’s educational system appears to be hopeless, for they notice that the educational system classifies the majority of the candidates as failures. These rejects, or drop-outs, whose (false) hopes are dashed, can only hope to survive in a highly competitive society; at least this is the common opinion. Inevitably, the system is blamed for being elitist and discriminatory and is blamed as well for producing hardly anything but failures. The question may be asked: "Is there a way out of this hopeless situation?" The answer is "Yes".


From the outset it should be made clear that no miraculous solution is offered to a typically human problem; like the problem, the solution is human too. In this respect, a primary lesson may be learned from the physically handicapped. Many do not expect miracles to happen, they have no false hopes, but they often possess a strong determination which issues from undaunted self-confidence and from hope in their own potential. The story is told by Professor Lea Dasberg of how a person with walking problems went to a driving school and asked to be given driving lessons (Note 12). The driving instructor refused, but the handicapped person insisted, saying: "I have two arms, two eyes, two ears and a mind that is very alert, so what is the problem?" Smilingly, the instructor accepted and after a while the person in question was driving a car. It is within this context that Dasberg, herself handicapped, first coined the expression "pedagogy of hope". Let us explain this point further.

Contentwise, education is primarily concerned with knowledge, skills and values; this is a reference to the cognitive and normative dimensions of education. Accordingly, education is often defined as being "the acquisition of knowledge, skills and values." What is problematic about this definition is the term "acquisition", which itself remains undefined. How does the student acquire knowledge and skills and values? And how does the teacher facilitate such acquisition? We are inquiring here into the methodology of education not in a very specific sense, but in general terms. We refer here to the teacher’s basic approach and orientation, what is called one’s pedagogy.

It is our contention that the overall pedagogy of teachers in Kenya’s schools, particularly in secondary schools, needs to be reviewed, rethought, reappraised and revised. Based on an opportunistic and a largely instrumental theory of education, the present pedagogy is hopeless in more than one sense. Instead, we propose a fundamental theory of education which includes a positive conception of being human, in the manner explicated by D. Vandenberg.13 From such an educational theory follows a pedagogy that approximates P. Freire’s Pedagogy of the oppressed" and yet it is different from it in its own unique way. What we have in mind is a pedagogy of hope, a pedagogy which puts strong emphasis on the creative and dialogical dimensions of education.

First, it must focus on creativity, understood here in existential terms; as such it assumes the presence of an acting person who constantly acts upon factual situations, thereby creating a new world and new hope. Such a pedagogy will be action-oriented, as it tries to transform the student into an acting person. All this will have various implications, for both the teacher and the student. As a facilitator the teacher will not be satisfied with mere transmission of given knowledge, skills and values. Rather, he/she will view teaching as a liberating task understood here in a non-political sense. The teacher will be primarily concerned with knowledge, skills and values that are liberating in as far as they create new opportunities, new horizons and a future that transcends both the past and the present. The students, too, will be affected in as far as they become aware of their potential as human beings and of their "power to use circumstances rather than be used by them", as Nyerere once put it.14

Second, a pedagogy of hope is almost by definition dialogical in character. Hope, as we noted earlier, demands an active orientation, a going out to the other, to the community. Isolation leads to frustration and despair, whereas being together with others, which includes dialogue and co-operation, brings about a climate of hope. Teaching, in this context, takes on special significance, as it provides guidance and direction rather than merely transmits knowledge, skills and values to the students. Guidance is basic to teaching, to a pedagogy of hope, since it encourages openness and realistic dialogue. As a result, students will be able to evaluate themselves realistically, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, their potential and their limitations. This self-knowledge will give them self-confidence and hope for the future: realistic hope, not false expectations.


To conclude, two points need to be made clear. First, a pedagogy of hope is not an easy way out of the problems faced by the youth, rather it is an attempt to cope with these problems in so far as is humanly possible. Admittedly, problems may be of such magnitude given politico-economic realities that little can be done, but even that "little" may mean much in a search for a hopeful existence. Second, the pedagogy of hope proposed here is not a grand solution to our educational problems. Rather, it will show its efficacy in the ordinary, day-to-day setting of the classroom. It is there that the teacher will tell "these kids" that they are not failures, no matter what exams results they will get, but that they have potential which can be realized. Maybe at that point teachers and students alike will begin to implement the real objectives of the 8-4-4 system which, despite its deficiencies, offers a unique challenge to the Kenyan nation: to be actively engaged in creating a hopeful future.


1. An expression that was first used by Prof. L. Dasberg in her book Pedagogy for the year 2000 or a tribute to hope (tr.). Amsterdam: 1980.

2. Gabriel Marcel is a contemporary philosopher who has extensively written about hope, for example in his work Homo Viator (1945) where he developed a philosophy of hope. See also his Etre et avoir.

3. Paolo Freire. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth, U.IC: Penguin Books, 1972. p. 64.

4. Ibid.

5. Both G. Marcel and P. Freire seem to concur in this matter.

6. Cf. R. Njoroge and G. Bennaars. Philosophy and education in Africa. Nairobi: Transafrica Press, 1986, section 8.2 for further details.

7. In educational documents the terms "goals", "aims", and "objectives" are not clearly distinguished from each other, as they should be.

8. Report of the Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower Training for the Next Decade and Beyond. Chairman: J. M. Kamunge. Nairobi: Government Printer, March 1988. Section 6.1. p. 27.

9. R. Njoroge and G. Bennaars. op. cit. See chapter 6 "Education as a multidimensional concept" for further details.

10. R. Dore. The diploma disease. London, 1976.

11. No formal designation exists, but the term "instrumental" has gained more acceptance. Cf R Dore, K. Richmond, et al.

12. Dasberg, op. cit.

13. D. Vandenberg. "Phenomenology and educational research" in D. Denton. Existentialism and phenomenology in education. Columbia, 1974.

14. J.K, Nyerere. "Our education must be liberation," in The Tanzanian experience, eds. H. Hinzen and V. Hundsdorfer. London, 1979, p. 43.


Last Revised 09-Feb-09 10:33 AM.