Ubuntu: “I am because we are” 

The Covid19 pandemic has been a turning point in the history of education, industry and technology. It has also ushered the best and worst in humanity. The worst being, instead of looking for a solution to conquer the fierce enemy-the Coronavirus, countries are engaged in finding a scapegoat for their own lack of combatting this issue, politicians are busy playing the blame game for vested personal interests, and people are displaying increasingly disturbing xenophobia. Is this humanity’s new avatar revealed by an invisible enemy?

When I think of humanity, the African philosophy of Ubuntuism or the word Ubuntu echoes into my conscience and makes me ponder what should have been the true face of humanity in the time of this crisis. Having lived in Africa for a long time, I came to use and relate to the word Ubuntu which means, ‘I am because we are’. In many sense, it explains the purpose of humanity that is to coexist and define each other by discovering the interconnectedness and relationship between humans and that between humans and the world around them. I would like to interpret Ubuntu in the context of Covid19 to talk about the need to educate with the purpose of achieving Ubuntuism.

Let us envisage Ubuntuism as the educational philosophy for the future. This means education will aim at inculcating the ideologies of Ubuntuism. Here is my interpretation of Ubuntuism integrated into educational values. This will serve the future generation by preparing them better to deal with any crisis at a global scale.

Consensus over conflict
Ubutuism explains the interconnectedness of one human with the other, the reason of existence of one because of the other, with this aim the first thing to do is abolish the root of all conflicts: unhealthy competitions, ranking, grading, constant need to be the best. Students should compete with their own abilities to improve and become a better version of themselves and not compete with others to become clones of each other. Competition kills creativity and harnesses jealousy, anger and a constant desire to prove oneself. This gives rise to conflict, while the need of the hour is consensus. Curbing competition and the constant need to be the best will have a solid positive impact on the decisions students make when faced with challenges, they will seek to find a solution and not find a scapegoat. They will seek consensus over conflict.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing an unhealthy conflict globally to prove that one country is better than the other, one religion, race even profession is better than the other; there are even tests and research being conducted for racial profiling of Covid19, a pandemic. An unhealthy response to a health issue.

Altruism over Egotism
Altruism is the ability to think of others before self and it can be linked to Ubuntuism as in the later the definition of self is in relation to others so you think of others first in order to think about yourself. When faced with a global crisis the only redeemer is the ability to think of others before self, that is how the health care workers would have powered on in spite of the looming danger of getting infected and possibly dying. The need to care for others first can be taught and this will be our biggest saviour against an invincible enemy. Egotism the very opposite of altruism is leading to the delay of developing a cure for the Covid19 pandemic. Countries need to come together to fight the global threat, fighting alone is not the answer neither the right response to the situation. This reminds me of the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ which means the whole world is one family and truly it is. Altruism can help us align to the idea of one world hence it needs to be an educational value.

Social equality over equity
Since Ubuntuism is about bringing together everyone to see each other as equal, it would demand educational aims and values to be directed towards equality and not equity. Equality in terms of opportunity is the need to give equal opportunity to all citizens of the world irrespective of caste, gender, religion, nationality or colour. Equality alone can bridge the gaps created by tensions during an apocalyptic situation. Equity is about helping others in the time of need but equity is not the answer as it will lead to widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, how? Well, simply because it again creates the situation where one is capable of giving and the other is at the mercy of the giver. To bridge the gap it has to be filled not widened. Equity is providing too little to those who need it and too much to those who do not, this can further exacerbate the inequalities we see today. Equal opportunity is the solution, teaching students to be entrepreneurs and to create jobs is a better skill than teaching them to indulge in charity. The current situation is a stark reminder on how charity is not the answer but sharing resources and opportunities to survive, is the only option.

Pluralism over monism
Pluralism philosophy encourages duality of ideas, thoughts and perspective, in terms of the society it celebrates diversity, racial and cultural differences; on the other hand monism philosophy unites into sects or groups by dividing under common beliefs for example religion. When it comes to Ubuntuism, if we consider the very core idea of one’s development in conjunction to another, it automatically reinforces pluralism and teaches to understand multiple perspectives and learn from other people’s experiences rather than just believe in oneness and unity which ultimately is used to segregate on the basis of colour, race, beliefs, geography, food and gender. The Covid19 crisis would have been dealt with better without prejudice and bias. The virus does not segregate it just keeps attacking the next human being without bias or prejudice hence is more successful than those trying to contain it with hatred and xenophobia.

Soul over self
At Nelson Mandela’s memorial, United States President Barack Obama spoke about Ubuntu, saying,
“There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him, or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailers as honoured guests at his inauguration; taking a pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.”

Ubuntu speaks about the soul, to oversome the self and be human in the time of crisis. Ubuntuism is the way forward, a world not divided but a world as one family, opening up borders, getting rid of economic domination, racial supremacy, roots of discrimination and cold calculated xenophobia. Only by revising educational aims and values can we survive the future, the future of coexistence with an understanding and respect for each other.

Covid19 has given an opportunity to policymakers, philosophers, politicians and heads of countries to rethink how to shape the future of the world. Creating a whole world, not a fragmented world, by acknowledging Ubuntu-I am because we are!

About Shwetangna Chakrabarty

Shwetangna Chakrabarty is the IBDP Coordinator and University Counsellor at Guangzhou Nanfang International School, China. She has 15 years of experience in teaching three different curricula in four countries. She has taught mathematics and business management to the International GCSE and International Baccalaureate (IB) students. She has had multiple responsibility positions including pedagogical leader, DP, Extended Essay, MYP Personal Project, CIS/NEASC accreditation coordinator and IB Examiner. She has a degree in education and an MBA, she is also a college counsellor certified by TripleA learning, U.K.
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