Colonial education in the Congo - a question of “uncritical” pedagogy until the bitter end?

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Marc Depaepe


Our approach is a historical, and not a theoretical or a philosophical one. But such an approach might be of help to understand the complexities and ambiguities of the pedagogical mentalities in the course of the twentieth century. As is usually the case in historical research the groundwork has to precede the formulation of hypotheses, let alone theories about the nature of pedagogical practices. Therefore, 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. This article tries to give an overview of some of our analyses, concentrating on the question to what extend the Belgian offensive of colonial (i.e. mainly Catholic) missionary education, which was almost exclusively targeted at “paternalism”,  contributed to the development of personal life, individual autonomy and/or emancipation of the natives. From the rear-view mirror of history we are, among other things, 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.

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Part I: Catholicism and colonialism