PESC-3: Environmental Education and Education for Socio-Economic Development
Prof Christo Lombard:
School Education, Tolerance and Freedom of Religion and Belief in Namibia
Prof Christo Lombard (University of Namibia) spoke on behalf of the Namibian Delegation to the International Consultative Conference on School Education in relation to Freedom of Religion or Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Madrid, 25 November 2001.

It is an honour to represent Namibia, one of the world's youngest independent nations, and as you will know, a nation liberated from occupation, oppression and racist practices that were underscored by a very intolerant and religiously sanctioned apartheid ideology. In the struggle for our liberation, religion however also played another role: a strong motivating and supportive role. Religious conviction helped us to expose, lay bare, the racist and heretical notions of the irreconcileability of people that supported the divide and rule policies of the then apartheid regime; it also provided a moral basis for resisting an oppressive state, and it empowered people with religious notions of a better humanity as the outcome of a long and bitter struggle.

Our delegation is attending this Conference not as politicians trying to participate in the now almost fashionable rhetoric of tolerance and respect for human dignity, but as educationalists who are proud that we could spearhead a very determined effort by our new Namibian government, immediately after independence in 1990, to completely replace the old Christian-Nationalist curricula with multi-faith Religious Education and Religious and Moral Education (RE/RME) programmes in our schools - giving flesh and blood to the spirit of the Draft Document for this Conference. We are thus not philosophising about the benefits of such a new approach to public education; we are reporting on its benefits and problems.

We are happy to report that in the RE syllabi for Grades 1-7 our learners, from different religious backgrounds, are encouraged to treasure their own backgrounds, i.e. their own stories of special places, times, people and events; their own rituals, and their own sense of belonging (usually called "credo", "cult" and "community"), and to define their own identity, while respecting and learning about the diversity of other religious perspectives also present in class and in society. These syllabi are based on the conviction and assumption that tolerance, and more than that: positive respect for the OTHER, is based on the human right of freedom of religion and belief (including the right of nonbelief), and is educationally translated into a multi-cultural and multi-faith approach, with a comparative, and especially, an experiential element to class work. Learners are positively encouraged to participate with their own perspectives, listen to others with the purpose of broadening their horizons, and fostering a diversity of approaches towards a common humanity. They learn to share their ideas through dialogue, song, drama, art, and projects, i.e. all thedifferent learning styles and activities available to good educational praxis. And they are encouraged to apply their insights to real life situations in a problemsolving mode.

In the RME (Religious and Moral Education) syllabi, presented in Grades 8-10, the focus is on moral issues, moral choices and challenges faced in real life by real learners, i.e. the Namibian generations and leaders of tomorrow, starting today. The subject acts as a carrier subject for human rights education, civic education, population education, sexual education and environmental education. The problems and tasks are formulated on four levels: (1) individual values and identity; (2) interpersonal relations; (3) national and societal responsibilities, and (4) international issues. The subject operates with a self-reflexive "hermeneutic of suspicion", hopefully resulting in critical and imaginative citizens who know who they are, and who respect themselves and the OTHER selves around them.

Although our educational efforts are underfunded (there is still a lack of good materials and sufficiently qualified teachers), and we still encounter some resistance against the "relativism" of the multi-faith pardigm, there is a growing understanding that the lack of tolerance and respect in society, and the stubborn remnants of a violent culture (after 23 years of war, and suspicion of "enemies" and "traitors"), and a lack of moral values (daily visible in cases of corruption, nepotism, self-enrichment, violent crime, and rape of women and children), can only be countered successfully in the long run by what this Conference is about: through school education in which religion is taught in such a way that respect for human dignity and a common humanity is fostered, and where justice and peace are supported by all religious and humanist traditions, in spite of differences in credo, cult and sense of community. This is so because we are now realising, as a global community, that we need common values, common codes of conduct, not only as an outcome of mutual cultural enrichment, but more basically, and more seriously, as a means of joint survival. Through visionary events like this Conference, for which we wish to thank the Special Rapporteur and his team, as well as our generous hosts, the Government of Spain, we hopefully also learn that we DO have access to these common human values and codes of survival: they are embedded in our rich religious and humanist traditions, and our task is to critically investigate and transmit these codes to the next generations of humanity.

The message from Namibia is therefore hopefully clear, even if we speak only on the basis of 11 years of control over our own affairs. Let us embrace multicultural and multi-faith education in our schools. Let us use the resources of religion and human beliefs to underline the values of tolerance and respect for "others", and for freedom of religion and belief, worldwide. At stake is not only our common humanity, but our dear survival on this God-given planet. Our appeal is thus to all States and Governments represented here: Please put your money where your mouths are at these high-level consultations. Let us show the States and Governments not represented here that proper rhetoric, joined with proper action, CAN change the world for the better!

Back to Report 2001/2002 "A Soul  for Education"