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 CNS Story:

AFRICA-COLLEGES May-27-2010 (700 words) xxxi

African Catholic colleges urged to refocus students to help continent

By Sister Grace Candiru
Catholic News Service

MWANZA, Tanzania (CNS) -- Catholic college administrators in East Africa have begun a broad evaluation of the content of their educational programs in an effort to urge their graduates to become involved in finding solutions to the violence and severe poverty that afflicts much of the continent.

Father John C. Maviiri, vice chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, told Catholic News Service that the effort by the members of the Association of Catholic Universities and Higher Institutes of Africa and Madagascar arises from concerns that some graduates of member institutions hold high-ranking posts in government and business but have done little to resolve the dire conditions that millions of Africans confront.

Peace-building, conflict resolution and reconciliation must become integral to Catholic higher education across Africa, the Ugandan priest said at the opening of a three-day symposium sponsored by the association in late April.

"Education for peace should not be mere words or formula, but it should be introduced in our curricula," he said. "Our universities must promote peace and security in Africa through education, training and research on peace-related issues."

After that gathering, a committee was challenged to pursue the issues raised, particularly sensitizing member schools to focus attention on curricula that would instill values of peace and justice in students.

"We wanted a curriculum that caters (to) the integral development of the student, one which encompasses the social doctrine of the church," he said.

In his presentation to delegates from Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, Father Maviiri challenged the educators to develop innovative ways to involve both perpetrators and victims of conflict in reconciling their differences.

The peace-building theme was echoed by Tanzanian Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, who said that while a university education offered a special opportunity to evangelize Africans, it tended to lead people away from God.

"Education has become divorced both from human and Gospel values," Cardinal Pengo said.

He urged the educators to focus on the holistic formation of students as human beings, saying that "universities that merely pass academic knowledge devoid of morals, ethics, etc., are a waste of time."

The cardinal said for many years that higher education in Africa had been elitist and that he found educated people in Africa were among the most corrupt, using their knowledge to simply enrich themselves at the expense of others.

Cardinal Pengo said the challenge facing Catholic higher education was to make education relevant to African needs.

"Do not produce misfits that harm society, but form responsible and ethical people who will take leadership as a service," he said.

In his welcoming address, Father Charles Kitima, vice chancellor of St. Augustine University of Tanzania, said the association can be an important forum if Catholic universities are to meet the expectations of African society.

"Our institutions contribute toward social cohesion, bringing together students and staff from different backgrounds, and we develop the sense of mutual understanding, inclusiveness and diversity," Father Kitima said.

"We have to learn from others, but we need our clear identity and visibility in this globalized society as African Catholic universities," he explained. "Our universities should reach the standards of any fully fledged university."

He urged the member institutions to focus on a "high quality of education clearly supported with Catholic identity."

"We often celebrate Mass in our institutions and, if lecturers do not attend, how can they impact on their students?" he asked.

Also addressing the assembly was Anthony Cernera, president of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. He told the educators that his organization was keen to cooperate with regional federations such as the East Africa university association.

He said when the church establishes a university, it does so to bring about the holistic development of the student.

"We are not just passing on knowledge but rather educating the whole person academically, physically, morally and spiritually," Cernera said. "We are dynamically involved with the student, challenging them to be the best they can be."

The American professor observed, however, that higher education had been reduced merely to job preparation rather than one that prepares the mind and heart for service.


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