What does the phrase "education for self-reliance" mean?

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The phrase "education for self-reliance" is usually attributed to Julius Nyerere, the statesman and leader of Tanzania from before the nation achieved formal independence in the early 1960s up until 1985. In his pamphlet published in 1967 titled "Education for Self-Reliance," Nyerere proposed re-evaluating the purpose and intent of education in Tanzania. He offered that while they did not have a rigid blueprint for the future, the nation had identified socialist objectives it wanted to realize: equality, respect for human dignity, sharing of resources collectively produced, sharing in the work necessary to make communities thrive and elimination of exploitation. 

The dominant system of education, Nyerere argued, reflected what had been inherited by the old colonial powers. The inherited colonial system of education, he claimed, remained elitist (designed to meet the needs of only a few), it divorced students from the society it should be preparing them for, and it inappropriately privileged formal academic knowledge over traditional knowledge(s) and the experience of honest labor. Nyerere framed it as antithetical to the goals of a more just future socialist society, which is what he believed education in Tanzania should be oriented toward.

Taking into account that rapid industrialization was an impossibility in Tanzania at that time, Nyerere argued that the labor of rural and agricultural life should be re-valorized as part of a project for Tanzanian schools to become "communities which practise the precept of self-reliance.” This education for self-reliance would entail that each school recognizes itself not only as a social and educational institution, but also as an economic community capable of providing for itself. To become collectively self-reliant and contribute to the common good, Nyerere suggested each school should maintain a farm or workshop -- depending upon whether the particular school was located in a more moderately urban or more agrarian setting -- so as to provide food for itself and the community and/or to contribute to the national wealth.

This would not be for mere training purposes. Rather, the incorporation of the productive work which students would participate in was to be just as integral to their formal education as the book learning within the classrooms -- the latter which ideally would also support the hands-on learning on the farm or in the workplace.

Nyerere asserted that in contrast to old practices of education, these new modes of learning would begin to break down the problematic idea that only academic learning is respectable. Students would learn the advantages (and overcome the challenges) of cooperative labor and practice participating in the major decisions regarding how they collectively organize work, the details of what they produce or grow, and how the surplus they generate would be allocated. The idea was to implement practical socialist education using (and with the hope of teaching) "direct democracy." Students could thus become "effective members of the community--for their own benefit as well as that of their country and their neighbours," in a process that would help create a “citizenry which relies upon itself for its own development."

Nyerere's version of "education for self-reliance" thus shares certain similarities with other non-orthodox ideas about education. Nyerere's vision echoes elements of Karl Marx's acknowledgement in the chapter on "Machinery and Large-Scale Industry" in the book "Capital" of the benefits of coupling labor and education in order to cultivate more complete human beings. (Marx borrowed those ideas from utopian socialist thinker Robert Owen, and he also drew insights from various factory reports and observations of how factory work, education and physical exercise had been combined in select cases.) Nyerere's educational model also incorporates the "discovery" or learning-through-doing aspects of the Montessori method popularized by Italian educator Maria Montessori. It also reflects the importance placed on community-based knowledge found in the ideas of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whose oft-cited book in the tradition of critical pedagogy, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," was published in Portugese in 1968, one year after Nyerere's pamphlet was published.  Nyerere's ideas even presaged some of the ideas found in more recent work, like the book by ecology-focused anti-capitalist feminist writers Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, "The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy," insofar as their work criticizes orthodox models of economics focused on growth and industrial development. Now, while unlike the fanatical push to rapid industrialization imposed by totalitarian methods in Stalinist Russia, Nyerere's educational vision, even while socialist, did remain nationalist in its orientation. Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies, in contrast, prefer to shift focus away from state-centric paradigms and toward local communities.

Some of the failures of Nyerere's administration and the inability of Tanzanian people to address issues of deprivation and poverty throughout Nyerere's time in office could be considered in this light.

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