The Grand Opening of Fu Jen University: Address on Conferment of Honorary Degree, Taipei, 29.09.17


The Grand Opening of Fu Jen University:

Address on Conferment Of Honorary Degree

Taipei 29/09717


“Before Using This Device, Please Consult the Manual”

– The Challenges of Sustaining Language, Education, and Culture


Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson


The starting point of this chapter is a question raised by a young school student who was eager to make connections between what was happening in the school he attended and his experiences in the family home. He asked his teacher, since “new things” such as computers and printers arrive with some kind of user’s manual, why was it that complicated things, babies for example, arrive without one? Cardinal Turkson approaches this question by identifying the different ways we learn. We learn, he says, in the same ways that we are taught: formally, informally, and incidentally, often in a mix of all three at the same time. If teaching and learning takes place solely in the language of the student’s culture and community, then this is a relatively manageable process. Today, in countries that were former colonies, education is frequently delivered in the language of the original colonizers, resulting in the reinforcement of elitism that has no place in the process of education, regardless of its formality or informality. Education in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious societies must adapt to them. The author concludes with promising experiment: a recent pilot project in Ghana that will examine the impact of two key components of the educational process: 1) the language of its delivery; and 2) the nature of the technology and media used to deliver it.


Children and Sustainable Development: the Role of a "Manual of Life"

Let me begin, with a story about the need for education.

A village school had received a donation of a computer, a printer, and a video projector. To display the gadgets to the curious class, the teacher had to unpack a lot of printed material from the boxes. Some of the documents were warranties and product registration forms. But the most sizeable were manuals of instruction, and users’ manuals and guides. The teacher, sensing that the pupils were puzzled over how much printed material came with the new gadgets, decided to proffer an explanation: Class, as you can see, every new thing comes with a manual of instruction to show us how to use it, and use it well”.

The following morning, one of the pupils, Tekyi-Sam, whose mother had just given birth to a baby, put up his hand in class and asked: “Sir, if every ‘new thing’ comes with a manual, why does a new born baby not come with a manual?

The class burst out laughing, but Tekyi-Sam had asked a very important question: a question that actually explained why he himself was in school.


Education: The Art of Developing and Handing over “Manuals of Life”

Indeed, human beings come into the world without “manuals”, because they expect to receive their “manuals”, their guides for living life successfully, from the world into which they come, namely, their parents, families, homes, schools, institutions, communities, societies, and the State. And the process of handing over such “manuals of life” to new members of human societies is Education. In this sense, education is said to be as old as humanity and the most cherished and potent tool for passing on a community’s sense of identity, its values, its norms, its beliefs and worship, its technologies and methods for developing the personalities of its members and for transforming its world¾in sum, its culture¾from generation to generation. Accordingly, it is not uncommon to refer to culture as a community’s handbook for training its members in the values of citizenship and successful living.

The purpose, then, of education is to provide members of society with “manuals of life”; and its scope is to make their lives succeed: the full development of their human personalities and skills to ensure the flourishing of their society and world. The chief concerns of education, therefore, are the individual’s personal life and success in that life, for the sake of the individual, and for the survival, good, and wellbeing of society, however these may be conceived.

Education¾the handing over of “manuals of life”¾may be done non-formally in homes, at gatherings of the community, at shrines (in the various forms of initiation ceremonies), in churches, in mosques, and in palaces of chiefs, in the form of adult education, skills training, sanitation etc. It may also be done formally in institutions: schools, polytechnics, universities etc. Finally, education may be carried out informally (or incidentally) in homes and in public through example, imitation, and the general process of socialization. Although each differs according to the extent to which they are institutionalized, these three forms of providing education are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other constantly. Learning by imitation and from examples (characteristics of informal education) frequently takes place in schools and in institutions of formal education. Similarly, the informal educational process of socialization tends to pursue its objectives through the formation of clubs, associations, and confraternities.

The materials intended for one of the forms of education can be used effectively by the other two. Similarly, universities also make use of all three forms of education in their various programmes and courses.


The Context and Function of Education

The character and content of what I have termed “manuals of life” are produced by the communities they reflect¾by the socio-cultural, socio-economic, historical, geographical, and political situations of communities. Thus understood, education is contextual. In its particular context, it functions mainly to equip a community with the wherewithal for ensuring its sustenance and its successful survival within its physical, cultural, and global environment. This can be seen in the case of Ghana, my country. I shall briefly consider two specific Ghanaian contexts which gravely impact and affect the handing over of “manuals of life” for the survival and successful living of the people of this nation and for their place in the world. These are: the challenges of a globalizing world, and the effect of the Country’s colonial past.


Globalization and the Globalized Contexts of Education: Pluralistic (multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious) Contexts of Education

In traditional and predominantly mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, and mono-religious societies, the context of education is rather homogenous and relatively simple. As the context changes, however, for example to globalized and pluralistic (multi-cultural and multi-religious, etc.), education also becomes more complex. It continues to understand itself as providing manuals of life, but now within a context that is culturally, religiously, and socially pluralistic. Accordingly, in addition to the goals stated above, this education must also function as an effective tool for integration: the re-definition and reception of new norms, values, etc. This is a very crucial function!

For globalization has not quite brought about the homogenization of culture that some have anticipated (King, 1991).[1] It has neither standardized our world (Thompson, 1997),[2] nor simply made individuals and ethnic groups parts of what, in 1964, Marshall McLuhan coined a “global village.”[3] With globalization, the migration of citizens from one country to another has resulted in substantial demographic, ethnic, and socio-cultural changes in many countries. Globalization continues to accelerate the flow of capital, people, goods, and images and ideas across the world. Innovations in technology¾particularly transportation and communication¾have made it easier and quicker for people and things to get around. Globalization has compressed both space and time, and has made national boundaries porous. Seekers of natural wealth and investors pour into developing countries from the East and from the North; and many people living in developing countries prefer to migrate to the developed countries to pursue more opportunities and to improve their lives.

Most significantly, while the migrants are in the developed countries, they do not sever ties with their homelands. They are able to forge and to maintain social relations that ignore distance. They link together their home and the host society as they develop cultures of the periphery within their host countries and communities (Indo and Rosaldo, 2002).[4] In other words, many countries in the West have turned into meeting places of a broadening array of peoples and cultures, making the West sites of extraordinary cultural heterogeneity and home to diverse cultures.

For the sake of completeness, it is worth observing that the experience of cultural heterogeneity, as a result of globalization, is not limited to the West. It is also increasingly becoming the experience of hitherto traditionally homogenous societies of Africa and Asia. New values and norms, new socio-cultural habits and behaviours, new religious faiths and thinking, etc., propagated by the world’s improved means of communication, have not spared societies and nation-states, even those with all manner of legislated barriers against such influences. Nations may want to filter the content of internet communications in order to protect their system of governance. They may legislate religion, endorsing some as state religions and proscribing all others. They may initiate national programmes of cultural revivalism to safeguard their identities. Nevertheless, the inter-cultural and the inter-religious challenges and demands of globalization cannot be wished or regulated away. They will continue to knock on the doors of nations and religions, demanding to be recognized and reckoned with, as globalization invites the world to transform itself from being an aggregation of disparate and unrelated entities (nations and peoples) into nothing less than a communion: a world community of related members, bound together by a sense of common origin and common character as human beings and a common destiny or calling to make the world the common home of all.

This sketched presentation asserts that multiculturalism and diversity are realities of our world today. Decision-makers in those nation-states where this condition is prevalent are grappling assiduously with the challenges of accommodating racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity within their societies while still maintaining their national identities. Similarly, those migrants who constitute ethnic, cultural and religious minorities constantly face the challenges of integration in a society to which they feel they can never fully belong. Indeed, in the past year the world’s media have captured troubling images that once seen can never be forgotten: thousands of migrants fleeing the violence in their homelands, risking their lives in overcrowded and flimsy boats as they seek refuge on the other side of the Mediterranean. Thousands have drowned on this perilous journey. For those who do survive the journey, once there, they face the uncertainty of the cautious refugee determination process. Should they be allowed to stay, they begin another difficult journey as they experience the enormous challenges of learning to live in another culture and language.

In several instances where policy makers have opted to encourage the development of harmonious relations between diverse ethnic and religious groups, while they safeguard the identity of their communities and nations, their preferred tool for achieving this is education. So, how then does one do such education in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious situations?


Multi-cultural and Multi-religious Education

Certainly, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious education can neither be differentialist nor assimilationist. When one imposes a practice of differentialist education in a multi-cultural and a multi-religious situation, the dominant group of a society uses its power, status and privileges to devise a policy which minimizes contact with ethnic minorities and restricts their participation in the mainstream life of the society. For example, thinking of the policy of apartheid in South Africa and elsewhere, taken to an extreme, differentialist education would hope to curb any ethnic conflicts in society (Gamson, 1995).[5] On the other hand, when one pursues assimilationist education, one seeks to fully incorporate ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities into the mainstream society in the hope that they will abandon their distinctive linguistic, cultural, and social characteristics and take on those of the dominant group. The curricula in the schools reflect the culture of the dominant group in the nation-state in the belief that education based on these models will generate conformity and social cohesion. But, none of these has ever worked. Why? Because formal education is not the only means of education available to cultural and religious minorities in society. Informal education (that takes place in homes, churches or mosques etc.) sometimes consolidates and keeps alive those distinguishing ethnic and religious traits which formal education seeks to melt away.

Education of any type in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious society will have to understand itself as “education in the context of the whole inhabited earth” and “in the context of the universal family of humankind” (Turkson, 2010).[6] As the context of education changes, it must necessarily extend its function into redefining value-systems, norms, community aspirations, visions and goals etc., in its changed globalized, cosmopolitan, inter-cultural, and inter-religious setting. It must become an inter-cultural, an inter-religious and pluralistic education since this type of inter-cultural and inter-religious education will invariably have to be tolerant of multiculturalism and accommodate diversity and respect for every person. After all, that which gives substance, shape, and form to diversity is the fact that our differences belong to the plan of God, who wills that each receives what he/she needs from others and that those endowed with particular talents (regionally specific, cultural, or religious, for example) share the benefits with those who need them. A talent in one person can meet a need in another, indeed, in many others. Differences, then, should not lead to division. Rather, they charge the human person to look at the other person as another self.[7]

Our common bonds of humanity demand that we strive to live in harmony and promote what is good for one another. Created in the image of God, all human beings, irrespective of where they come from and the cultures and the faiths to which they belong, have the same nature and the same origin, and have been redeemed by Christ.[8] As a result, all human beings must enjoy equal dignity and respect¾their culture, race, and religion included. Through the search for harmonious relationships between individuals and peoples, and in a culture where openness to the transcendent, the promotion of the human person, and respect for the world of nature are shared by all, it is God’s divine plan that is being recognized and carried out.

Accordingly, when the context of education changes to become multi-cultural, multi-religious, pluralistic, and global, then education sheds its particular cultural and religious contextual mould. In this broadened context, it requires recourse to basic anthropology (the sense of the human person: its common character and destiny, and its basic desire for human flourishing). This core understanding of shared humanity provides the ultimate context for education, impelling it to become both a communal exercise and an event. Education becomes learning for solidarity in recognition of the brotherhood of humankind and the globalized community we have become; and it becomes an expression of our capacity to look beyond cultural and religious boundaries. It is, according to the Ecumenical and Formation Team of the World Council of Churches, “education for unity in a reconciled diversity which is mutually enriching” (WCC, 1999).[9]

Such multi-cultural and multi-religious education stresses the need to accept, appreciate, and understand other cultures as well as one’s own. It promotes any learner’s sense of uniqueness of his/her own culture as something positive and affirmative. In addition, it also encourages and enables all students to accept and appreciate the uniqueness of the cultures of others and that of their own with love. In sum, multi-cultural and multi-religious “manuals of life” should help students view themselves both as individuals and as members of groups. 


The Past of Colonialism and the Doing of Education

Now, I briefly turn to the challenge of providing basic education in a foreign language. In a recent television documentary produced by a German network about education in

Kenya, noticing students struggling with a language they did not speak outside their classroom, the commentator observed: “Here are children struggling to learn in a language they may never fully master”.

Universities and educators have drawn attention to the sensitive and complex issue of the medium of education. Specifically, what language does one use as the medium and vehicle of basic education?

This question of language is often posed in Ghana and in other countries in Africa. Indeed, this is an experience shared by many formerly colonized countries in the world. Thus, for example, Ghana achieved independence in 1957 shortly after India (1947). Although both were colonized by the English, the two countries have followed strikingly diverging paths of development and growth.[10] The disparity between the two is huge. Why then is India where it is, and why is Ghana where it is? A similar observation can be made about the so-called Asian Tiger countries (including Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) which have witnessed dramatic shifts in their economic fortunes.

One of the explanations given for the disparity in post-independence growth and development between Asian and African countries is the language that is chosen as the medium of education and vehicle for thinking. Indeed, as the proponents of this position assert, each of the Asian Tiger countries has maintained its own language, which it uses in formal education, at least in basic education. With this policy, these countries have chosen a native cultural tool, their own language, as the medium of education, making the process of education no longer a foreign, former colonial enterprise. Foreign languages are taught and learned there, but later when the need arises.

Now, apart from the Tanzanian experiment with the adoption and full use of Kiswahili, shared somewhat by Kenya, all sub-Saharan countries impose the confusing arrangement of studying in a foreign and colonial language (English, French, or Portuguese) while living in a native language. Given the different outcomes of such African countries comparted with their Asian post-colonial counterparts, one may ask: “Does education in one’s own language make a difference?” What is the real value (or detriment) to children of the increasing practice of having children speak a foreign language, however badly spoken and taught by parents and teachers, to the utter deprivation and exclusion of their native languages?

A very modest project in the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, Ghana, called the Cardinal’s Foundation for Distance Learning or CAFDIL, seeks to explore this phenomenon.[11] This is a pilot project which will, in a small way, help to bridge a “digital divide” whereby some communities have an abundance of technological support and internet access whiles other communities do not. After a couple of years of implementation the project will be evaluated in order to determine how well students learn and study in their local and foreign languages, supported by appropriate technology.

Back to Tekyi-Sam and his interest in users manuals and when they are or are not provided. Open any of these manuals you may have carefully filed away. Inspect it and typically, right at the beginning of the document, you will find a disclaimer of sorts. It warns the reader to follow very closely any instructions the manual contains: “Retain this manual for future reference. Adhere to all warnings printed here and follow the operating instructions included in this manual”. It invariably tells the reader that the document is also impermanent. “This manual is subject to change without notice”. Typically, the company that publishes the documents also assume “no responsibility for any errors or inaccuracies that may be contained in this manual.”

Communities are not manufacturers of usable “new things” that need a user’s manual. Besides, regardless of their history or circumstances, communities have no recourse to any such disclaimers. The “manual of life” they communicate, generation by generation, is not a written document at all, but the reassurance that you may tell the next generation

that this is God,

our God for ever and ever.

He will be our guide for ever.[12]


Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson



CAFDIL (2015) Cardinal’s Foundation for Distance Learning. Accessed 25 May 2016

EEF – NET (1999) Newsletter (1), World Council of Churches, Geneva

Gamson WA (1995) Hiroshima, the holocaust and the politics of exclusion. American Sociological Review 60(1)

Gaudium et Spes Accessed 25 May 2016

Hannerz U (1991) Scenarios for peripheral cultures. In: King A (ed) Culture, globalization and world systems: contemporary conditions for the representation of identity. Department of Art and Art History, State University of New York, Binghamton

Inda JX, Rosaldo R (2002) The anthropology of globalization: a reader. Blackwell, Oxford

McLuhan M (1964/1994) Understanding media: the extension of man. MIT Press, Cambridge

Tomlinson J (1997) Internationalism, globalization and cultural imperialism. In: Thompson K (ed) Media and cultural regulation. Sage, London

Turkson PKA (2010) A manual of life in the age of migrations: education, a global question, Oasis 6(10) Accessed 28 May 2016

[1] See also Hannerz U (1991) Scenarios for peripheral cultures. In: King A (ed) Culture, globalization and world systems: contemporary conditions for the representation of identity. Department of Art and Art History, State University of New York, Binghamton, p 107-128

[2] Tomlinson J (1997) Internationalism, globalization and cultural imperialism. In: Thompson K (ed) Media and cultural regulation. Sage, London,  p 117-162

[3] McLuhan M (1964/1994) Understanding media: the extension of man. MIT Press, Cambridge

[4] Inda JX, Rosaldo R (2002) The anthropology of globalization: a reader. Blackwell, Oxford

[5] Gamson WA (1995) Hiroshima, the holocaust and the politics of exclusion. American Sociological Review 60(1): 1-20

[6] Turkson PKA (2010) A manual of life in the age of migrations: education, a global question, Oasis 6(10) Accessed 28 May 2016

[7] Gaudium et Spes (27) Accessed 25 May 2016

[8] Ibid., (29)

[9] EEF – NET (1999) Newsletter for education and ecumenical formation. World Council of Churches: (1):7-8

[10] Of course, there is another language challenge here beginning with the world “colonize” itself. This single word is used to cover a swath of very different histories. Apart from the imposition of language to consider, colonizers pursued different colonial practices and policies in the different places they chose to settle. Some of their “colonies” were seen primarily as a source of resources, while others as a source of labour.

[11] As the CAFDIL website explains, this initiative proposes the use of technology as means of providing “equal access to education for children, teens, and adults living in rural and deprived communities in Ghana in order to develop a country with no obvious or permanent educational disadvantage because of poverty, distance from educational facilities or underdevelopment.” The goal of the project is to “help bring out the best in people living in rural communities for their development, economic growth, and participation in national life”. Accessed 25 May 2016

[12] Ps 48: 13-14 (NRSV)

21 junio 2018