A lovely classroom scene is featured on the obverse of our Cameroon 500 franc banknote. It appears as if a classroom demonstration is taking place, with one student at the blackboard illustrating the alphabet to others, How important education is! And how commendable that education is being celebrated on our banknote.
The Central Africa CFA franc is a common currency among 6 central Africa states. The capital “U” in the top left and right corners is what distinguishes this particular banknote as originating from Cameroon. In 2002, the year of issuance of our banknote, (see back lower right corner), U designated Cameroon, whereas the other 5 nations are designated as follows: T – Republic of Congo, M – Central African Republic, A – Gabon, F- Equatorial Guinea, C- Chad.
In the earliest days of independence from the colonial era, 1972-1976, education in Cameroon was split between the French system of teaching with the French language, and the British system of teaching and the English language. The two methods and languages in one country were considered a testament on unity between east Cameroon and West Cameroon. But not only are the languages different, but the logic of the instructional methods are different, and it became recognized that the differences were creating some, perhaps unnecessary, confusion. English is now the primary language in education in Cameroon. The constitution of Cameroon states: “the State shall guarantee the child’s right to education [and that] primary education shall be compulsory“.
Cameroon became a German colony in the late 19th century. Following Germany’s defeat in WW1, by a League of Nations mandate, France and Great Britain came to control portions of the territory. Following WW2 an independence movement began and was resisted by the French. Cameroon gained independence on January 1, 1960.
Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society. – Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
Vladimir Putin will never give up Ukraine, for, you see, among other reasons, his namesake is Ukrainian.
Below is the story of Vladimir the Great, followed by a brief history of the present.
Vladimir, afterwards known as “The Great”, and his son Yaroslav, afterwards known as “The Wise”, brought the kingdom of Kiev-Rus to its zenith in the 10th and 11th centuries. The modern states, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus all draw upon them for their heritage.
Historians consider the Kievan state to have been founded around 880. A hundred years later, Vladimir, upon the death of his father and a subsequent fratricidal war, fled the region, to his kinsmen in Norway. Returning in 978 with as many Norse soldiers as he could muster, he quickly captured Kiev, (present day capital of Ukraine), and expanded his dominion throughout the region. Within a few years, Vladimir consolidated the regions of eastern Europe from Kiev to the Baltic Sea, including present day Ukraine, Belarus, and a portion of Russia. During his reign and that of his son, Yaroslav, the kingdom known as Kiev-Rus reached its zenith.
A little later, Vladimir, having known great military success, and his dominion at peace around him, grew troubled in his thoughts and his mind pondered. Sensing the inferiority of his pagan shrines to the religions flourishing in the world, he sent emissaries to all parts to learn of the great religions that he may determine the best. Of Islam, upon learning that alcoholic drinks were forbidden said, “Drinking is the joy of all Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure.” Upon questioning the ambassadors from the Jews, and learning of their loss of their home city Jerusalem, he concluded that they had been abandoned by God. His emmisaries visiter the Christian church of Germany and were unimpressed. But upon visiting the Byzantine church in Constantinople, and witnessing the majesty of their ceremonies during the festival, his emissaries reported back, “We know longer knew whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.”
His decision made, he was baptized, wed the daughter of royalty, returned to his land, destroyed the pagan landmarks, and commanded his people to follow Christian faith. Thus, was the Russian Orthodox Church born.
Yaroslav encountered family battles too following the death of his father in 1015, but by 1019, he had became the grand prince of Kiev, and by 1036 uncontested ruller of Kievan-Rus. Culture expanded in his days. He built Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novogrod. He was a great patron of learning and books, also promulgated the first east Slavic law code, the Rus Justice, which was further advanced by his sons upon his death in 1054.
In 2016, Vladimir Putin presented a statue honoring his namesake. The statue was erected in Moscow where Putin declared him a “unifier and defender of Russian lands.”
As one contemporary has noted, “Russia without Ukraine is a country; Russia with Ukraine is an empire.” Putin will never give up on Ukraine.
School children are happily marching in their school uniforms along crowd lined streets. They proudly carry the flag of their country, the tricolor red, white and blue, after the example of France, standing for Liberty and Independence. This simple scene was so far from happening until the Speratti sisters came home a little over a century ago.
Their young mother had fled from Paraguay with her two infant daughters, Adela and Celsa. It was the late 1860s and their father had already died in the war that was to eventually claim more than half of the population of Paraguay and essentially all of her educated peoples. The children were spirited away to Argentina in hope of a better life, where they were educated and flourished and excelled so as to gain renown as graduates twenty years later.
Paraguay, following the war, was devastated. The national school system had only educated only boys, and now, according to census, only 28,000 adult men were alive. The schools were closed and the teachers were gone. A future of national illiteracy, and the associated impoverishment loomed. It was essential to the future of the nation that the educational system be rejuvenated and reformed.
In the ten years following the war, and then the fifteen years and then the twenty years, great efforts were expended in the rebuilding of the educational system. All the while our sisters Speratti were schooled, maturing, graduating and commencing the teaching profession outside the country.
Paraguayan ministers, hearing of their abilities, and in desperation for the reconstruction of the national education system, reached out to these sisters and entrusted them with the education of the country. We have this letter: “Atanasio Riera, Superintendent of Public Instruction, to Master Teacher, Normal Professor and Senator Don Conrado Romero Corrientes, “I know that there are two daughters of this Nation, Misses Speratti who currently practice the profession in the Normal School of Teachers. They, as daughters of this Nation, who today try to rise up on public illustration, I believe that, inspired by patriotism, they would not hesitate to come and contribute their professional knowledge to the work of regeneration in which we are all interested. See, then, those daughters of the Republic of Paraguay, and tell them that the mother country requires their valuable competition to hasten their march along the paths of knowledge and prosperity.”
And so, these sisters still in their 20s, equipped with acclaimed character traits of diligence and honesty, with talents trained as educators, and energized with a passion for people, commenced upon their work that would give birth to a generation, and then generations of educated men and women in Paraguay.
They began their work in the graduate school for girls, but soon their influence rapidly expanded as they were instrumental in the development of the Normal school for teaches. As Directors, they utilized the influential positions to modernize and advance the educational system. The sisters borrowed from the best educational philosophies and teaching methods from sources worldwide. They educated children, trained teachers and established teaching as an honorable profession attracting many into the noble profession. They educated thousands of illiterate girls throughout the country. From all the villages of the interior came young people eager to learn, and these eager learners became the seed for the creation of yet later schools for the education of yet later generations of Paraguayan girls.
And teach they did; but not simply teach, they cared, and cared in so many ways. The sisters regularly offered shelter to poor girls who could not pay their way. They were legendary for working to mitigate the pains of the elderly and sick, and routinely served on the board of one commission or another such as the Society of Charity of the Hospital of Charity. They actively collaborated with Professor Rosa Peña, the wife of President Juan Gualberto González in many activities promoting the national well-being including especially the founding of the National Asylum – an institution created to welcome all the people who had been left by the war in misery. In the course of these years, both Adela and Celsa, also collaborated with their writings in a pedagogical magazine published in Concepción del Uruguay, they spoke at cultural centers and wrote their opinions in local newspapers; but his most laborious cultural tasks consisted in organizing the Pedagogical Conferences as a means of promoting the improvement of the professional knowledge of the teachers of primary education.
It may not be too much to say that their efforts did more to rejuvenate an impoverished nation than the combined efforts of all her economic ministers, few of whom are remembered today.
Upon their passing, commemorations poured in from the people. Paeans of praise came forth from national poets at commemorative services. But perhaps the greatest tribute is this sight of our school children proudly marching and happily singing along the crowd lined streets carrying the flags of a grateful nation, Paraguay. If you listen closely, you can hear the music.