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Lalage Bown 1927-2021, matriarch of adult education

By Michael Omolewa
27 December 2021   |   2:36 am
Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning at the School of Education of the University of Glasgow has reported that Emerita Professor Lalage Bown....

Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning at the School of Education of the University of Glasgow has reported that Emerita Professor Lalage Bown, a trail blazer in global Adult Education movement, pioneer of academic study of Adult Education in Africa, former Deputy Director of the Department of Extramural Studies at the University College, Ibadan, founding member in 1971 of the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education (NNCAE), former Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Lagos, died aged 94 on Friday, December 17, 2021 after a brief stay in the hospital following a fall last weekend. Lalage was both multi-tasking and multi-talented. She radiated warmth, love, and compassion throughout her life.

Lalage was born in England on April 1, 1927 and graduated in 1947 in History at Oxford University at the age of 20 years. She chose to serve overseas, leaving behind the comfort and serenity of her environment and people for the more challenging terrain of Africa. She moved from Ghana to Nigeria, to serve in the building of the Department of Extramural Studies at the University College, Ibadan, then to Zambia before moving to Uganda and finally returning to Nigeria, first to the Ahmadu Bello University in the North of Nigeria and back to the South of Nigeria, serving as Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Lagos at the invitation of her friend, Emeritus Professor J. F. Ade Ajayi, then Chairman of the International African Institute based in the UK, She finally returned to the UK for the last leg of her work at the University of Glasgow.

The reaction to the news of her transition has been moving. Professor Kolawole Kazeem, National President of the NNCAE, has described her loss but that she lived “a worthy and fulfilled life of service to humanity.” Professor Gbolagade Adekanmbi, a Nigerian adult educator who has been living in Botswana for about three decades, described the news of her transition as “truly heart-breaking, with a harrowing search for the right words to describe the depth of the loss”. That is the extent to which the death of this great lady has caused us all grief.

The life of Lalage Bown offers some important lessons for us all as we continue to reflect on the relevance of education and the relationship between education and development. First, her life shows that everything that has a beginning will always have an ending. For 94 years she was able to follow a road map of offering service to mankind, with vigour, dedication, and tremendous energy. She worked very hard as if she knew that the end could come anytime. Another lesson taught by her life is that it is rewarding to support the downtrodden. Her contribution to literacy promotion was part of her conviction that education must be made available to every living person. She made this important point when she delivered the Address to the International Literacy Day celebrations at the UNESCO headquarters in 2009.

She was a gentle feminist who believed that women should under no circumstance be marginalised. Yet another lesson was that it is important for academics to be engaged in real life situations. Just like Allan Rogers, Lalage engaged the communities in which she found herself. She was an activist. She served as the founding Secretary of the African Adult Education Association and as an active participant at the building of the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education. For her role in these institutions, she has received awards and recognitions. A special issue of the journal, Adult Education in Nigeria, was dedicated for the celebration of her birthday in 1997 when she was named the mother of Adult Education in Africa.

Lalage was a team player. She deliberately cultivated the friendship of her colleagues. In Nigeria, she engaged Emmanuel Tugbiyele and S. H. O. Tomori, frontline academic adult educators, in the training of the adult education professionals. She co-edited a book on Adult Education with S.H.O.Tomori, and another book with J. T. Okedara, then of the Department of Adult Education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. She also looked outside the Ivory Towers for the sustenance of adult education movement as she got the likes of S.S. Fatunde of Oyo State and Hamidu Erubu of Ahmadu Bello University and she worked tirelessly to build a community of adult educators. Lalage believed in the use of the media and Hauwa Yusuf, head of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), in Europe was among her latest friends who visited in her small town in the UK.

She was also an internationalist. She was an active member of Roby Kidd-conceived International Council for Adult Education based in Toronto Canada. She made Syracuse in the United States a home and built the friendship with the core adult education experts and specialists in that new world. She worked in partnership with the German Adult Education movement and Jakob Horn and Heribert Hinzen were among her regular contact. Her passion to get the outside world work with the Africa adult education project led, partly, to the publication of the Handbook of Adult Education in West Africa by Hutchinson Press in 1977, supported with the funds from the German Adult Education Association. It was therefore a most welcome development when she was deservedly inscribed into the list of the Hall of Fame of Adult and Continuing Education in the United States.

Lalage as an academic believed firmly in the maintenance of the universal academic gold standard in the discipline of adult education. She insisted that adult education should maintain academic integrity in all the facets of the presentation. That was one of the reasons universities consistently used her services until she voluntarily pulled back. Her stand gave respectability to the discipline, and we are grateful to her.

She should have been made a world leader to bring peace to an increasingly troubled world. She was a pacifist that the likes of Roger Boshier of New Zealand/Canada would have appreciated her call for global disarmament. For me I am eternally indebted to her for recommending that I be appointed Lecturer at the University of Ibadan to teach the History of Adult Education at the new Adult Education undergraduate programme that was introduced into the curriculum of the University in 1971. I still remain a member of that first Adult Education Department in Africa.

Omolewa is Emeritus Professor of the History of Education at the Department of Adult Education, University of Ibadan and former Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Nigeria to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

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