Quakers have always been committed to education. They believed from the outset that it could nurture ‘that of God’ in everyone, and should therefore be available to all. And all meant girls as well as boys. It also meant that education, like faith, should be relevant to daily life, and put to good use. In the early days, in Britain, when education was available to a privileged few, and focussed on Latin, this was a remarkable approach.
Nowadays there are Quaker schools/Friends Schools on all continents. There are also several US universities with Quaker affiliations, and one is being developed in Kenya. There are Quaker adult education centres in the US and UK, providing courses and retreats for anyone who wishes to explore Quakerism and its meaning for the modern world. And Quakers have produced many learning resources that are used in Quaker and non-Quaker education/training contexts. Thus there are many strands to Quaker work in education, and much of it reaches others besides Quakers themselves.
Quaker testimonies to equality, truth and integrity, community and peace permeate this work. Equality inspires an effort to develop the potential of every student, and emphasises respect for the ideas of everyone. At the same time, truth and integrity entail respect for evidence and rigorous inquiry, and open minds. All the testimonies influence the ways in which all members of an educational community, teachers and students, try to interact with each other, inside and outside the classroom. Respect for everyone, non-violent approaches to disagreements, and support for the vulnerable, are aspects of this. All Quaker institutions aspire to a Quaker ethos with such characteristics.
The largest concentrations of Quaker schools today are in the US and Kenya. The US has over 30 secondary/high schools and over 50 primary schools. Kenya Quakers have founded about 200 secondary schools and about 1000 primary schools. The only other significant concentrations are in Britain and Ireland, (9 secondary schools), and Bolivia where several schools have been founded in recent years. There are individual schools in Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Lebanon, Palestine, Japan, Australia, India, the Philippines, and a school/rural development centre in Zimbabwe.
Nowadays Quaker schools have many non-Quaker students and staff, and Quakers are often in a minority. Early Quaker schools were for Quaker children, so this is a very different situation. What makes a school ‘Quaker’ in modern times is the Quaker ethos they all continue to create and maintain.
They are supported in this through school networks, notably the US based Friends Council in Education. FCE develops resources for schools and professional development courses for teachers, and has member schools in many countries.
Early Quaker schools were funded and governed by Quakers. Now they are very varied in their funding and governance arrangements, due to their historical contexts and their openness to non-Quakers. As public funding of education developed at different times in different places, some schools joined their public systems. Others accepted some public funding, topping this up with fees and/or endowments. The remainder stayed entirely outside, financing their work through fees and endowments. The amount of Quaker governance also changed as a consequence, and varies considerably.
Quakers are also involved in post-school education. There are about 20 universities with Quaker connections in the US. Kenya has recently established one too. In the UK, Woodbrooke Quaker Centre is affiliated to the University of Birmingham and supports postgraduate programmes. Woodbrooke andPendle Hill in the US provide varied programmes of courses and retreats for adults. Other Quaker centres in different countries provide facilities for courses and meetings offered by Friends and others. And there are some scholarship schemes, such as those enabling young Guatemalan and Bolivian Quakers to benefit from university level study.
Quakers also provide resources and training. Quaker meetings often have children’s classes, and adult study groups, which draw on these. But resources often cover topics of equal relevance to non-Quakers, such as peace education or environmental issues, and these are widely used. Quakers also offer training programmes for educators and other professionals interested in Quaker processes, and for campaigners.