Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Quaker Schools/Friends Schools


Quakers have always valued education, and there are Friends schools in many countries. The vast majority today are in the US and Kenya, but there are Quaker schools in Britain, Ireland, the Middle East, elsewhere in Africa, Australia, Tokyo, Central America and Bolivia. Most were originally for Quaker children, but are now open to all. Most have a Quaker element in their governance, and retain an explicit Quaker ethos.

George Fox set up the first Quaker schools in 1668, in England, and others soon followed. All were private, as there was no publicly funded education then.  Their purpose was to educate children of Quaker families. Those who could afford it paid fees, but donations covered the other costs. As time went on, secondary schools emerged, in order to provide a broader liberal education, with a strong science component.

In 1870-1 universal public primary education was introduced in Britain. This transformed the landscape for Quaker schools. Some became absorbed into the new system, or closed: the remainder became private secondary schools. Today there are seven of these, all in England, all with Quakers on their governing bodies.

Developments in Ireland followed a similar pattern, and there are two private secondary schools with Quaker origins in Ireland to this day.

The first Friends schools in the US were founded in Philadelphia, as part of William Penn's  'Holy Experiment’The oldest continually operating Friends school in the world is the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, founded in 1689. Up and down the eastern seaboard, during the 18th century, Quaker meetings founded schools for their children, in annexes to their meetinghouses.  (One notable exception was the Negro School in Philadelphia, founded by the antislavery campaigner and educator, Anthony Benezet). The schools were financed by donations, with fees for those who could afford them. Early in the 19th century, as the burgeoning population spread westward, large groups of Friends settled in Ohio and Indiana, founding many more Quaker schools there.

In the early 19th century, secondary schools began to appear. Sometimes they were new foundations, and sometimes developments of existing schools. Later that century, the first three Quaker colleges (Haverford, Guilford and Earlham) developed out of such schools.

As public education systems developed in the different states, many Friends schools were absorbed. Others retained their independence, and became private schools. Nowadays, alongside other private schools, there are 80 or so independent Friends schools, mostly under the care of Quaker meetings. The Friends Schools Council on Education, founded in 1931, serves as a network for them all, providing resources, training and a clearinghouse for new ideas.

There are several schools elsewhere in the Americas. Local Friends founded Pickering College, Canada, in 1878. It is now independent of Friends. Monteverde school in Costa Rica was founded in the 1950s by 11 Quaker families from Alabama in order to live in a peaceful society, with no military. Quakers founded Happy Grove School in Jamaica, now a government school retaining some Quaker traditions. There are several Quaker schools in Bolivia.

Kenya has many Friends schools, secondary and primary. The early ones were founded during the US Quaker mission period from 1902 to 1963. At independence in 1963, all mission schools became government schools, but  could retain something of their religious heritage. Friends’ schools today receive basic funds from the state, but Quakers play a key role in governance, and provide additional funds.

Quakerism came to Rwanda in 1986, and there are now several Friends schools. The secondary ones are all private, funded by fees and donations, but are open to children from all groups, and play an important role in building Rwanda citizens for the future.

There is a Friends Rural Development Centre in Hlekweni, in Zimbabwe, and Samathonga school is attached to it.

There are two Quaker schools in the Middle East, at Brummana (1873) in Lebanon, and Ramallah (1869) in the West Bank.

British and Australian Friends founded the Friends school in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in 1887, and it is still under the care of Australian Friends, with a strong Quaker ethos. It is the largest  Friends school in the world. Wanganui School, New Zealand, was founded in 1920 and closed in 1969.

Friends Girls School Tokyo was founded in 1887 by US missionaries from Philadelphia, at the request of Nitobe Inazo, Quaker undersecretary of the League of Nations. It has a strong Quaker ethos, though few students are Friends.

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