Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Friends Schools in Kenya from independence in 1963 to the present day

Kenya was a British colony when Quakers first came in 1902, and remained so until independence in 1963. During the colonial period Quaker missionaries had been active in education and had established many schools. Religious independence came with political independence, and the Kenyan Friends Church took over responsibility from the missionaries, many of whom left at this time. Both political and religious independence affected the schools.

In  1963, all mission schools, including Friends schools, became part of the state system.  They continued to use British overseas examinations for a while, but soon established a Kenyan curriculum, and a Kenyan Examinations Commission. Now all schools follow the Kenyan curriculum, and study for Kenyan qualifications – the Kenyan Certificate in Primary Education (KCPE) and the secondary equivalent (KCSE). The government’s Teacher Service Commission (TSC) provides a quota of teachers for each school, and pays their salaries. The schools do not recruit their quota of teachers themselves, so cannot insist on teachers being Quakers: the TSC allocates teachers as it sees fit. Hence teachers in Friends schools are a mix of Quakers and non-Quakers, and the same is true of students. Most schools serve their neighbourhoods, and although Friends are the majority church in parts of Western Kenya, there are still many students who do not come from Quaker families.

Nevertheless Quakers retain an important role in Friends’ schools, as other former missions do in theirs.  Friends provide the land, buildings and facilities, and additional teachers where they can. Each school board is chaired by a Quaker, and has at least four Friends among its members. Thus the potential for Quaker influence is still present, though it is not always very evident.

In the 1960s, there were not enough Kenyan secondary teachers, so expatriates were still needed. Kamusinga Boys and Kaimosi Girls still obtained some teachers through mission routes, but others came through government schemes such as Teachers for East Africa (British), Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) (mainly British), and Peace Corps (American). By the 1970s, Kenya teachers were more numerous, and expatriate numbers decreased rapidly.

Since 1963 the Kenyan population has quintupled, and a rapidly increasing proportion of children go to school. These twin pressures soon meant that many more teachers and schools were needed. Initially the main expansion was at primary level. Later, as students graduated from primary schools in increasing numbers, the demand for secondary education rose rapidly. In the 1970s and 1980s, many more Friends schools were set up, under the same government arrangements, and there are now over 200 Friends secondary schools and 1000 Friends primary schools.

These schools vary enormously. Some achieve excellent results in KCPE and KCSE school-leaving examinations, and some do not. Some manifest a Quaker ethos very clearly, while for others ‘Friend’ is little more than a name on the gate. Some have been involved in developing and implementing ‘peace curricula’, designed to be integrated into the school curriculum. Some teach the story of Quakerism in Kenya and elsewhere, including its manifestation in the Friends Peace Team work in Kenya after the post election violence in 2007. Some schools are actively involved in rebuilding their communities, through AVP and HROC processes.  Others make little of any of this.

A strong movement is developing out of these disparities, focusing on both teaching quality and the Quaker ethos. Many schools are seeking ways of working together, and learning from each other, and the Quaker Education Council has been set up to progress this.It is being supported in this work by the Friends United Mission (FUM) office in Kisumu, established in 2005.

At a significant conference of secondary principals and education secretaries in March 2011, arranged by FUM Kisumu, participants asked themselves what it meant to be a Friends School. A draft Charter emerged, setting out the values and strategies that Friends schools should manifest, based on such key themes as peace and nonviolence, truth and integrity, and equality.  Other ideas explored were the role of Quaker chaplains, and the contribution Quaker  members of school boards could make.  At the same conference ideas began to emerge about leadership and teaching quality, and ways in which schools could work together on these, with professional development programmes to support this work.

From 2012-14 FUM Kisumu was able to employ Zadock Malesi as Education Secretary to progress this work and much was done. In particular the Charter was finalised, and can be found below.

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