Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Friends Schools in Kenya from 1902 to independence in 1963

The Friends Mission in Kaimosi, in Western Kenya, was set up in 1902-3, and was the first in the district, though other missions soon followed. In the early 20th century various Christian missions provided most of the schools in Kenya, and Friends played an active part in this. The missions tended to divide the country between them, so as not to compete: as a result Friends and their schools are concentrated in western Kenya to this day.

To begin with, education was offered primarily to support the mission work. The first school opened at Kaimosi in 1903, and over the next few years new mission stations and other schools were established in the surrounding areas and to the north, with the founding of Lugulu mission in 1913.  The education on offer was limited to 2 years in most cases. The focus was on learning to read the Bible, and to make this possible, the Bible and related study texts were gradually translated into Luragoli, the language spoken in the Kaimosi area. Joel Litu, an early convert and teacher, played a key part in this. Girls were encouraged to attend from the beginning, and after some initial hesitation due perhaps to reluctance to allow girls to be educated, they were soon participating in broadly equal numbers.

Kenya was a British colony at this time, and after the trauma of the First World War (1914-19) it became increasingly evident to Kenyans that they needed education that would help them understand the ways of the West, and enable them to thrive in these circumstances, as teachers, local officials, medical workers, farmers and businesspeople. Quaker numbers grew from about 1000 in 1921 to about 7500 in 1929 and the schools expanded rapidly to meet these new needs.  This meant that the schools became much more focused on vocational education, and correspondingly less on evangelisation. The Kenya Legislative Council saw these new needs too, and in 1924 they began to invest resources in schools and to influence their curricula and teaching quality. As part of this, Friends set up two intermediate schools at Kaimosi, one for boys and one for girls, where study for five years was possible.

Kenyans became increasingly involved, as teachers and preachers, in the growing Quaker church and its schools, under the leadership of the missionaries, who could not possibly meet all the needs themselves. Some significant early teachers include Yohano Amugune, Joel Litu, Daudi Lung’aho, Maria Atiamuga, Maria Maraga and Rasoah Mutua.  The Friends church was gradually organised into the typical Quaker substructure of local and monthly meetings, and they set up Friends schools in their localities. The church and its schools grew, with strong community values, and many prospered.

After the Second World War, the campaign for Kenyan independence grew rapidly, and religious independence became part of that. It also stimulated more demand for schools, and for more advanced education. This increased the need for teachers with the professional skills to handle advanced work, and many of these were not missionaries in the old sense.  Some saw themselves as missionaries with a professional role, and others saw themselves as professionals who were also Quakers. At secondary level, many were still expatriate, though the Kaimosi Teachers College trained many primary teachers.

Some intermediate schools were recommended for upgrading to secondary in 1949, including the boys and girls schools at Kaimosi. This caused great tension amongst Friends, as the northern area around Lugulu felt that far too much was concentrated in the south, at Kaimosi. In the end it was agreed that the boys school would be transferred to the north, and it was opened as Kamusinga Friends School in 1957. Secondary schooling meant participation in public examinations, which at that time were the Cambridge Overseas Certificates. The American Mission Board recognised this, and deliberately recruited a British head, Allan Bradley, to be the founding head of Kamusinga, to reflect the need to match the British secondary system.

At independence in 1963, the Kenyan Government took over control of all schools. Friends Schools continue to this day, but they are very much part of the state system. To see more about this, click here.


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