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History of Education in Kenya


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History of Education in Kenya – Before Independence

Kenyans have a long and rich history of education and training. Traditional education was integrated with the social, cultural, artistic, religious and recreational life. This type of education provided skills and knowledge, and was a socializing agent that transmitted cultural values from one generation to another.

However, Christian missionaries introduced Western education in Kenya, as we know it today, by the 19th century when the first mission school was established in 1846 at Rabai, near Mombasa.The first missionaries were Portuguese Catholics. By 1557, they had established monasteries in Mombasa and Lamu. The second group included Lutherans sent through the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Among them were Johann Ludwig Krapt, Johann Rebman and Jacob Erhadt. Early missionary education in the country was linked to conversion of Africans to Christianity and little progress was made to establish formal schools in land until the beginning of the 20th century when the colonial administration took over control of African education from the missionaries.

Whereas the missionaries wanted to convert Africans to Christianity, the colonial administration wanted Africans trained in elementary practical skills in agriculture, carpentry, masonry and other allied crafts so that they could provide cheap labour to the colonial government and to the European settler community. In essence, the goal of education in Kenya before independence was to produce a semi-educated labour force to develop the colony’s economy and provide chiefs and headmen to help in administration.

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But the Africans resented and questioned an education system that segregated them from acquiring the academic type of education, similar to one that was offered to the European and the Asian communities. Close to independence, the colonial government retained a racial separate development in education that limited Africans from access to higher education.

Amid efforts to redress stratification of colonial education that favoured Europeans and Asians, the Africans set up their own independent schools that incorporated African cultural values into Christianity.

Although independent schools mushroomed in the country as early as 1910, they reached a climax in 1939 with the establishment of Githunguri Teachers College, Whose most well-known principal was Peter Mbiyu Koinange, the son of the Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu of Kiambu.

The college was closed in 1952 by the Government at the advent of the declaration of the state of emergency since it was seen as a hot bedfor the Mau Mau insurgency. Mbiyu was later to become a Minister of State in the first Kenyatta Cabinet in 1963.

But the impact of the independent school movement was great as it demonstrated the Africans’dissatisfaction with the colonial education and the need for reforms in the sector.

The schools also displayed the capacity and ability of Africans to organize themselves and provide education for their children. But more important, independent schools served as a catalyst for the colonial administration to continuously change educational policies to keep pace with demand for expansion of education.

Unfortunately, colonial educational policies continued to favour the European community in financing, curriculum structure and development. At independence, the colonial education was still divisive, With Europeans getting priority, closely followed by Asians, while the Africans stayed at the bottom of the colonial educational ladder.

History of Education in Kenya – Independence

But one thing was certain that with achievement of independence, reforms in education were to become key planks of the new government policies. The issue is that for more than half a century, the demand for better education for all had taken root in the country. However, in the 50 years of independence the Government has invested heavily in all sectors of education. Soon after independence, the new government had to deal with the problems of the three systems of education, curriculum reforms, widening access to education at all levels and the demands for free and universal primary education.

To address some of those issues,the Government abolished the racial school systems and integrated them into a unitary national system of education.

The Government discarded the eight year primary education cycle for Africans that was punctuated with stiff examinations and adopted a seven-year continuous primary education as in the former European and Asian schools.

Consequently, the number of pupils proceeding to sit the Kenya Primary Education (KPE) examination increased rapidly from 62,000 in 1963 to 133,000 in 1966.

History of Education in Kenya

History of Education in Kenya

History of Education in Kenya – Consolidation of Independence Gains

The main achievement in the second decade of Independence was to exponentially expand primary education and to consolidate past achievements in secondary and university education.

Plans were made to revise the curricula, upgrading of educational standards and orientation of training to manpower needs at higher levels.

It is during the decade that the first and the second free primary education initiatives were launched. The ground work for introduction of the 8-4-4 system of education was also laid in the final years of the second decade of independence, while impressive gains were made in adult education.

It was during this period that the curriculum was diversified to include pre-vocational subjects. The result was the appointment in 1975 of the National Committee on Educational Objectives and Policies, under the chairmanship of Peter. J. Gachathi, whose report was published in 1976.

In 1981, the Government also appointed the Presidential Working Party on Establishment of the Second University in Kenya. The team, under Canadian legal scholar Dr Colin B. Mackay, was to investigate and report of the feasibility of establishing a second university in Kenya with emphasis on technical courses.

However, the decade encountered many challenges that ranged from secondary school and university student riots, clamour for academic freedom among university lecturers and students. Free primary education encountered many challenges as parents and other stakeholders called for its full implementation in the primary education cycle.

The most outstanding matter in education during the second decade of independence was the provision of free primary education.

The need for more education acquired a new momentum when the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) organized the Addis Ababa Conference of African States of the Development of Education in Africa in 1961.

Kenya was one of the 39 African countries represented by a delegation headed by Education PS W.D Gregg. Daniel arap Moi, who was the Education Parliamentary Secretary, was in the four-man delegation. He was to play a major role in future development of education in Kenya.

Standard One intake shot from below 380,000 in 1973 to more than 950,000 in 1983, a rise of more than 150 per cent. Those high enrolment rates indicated that although tuition fee was modest in primary schooling, it had been barrier to access to education for many children from low-income families.

It is estimated that Standard One gross enrollment ratio for 1974 jumped from 93 per cent to 221 per cent, which was radically exceptional and unsustainable without heavy injection of funds and facilities.

The crux of the matter was that numbers were inflated by over- age pupils, taking advantage of the abolition of school fees to embark on delayed schooling. Adolescents sat among six and seven-year old children in overcrowded Standard One classrooms.

History of Education in Kenya: 1993-2003

During the first two decades of independence, the Kenyan state was characterised generally by uncontrolled expansion of formal education at all levels. During that period, the Government introduced two regimes of free primary education. The Government had reacted to public demands made on education and supported local harambee initiatives. This was a period that the Government showed commitment to providing educational opportunities to all children and in perspective the state was able to expand schooling and to promote its legitimacy as being a modern and compassionate nation.

However, from thereafter, the Government’s legitimacy was eroded by a long period of economic stagnation and unemployment that extended up to the fourth decade of independence. Besides, in the early years of Moi presidency, the original emphasis on harambee as a grass root movement took a more direct political tone, when the line became blurred between genuine‘ fundraising activities to boost education and campaigns by politicians to advance their chances to enter parliament. By 1993, harambee fatigue had set in and fundraising barazas had declined through out the country.

Nevertheless, economic decline led to a severe shortage of resources to the extent that the Government could no longer afford to subsidise the coast of secondary schooling for students in public secondary schools. The result was erosion of quality of education in secondary schools as government called for greater cost-sharing in education. Subsequently, school committees such as Boards of Governors (BoG) and Parents and Teachers Associations (PTAs) were empowered to collect school fees and often disregarded minimum school fees structure from the Ministry of Education.

As a result some of the better public schools became exclusive province of students whose parents who could afford to pay high fess. Most of students from poor economic households who could not afford the fees in those schools had to seek placement in lower quality schools.In a nutshell, the fourth decade of independence was characterized by serious distortions in education than any other period since independence. According to educational researchers at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, high dropout rates and repetition rates reversed the gains that had been achieved in previous years.

There are indicators that in the larger period of the fourth decade the Government was unable to develop educational policies to improve quality or combat declines in enrolment rates, dropout-rates and repletion rates. However, it was during this period that gender gap in enrolment levels narrowed considerably. It was also during this period that private participation in primary education increased to sizeable levels.

But most significant, it is during this period that the Government introduced the Third Free Primary Education Initiative in 2003. Consequently, enrolment rose by 17.6 percent from 6.1 million in 2002 to 7.2 million in 2003. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) rose from 92 percent to 104 per cent of the primary school going population.

History of Education in Kenya – The earliest schools in Kenya

  1. Nairobi European School
  2. School at Rabai near Mombasa – established 1846
  3. Nairobi School established 1902.
  4. Friends School Kaimosi, now Kaimosi Friends Primary School, established 1903
  5. Maseno School, established in 1906
  6. Government Indian School or The Duke of Gloucester School, now Jamhuri High School, established 1906
  7. Tumutumu Mission School, now Tumutumu Girls’ High School established in 1908.
  8. European Girls’ School, now Kenya High School established 1908.
  9. Thogoto School, now Thogoto Teachers’ Training College established 1910.
  10. Kaimosi Girls High School, established 1920
  11. Allidina Visram High School, Mombasa established 1921
  12. Kaimosi Boys High School, established 1921
  13. Kenton College, established 1924 Kijabi 1935 Kileleshwa
  14. Mang’u High School, established 1925.
  15. Alliance School, now Alliance High School (Kenya) established in 1926.
  16. St. Mary’s School Yala, established in 1927.
  17. Highlands High School, now Moi Girls’ High School – Eldoret established in 1928.
  18. Kisii School, established in 1932



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