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Battle lines drawn as Education Ministry returns ‘stolen schools’ to churches

By Augustine Oduor and Amos Kareithi | November 18th 2018
Retired cleric Timothy Njoya argues with Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah a er the legislator led parents to storm PCEA Kinoo Girls High School. [File, Standard]

The ultimatum given by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the Ministry of Education to hand over all schools founded by religious organisations to the rightful owners has opened old wounds.

The ultimatum, which expires on Thursday, will pit some of Kenya’s oldest indigenous churches such as the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA), the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) and other faiths against the state. At stake are hundreds of schools originally owned by AIPCA and other denominations and faiths.

The battle for the schools’ spiritual sponsorship will also trigger some controversies in the running of the disputed institutions across the country, as religious leaders may demand a hand in appointing the heads of the schools.

Sunday Standard has established that churches want to get back their grip on school management and have a say in the appointment of headteachers and principals of institutions they sponsor.

It has also emerged that the ministry is at a loss on how to implement the presidential directive as the takeover of some of the schools is anchored in law and they may have to see the President for further guidance.

Sunday Standard understands that churches are pushing to take back all the land where missionary schools were established and title deeds issued indicating the church as trustees.

Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) Deputy Secretary General Lucas Manwa said the philosophy of sponsorship has been lost over the years as the state eliminated the church’s grip in schools’ management.

“At Independence, an agreement was entered with the church so that the government brought teachers, learning materials and the curriculum as the church made schools available,” said the Rev Fr Manwa. He said school boards were run by the church and there was “amicable mutual understanding and respect for church and the state”.

“But after 1968, several education policies were formulated, integrating religious and secular education. The policies were made and approved without consultation with the church,” he said.

In the directive during the burial of retired Bishop John Njenga at the Holy Family Basilica, the President said: “I want you to ensure you resolve that sponsorship issue.”

Fr Manwa said the role of the church as sponsors was lowered.

“In the subsequent years, the government requested the church to allow them appoint headteachers and be part of schools administration,” he said.

Displaced functions

He said the government took over governance of schools and displaced the church’s most functions, only leaving it to deal with spiritual welfare.

“This is the moment we started seeing strikes, because issues of sexual orientation, devil worshiping and drug abuse sprang up,” said Fr Manwa.

While issuing his decree, Uhuru said the church must return to the management of schools to restore morality.

Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) has also supported the directive.

“The council calls for the establishment of proper policies and amendment of relevant laws to ensure the orderly implementation of the directive,” said Hassan ole Naado, Supkem’s deputy chairman.

He said Supkem is ready and willing to contribute to smooth establishment of relevant policies and amendment of laws to ensure smooth implementation of the President’s order.

Yesterday, former AIPCA national treasurer David Niangui offered a peek into the unfolding controversy.

He said AIPCA lost over 400 schools in 1950s, which were spread in Central Kenya, Meru, Nakuru and Laikipia. The schools were either taken over by the government or redistributed to the main churches.

“Some of these institutions now operate as District Education Board schools. Majority are in the hands of PCEA, Catholic and Anglican churches,” he said. A few weeks ago retired cleric Timothy Njoya was on the warpath after Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah forcibly merged PCEA Kinoo Girls and Mama Ngina Senior School, which was started by the legislator.

In June last year, the mass transfer of headteachers was greeted by outrage, especially by religious leaders who said that as sponsors of the schools, they had not been consulted.

Umbrella body

During the colonial period, many schools were run by the church which also trained and employed teachers. AIPCA, like other churches, had its own training college in Kiambu which was headed by Jomo Kenyatta in 1952 when the church was banned and college demolished.

In 1957, all teachers formed an umbrella body, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), to agitate and harmonise their pay.

However after independence, the scramble for better pay for teachers and creation of uniformity in the education system saw religious organisations and other entities lose grip of the institutions’ management.

It is against this background that a commission was formed in 1964 and its findings released in two years, which made strong recommendations that guided the management of schools and the entire sector.

The Prof Simeon Ominde Commission advocated for universal primary education, proposed a curriculum complete with ideal topics that emphasised on citizenship.

The team recommended that education needed to promote a sense of nationhood, foster unity and offer service to all Kenyans.

And with the Act in place, the responsibilities of all education matters were placed in the hands of the government with express provision of legal framework of education.

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