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Small mission in Rabai where Western education was introduced in Kenya

By Hudson Gumbihi | July 26th 2021

Students working together on their studies at an old worn desk in a classroom in the Transkei region of rural South Africa.[Getty Images]

Touted as a means to material achievement in life, education has a significant role on human development as well.

Before formal education was introduced, Africans had their own modes of learning; they transferred knowledge through apprenticeship and storytelling.

The onset of colonialism, however, marked the beginning of abandonment of this traditional form of education that is nevertheless, relevant in many communities.

In Kenya, formal education started in Rabai where the Church Missionary Society (CMS) was established by Johann Ludwig Krapf and his friend Johannes Rebmann in 1846. The two explorers started a school at the mission.

Learners were introduced to what was referred to as 3Rs; reading, writing and arithmetic. In imparting knowledge and skills, natives were taught Bible reading and solving simple mathematics puzzles.

The turning point for development of education in Kenya was in early 1903, when the railway line stretched from the Coast to the shores of Lake Victoria.

With a reliable means of transport, more missionaries and white settlers came to Kenya, travelling into the hinterlands where they set up schools.

The Kamba, for instance, in 1894 resisted an attempt to establish a mission and school in Yatta forcing the missionaries to penetrate further into the interior in parts of Central, Nyanza and Western where they set up education centres, enrolling locals.

After World War I, the need and demand for education became more apparent, as it dawned on the locals that the same woud enable them acquire knowledge that could aid them in the fight against colonialists.

As a result, schools started focusing more on vocational training, and correspondingly less on evangelisation. At the same time, a number of independent schools emerged, offering alternative curricula.

The shift worried the colonial government, which thought the schools were avenues for instilling subversive thoughts.

And as the anti-colonial campaign gained momentum, so did the number of independent schools increase, culminating in their banning in 1952 as part of the state of emergency.

Ultimately, school remains an important agent of socialisation where learners interact with peers, authority and adhere to routine programmes that help in moulding them into informed individuals.


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