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When State used teacher's spouses for cheap labour

By Amos Kareithi | November 2nd 2021
Students doing physical exercises at Jeanes School (Kenya School of Government) Kabete in Kiambu District in June 1960 [File]

There was a time teachers were the only beacons of hope and light in society.

A special pedestal was created in the village for the teacher, whose wife was also adored. Chiefs and other civil servants were envious and unhappy because of this adoration. Unlike today, when parents complain that their children, tutored under the Competence-Based Curriculum, are taking too much, society then expected teachers to work beyond classrooms.

It is for this reason that Jeanes School in Kabete at some point only admitted married teachers for training. And for every one married teacher the school recruited, it got an extra pair of hands.

To achieve its primary objective of training men and women who would advance government’s hegemonic control of the population, Jeanes devised an ingenious method. Records show how this school, which in 1925 was just a collection of huts made from sun dried bricks, started admitting wives of teachers for training in specific fields.  It is in these rudimentary buildings where bamboo structures were later added, that the first batch of 15 teachers and their wives were accommodated. Two of the teachers were, however, retained at the college after the two-year course, to act as trainers.

Snippets of government reports prepared in 1933 read: “The Jeanes teacher makes the school his primary pivot, a dispensary and clinic. He follows up sick people to their homes, shows them how to build better homes and grain stores, how to prevent further outbreaks of plague, and to secure clean water supplies.”

To achieve this, a teacher was trained in building, sanitation and some basic medical work, to be able to identify the main diseases in his area and how to tackle simple ailments.

The teachers' wives were trained on maintenance of model homes and being befitting partners so they could assist their husbands to serve the people better. Their training entailed midwifery, child welfare, hygiene and nursing of the sick. Inevitably, they were also taught cooking handicrafts, needlework and laundering.

The wives were expected to practice in their homes and villages the principles learnt in agriculture and such, and were expected to accompany their husbands in the course of training the community on hygiene, sanitation and agriculture.

By August 1935, after the first 10 years of its existence, Jeanes School had trained men who were scattered all over Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, while visitors from as far as Malawi, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe came to learn how to prepare their teachers.

These humble beginnings of the noble profession grew from a group of only 109 teachers trained at Jeanes School in 1934 to a workforce of more than 340,000 who are now being trained in new curriculum, which has some elements of extra curriculum activities, just like their colleagues did 94 years ago.

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