How education funding was withheld for two centuries

Kitale School. It was established by missionaries in 1929.  [File, Standard]

The proposal by the government to reconsider the funding of universities and students has sparked a national discourse that invites a peek into how successive administrations have funded education in Kenya for 177 years.

From the time the first school was set up by the Church Missionaries Society in Rabal to cater to freed slaves, education for the masses has been mainly in the hands of the church and the private sector.

This explains why after the establishment of Isack Nyondo Primary School in Kaloleni in 1846, Ludwig Krapf and John Rebmann taught rudimentary reading, writing, arithmetic, and artisan skills. The aim then was to teach converts to read and write so that they could serve as catechists and construct churches.

When the government ventured into the sector in 1903, it was not to offer education to the Africans but to a select group of settlers' children.

A commission formed in 1908 set the pace for the provision of industrial education to Africans which ultimately saw the creation of a department in 1911.

All this time, the government had left the provision of education to Africans in the hands of missionaries and even after another commission to improve the quality was formed in 1919.

The colonial authorities were not keen to expose Africans to academic education fearing this could foment a rebellion against Whites. They instead chose to facilitate technical schools in Thika, Sigalagala, Machakos and Eldoret to teach Africans to be artisans so as to provide labour to settlers.

When pressed to do something for Africans, the government imposed a Sh2 tax in 1924 but the Whites who were exempted from taxation had access to free education. It is against this background that Local Native Councils were established in 1925 to collect this tax. 

Even after Kenya became independent, the new government was not ready to shoulder the burden of funding education.

By 1970, there were 498 secondary schools that were unaided by the government which was at the time only funding 331 schools, the majority of which had been started for white students.

Even though the 1964 constitution stipulated that the government was to take charge of education, hundreds of schools were still being run by churches.

Although the government has failed to set up schools in some areas, leading to the emergence of academies, it now plans to exclude some learners from such institutions in university funding.