Ownership and management of schools is a vexed subject of discussion in education circles. This is because of the pivotal role schools play as agents of socialisation in the broadest sense. Not only are they vehicles for imparting knowledge, skills and attitudes, but they are also a means of developing the personality of individuals.
It is about impacting on mind, body and soul; determining the competencies, capabilities and moralities of a nation. This week, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Education ministry to revert ownership of schools originally started by churches to those institutions; and this has opened a new round of debate in regard to the management of schools.
It opens an old wound and is bound to spark fierce debate as it raises questions about policy, law and resources. Inherently, it evokes strong religious and sentimental feelings.
Since Independence, the provision of education has been the responsibility of the government, which it does through taxes collected from the citizens. The Constitution, through its robust Bill of Rights, enjoins the government to provide education to all citizens and for good measure, declares that a fundamental human right.
However, in execution of that mandate, the government draws support from various actors, key among them religious organisations, foundations, trust and the private sector. The roles of those actors and institutions are properly etched in law. Specifically, the role of churches in education has been widely elaborated.
The history of education in Kenya is largely associated with the Western missionaries, who first established churches to win the souls of Africans, and then set up schools and hospitals to take care of the mental and physiological well-being of the converts and their kindred. Early education programmes offered to Africans was geared towards first, enabling them to read the Bible and in that way hasten conversion to Christianity and second, to create a cadre of local evangelicals to spread the Gospel.
Throughout, the evolution of education in Kenya from the early years of the 20th century to Independence was marked by contestations regarding quality, content, resourcing and outcomes. An outstanding point of disquiet was the quality of education, since Africans were offered inferior content and forced to undertake technical courses for the reason that they did not have the mental faculties to internalise abstract concepts and higher knowledge disseminated in formal schools. For most of that period, education was offered along racial lines — Whites, Coloureds (Indians and Arabs) and African; the latter managed by Native Councils was outright low end.