Kenya Friends Education Project
Many thanks to Devon Area Meeting and Local Meetings for your material and spiritual support for
our project with Kenyan Friends. Reaching the end of the first year it is good to review just how far
we have got. The news is both promising and disappointing. First of all our initial programme of
work with Kenyan Yearly Meeting Friends and with schools went very well. Friends and teachers
were enthused and keen to develop further programmes. Roger Sturge and I have agreed to go
ahead with supporting the two year appointment of a Kenyan friend to provide support for the
schools programme. A job description has been drafted. Fund raising, including generous support
from Devon Friends has continued but is still short of our target. We are confident however that we
will be able to go ahead with the first year of the appointment and find money for the second. The
next stage will include appointment of the local Friend and further direct work by myself .
The best development work goes with the flow of local practice and we have been delayed by six
months due to the absence of John Muhanji (Africa Director of FUM) from Kenya for study leave at
Earlham College. John Muhanji returns to Kenya for the New Year and we anticipate that work will
restart In the meantime we have kept in touch with the School Principals Executive Committee and
are waiting for them to propose the best dates for our next visit. The following article sets out
some of the challenge and opportunity for Friends in managing a precious legacy and serious
responsibility towards its community.
Towards an ?Education Church?.
The Friends Church is one of the leading protestant denominations in western Kenya
organized into 16 Yearly Meetings with more than half the worldwide membership of the Society.
The Friends Church receives active pastoral support from American Quakers.
Kenyan Friends make a substantial contribution towards their communities through their
schools. There are over 200 Friends secondary schools and around 1000 primary schools in
Kenya, mainly in the Western Province. The introduction of free primary education has led to an
expansion of secondary school enrolments with increased class sizes and the need to adapt both
the curriculum and teaching methods to meet the needs of a wider range of aptitude and abilities.
For the quality of education to be maintained the increasing numbers of students requires an
expansion of public and private resources which is not easily found.
The Friends Schools are a community resource and the reputation of the Friends Church is
inevitably affected by the school experience of their students and families. The public publication
of public examination results enables parents to compare the achievements of students graduating
from the schools owned by the Friends Church with those of the Catholic and other denominations.
The Principals of the Friends Secondary Schools have set up a ?creaming? programme which is
intended to increase the proportion of students who attain high examination results. The large
expansion of secondary school enrolment has the danger of expanding the opportunity for failure
unless the curriculum, teaching methods and forms of examination can adapt to the learning needs
of all children. The Principals Executive Meeting is considering adopting a service charter which
sets out the quality of teaching and care that parents can expect if they send their children to a
Friends secondary school. The quality of teaching and care for students has a long term impact on
the reputation of the Church and the extent to which former students will continue to be involved in
its worship and fellowship.
It is probably at primary school level that the Church can make its most immediate and
crucial contribution to the development of children and the community. This is the most important
foundation stage of education where concern for the health, welfare and education of children is
critical for their life long development. The quality of the physical surroundings, welfare and
teaching in the Friends primary schools is an indicator of the way in which the Church cares for
children and how seriously it takes its responsibility within its community.
The division between primary and secondary schooling reflects part of what can be termed
a ?loosely coupled system? of schooling. From the child?s point of view, primary and secondary
schools should be part of the same seamless experience of education. The quality of primary
schooling is critical for the quality of the secondary school system. Both primary and secondary
school teachers need to be fully aware of the curriculum covered in each sector to plan and deliver
a seamless transition between the two sectors.
The way in which the Friends Church is organized also reflects a form of loosely coupled
system. We talk of the Friends Church in Kenya, but in practice it is organized into sixteen
separate Churches (or ?Yearly Meetings?) each of which has responsibility for its own set of primary
and secondary schools. The reputation of each Yearly Meeting and each local Friends Church will
be affected by the experience which families and other community members have at the schools
which Friends own. Parents who are not Friends are unlikely to distinguish between the schools
belonging to different Yearly Meetings. A school which is perceived to be good in one Yearly
Meeting may enhance the reputation of the Church and its schools in other Yearly Meetings.
However the opposite is also possible.
As a major provider of primary and secondary schooling, the Friends Church has a major
role to play in the development of Kenyan society. The depth of involvement of the Kenyan Friend
Churches in education is remarkable, involving major community responsibility for the use of public
money through government grants. Involvement in education also provides a tremendous
opportunity for the Friends Church to exercise leadership within the country through demonstrating
how the Christian Church can serve its community, actively following its historic Quaker
The Friends Church is in effect an ?Education Church?. A body that has inherited a unique
set of opportunities to serve the Kenyan community, showing how a Christian Church can ?walk its
talk?. With those opportunities come major responsibilities to be able to manage schools effectively,
to ensure that they are properly resourced, and to support the teachers, head teachers and
principals. Such support requires informed decision making… requiring development within the
Church itself to ensure that it has the quality of people necessary to act in an informed way on
school managing and governing bodies and to take responsibility for education within the Yearly
Meetings. It is likely that the proliferation of Yearly Meeting may leave some too small to be able to
exercise fully all their responsibilities for schools and it may be important to consider whether a
larger and better resourced management body might be set up in order to provide the sort of
leadership and support appropriate for a body which has over 1000 primary and more than 200
If the Friends Church can lead the way, fully committed and professionally organized to
help its schools improve then this can only enhance its reputation as a body that truly exercises
God?s care for children. If the Friends Church can set such an example others will follow. An
?Education Church?, can we meet the challenge?