Journal of Pre-service Education
Volume 4, Number 1 (Issue #7) - 2009

Shattered Dreams: The Success and Failures of Education in Kenya During the Pre- and Post Colonial Days
Karugia Ndirangu


In most of the African, Kenya included, there is little to show in terms of development though most of the continent has been independent for over 4 decades. The Post colonial days are marked by abject poverty, many civil /ethnic strives, and an education system that is largely dysfunctional. I have tried to trace most of the social and educational problems in the independent Kenya to the colonial history. We inherited an educational system formulated during the colonial era whose objectives were to create dependency as opposed to liberation. Many years after independence, we continue to view our problems using borrowed lenses. It is my argument that the solution is to rethink about our educational problems with an aim of finding workable solutions. This means an education system that will be grounded on the local economic and cultural realities. This will be contrast to the present situation which is centered on schooling rather than learning. This has resulted on the sad situation where the educated can not fit into their social/economic environment and hence can not contribute towards the societal good.


The history of education in Kenya as well as in the larger continent of African is tied to the political history of the country. It is also tied to the history of the Christian religion in the region, since the first schools were established by the missionaries. When the colonial government entered into the educational scene, it again used the church to provide education to the Africans. The church had a mission similar to the colonial government, and that was why it was easy for them to work together. While the government was focused on political and economic domination, the church was geared towards spiritual domination.

Both forces then worked together and formulated an education system with Africans, who were purported to be the beneficiaries, as mere spectators. It totally denied the local communities any chance to determine how they would move into the global community, and they pretended to know what was good for the Africans. While the government was taking away the only means of livelihood for the natives, the missionaries worked hard on their cultures and traditions which were demonized. Kenyans were not only rendered destitute, but also spectators in the running of their own affairs.

This is the type of schooling system that was inherited by the independent government, a system that denied the multiculturalism in the African communities and classified everyone under the common banner of a “black person” while actually recognizing the plurality of the other races, though they also shared a common colour. The independent government continued with the same structures and systems under the guise of creating a unified nation. Again the schooling system continued to deny the existence of different communities and ways of interpreting reality. This only continued the same old order of dependency as well as elitism. The educated elite were so far removed from their societies that they could not utilize their skills gained through years of schooling to improve or even contribute to the lives of their communities.

By its very nature, schooling only succeeds in conforming to some preset goals. It is therefore no wonder that the graduates from our schools are more willing to work with the system and most of the times against their own people. They continue to interpret reality using borrowed lenses and then continue to prescribe their interpretations as a solution to problems they themselves do not understand. The products of this type of schooling are passive and, in most of the cases, lack the much- needed critical thinking skills that can be used to contribute to the well- being of their communities as well as the country.

In this paper, I have argued that national development in a diverse community should be a negotiated process based on commonalities while respecting the differences. I will argue that we need to move from the era of schooling into the era of education. Education is geared towards reformation and positive change. I will also argue that in order for change to have the desired effect, it has to be centred on the self and then move outwards into the immediate environment before moving to the national level.

Another issue I think lies in the centre is the relationship of schooling and national development. I will try to answer the question as to whether increased graduation rates from colleges and universities always translate into national development. This is from my observation that the tremendous increase in the number of schools, colleges, and universities in the country has not produced the desired results. The amount of people living under the poverty line seems to be on an upward trend despite huge amounts of money invested in this sector.

Last, I have included a number of my suggestion as what needs to be done in order to make schooling a part of the education process. I will also argue that for education to reform a society, it needs to be more responsive to its needs and aspirations. As it is now, schooling continues to produce workers and not problem solvers. This is a luxury we can not afford in the twenty first century.


This paper is grounded on both historical analysis and autobiographical research designs. I used public documents, text books, and the internet in order to compile the political and educational history of Kenya. Since most of the documents are not available from Canadian libraries, I had to order some from Kenya. The Nipissing University library was of great assistance in locating and obtaining a lot of the journal articles. I then compiled a report based on the chronological order ranging from the colonial era up to independent Kenya.
My life story was based on the personal narrative autobiographical research design method. I recorded my personal life story from birth up to after graduation from the university. I recorded most of my personal life experiences to the best of my memories in the family setting as well as later in school. I also included my early working life. I tried to record all these experiences in a chronological order. I then analyzed these stories identifying the emerging themes or categories of information. The only means of collaboration was use of several sources of information in order to ensure accuracy and avoid bias.

Political History of Kenya

Though Muslim schools have existed in Kenya for a very long time, their influence did not go beyond a few towns and trading centres along the coastal region. This was mainly due to their major objective, which was to convert African people to the Muslim faith. The natives were not receptive of the new faith, and the relationship between the Arabs and the African was mainly centred on trade and commerce mainly in ivory and slave trade. Lack of well -developed means of communication and racial hostilities minimized the Islam influence in the region.

Since 1600, the East African coastal region has become an important area to the European traders on their way to and fro India and Asia (China). At the same time there was a mass migration of the Europeans (mainly Dutch, British, Germans, Spanish, and Portuguese, etc.) to southern and eastern parts of Africa, where they were competing to extend their influence with a hope of dominating the Asian trade. This led to the emergence of Zanzibar as an important trading capital in the region, and several European trading companies opened offices in the town. However, the Arab influence was still dominant.

The Portuguese constructed the first fort in the region, Fort Jesus, at the end of the 16th century in Mombasa town on the Kenyan coast. This was an important administrative centre as well as a military garrison. However, the Portuguese influence was short lived as they were defeated by the mighty British navy.

By the 19th century, the major influence mainly came from the British and the Germans who had built a strong commercial interest. By this time, Britain had claimed South Africa and India as their colonies, with the Portuguese influence remaining only in the present- day Mozambique. The major trading companies identified Mombasa town as an ideal stopover for the ships coming to and from India. This was due to its location (half way between Cape Town and India), ocean depth which enabled it to accommodate big ships, as well as lack of very strong Muslim influence as in Zanzibar.

In 1888, the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) was granted the royal charter to exploit Zanzibar and Uganda region, which by now were under the British influence. In 1895, the British government finally declared Kenya and Uganda as its protectorates. At this time, the major aim was to expand its trading influence and deter other powers from laying their claim. The British then started thinking of a linkage of the coastal towns of Mombasa and Zanzibar and Lake Victoria, which was the source of the river Nile, which is the main lifeline to Egypt, another region where the British had a strong presence and influence. This would make it possible for the IBEAC to control all the trade in the region through the Nile River (Ochieng, 1985).

In order to achieve this, they decided to construct a railway from Mombasa to the shore of Lake Victoria, but they faced a labour shortage as they considered Africans as both incapable as well as not co-operative. This led them to import a lot of labourers from India, and finally the project kicked off in 1889 and was completed in 1901 at the town of Port Florence (Kisumu Town). These Indian labourers were never repatriated back after completion of the railway project and formed the first major immigrant community in the country. They are amongst the pioneer traders in all the major trading centres, and their influence in these sectors can still be felt today (Ochieng, 1985).

By 1903, the opening of the railway opened a huge fertile area, and this attracted European settlers mainly from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.. They were encouraged by the British government, whose intention was to make the new colony economically viable and self- sustaining. This was a bad news for the Africans as they watched their land taken over by strangers without even bothering to seek their opinion/views. Their efforts to protest went unheeded. The year 1905 saw another major migration of White settlers from South Africa, another region under British influence, and more bad news for the poor Africans (Ochieng, 1985; Sifuna, 1990).

The settlers were partly allowed in 1907 a voice in government through the Legislative Council, a European organization to which some were appointed and others elected. But since most of the power remained in the hands of the Governor, the settlers started lobbying to transform Kenya into a Crown Colony, which meant more powers for the settlers. They attained this goal in 1920, making the Council more representative of European settlers; but Africans were excluded from direct political participation (Ochieng, 1985; Sifuna, 1990).

As a reaction to their exclusion from political representation, the Africans, especially the Kikuyu people, the most subjected to pressure by the settlers, founded in 1921 Kenya's first African political protest movement, the Young Kikuyu Association (KCA). This was to become the Kenya African Union (KAU), an African nationalist organization demanding access to White-owned land (Ochieng, 1985; Sifuna, 1990).

The Second World War was a political eye- opener for the African people and was to change the race relations for ever. A lot of Africans were recruited to fight in the war alongside the White soldiers. They had a chance to observe the European vulnerability, and they realized they can die or hurt just like the Africans. Previously, Europeans had dominated Africans by demonstrating advanced military and economic power and an attitude of superiority and invincibility, a myth that was destroyed by the war. This was a significant psychological win and affected how the Africans perceived the settlers. It is no wonder that Africans decided to use force to demand their rights. This led to the MAUMAU resistance in 1952 (Ochieng, 1985; Sifuna, 1990).

From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the MAU MAU rebellion against British colonial rule. African participation in the political process developed rapidly during the latter part of the period as British policymakers sought to isolate the insurgents and their supporters. The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957 (Ochieng, 1985; Sifuna, 1990).

Kenya finally attained political independence in 1963 form Britain after a bitter 7 years rebellion. This was after 70 years of total economic, social, and political domination. Though the Africans attained some sort of political independence, all the factors of production were still in the hands of the settler communities (both the Europeans and the Indians).


The metamorphosis of formal education Kenya can be divided into three major phases. These phases cover the period before the British occupation (i.e., 1846 to 1890). The first school was established in 1846 at the coastal region of the country by Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries. The major objective was evangelism of the Christian faith and rehabilitation of the freed slaves. Several other schools were later established, but the missionaries could not venture into the hinterland due to bad communication and hostile weather. There was also some sort of schools in the region teaching the Muslim faith. Therefore during this initial phase, education was limited and controlled by the Christian missionaries teaching basic literacy and mathematics. Later, some technical skills such as carpentry, hygiene, and domestic science were introduced into the curriculum.

The second phase covers the period 1891 to 1911. This coincides with the initial stages of the British occupation as well as a period of large- scale migration by the settlers from Europe and India. By this time, they were more interested in trade and grabbing of natives’ land to give a thought about education. This gave way to the opening of better means of communication into the hinterland. This persuaded the missionaries to venture more inwards from the coastal region and spread their faith. This led to establishment of churches and more schools (for the Africans), mainly located at the trading centres which later developed into towns and cities. The Indians, after completing the railway project, and with encouragement by the British authorities, decided not to go back to India and were the pioneers of the trading centres. As the migrant communities established themselves, they started worrying about schooling for their children. Initially, the only alternative was to send their children to India, Britain, or South Africa but this turned out to be very expensive. In 1911, the demand for education for the immigrant community was too high, such that a department of education was started by the colonial administration.

The third phase of the process covered the period from 1911 onwards. The department started by evaluating the already available mission schools and found them incompetent to provide any meaningful education to the migrant communities. However, it was satisfied with their services to the dominant African communities and decided to incorporate them into their educational marshal plan. This plan involved subsidizing the existing missionary schools to continue offering education to the Africans. The department would also establish a few more schools and hand then over to the missionaries for management. Education for the Europeans and Indians was to be handled separately and in a completely different manner. This was the foundation of racial stratification of education in Kenya. Several studies have contributed to an understanding of how missionaries influenced the process whereby the education system they fostered introduced strained racial relations.

The British government sponsored a study of education in the country, and the Fraser Report was published in 1909. This report proposed separate educational systems should be maintained for the three racial groups, i.e., Europeans, Asians, and Africans. Finally in 1924, three separate advisory bodies one for each race, were established and this formalized the means by which the colonialists modelled the education system (Anderson 1970).

According to Wamagatta (2008), the African education pyramid was made up of three levels as follows:At the bottom, there was elementary A: These were the most common and had the poorest facilities, if any. They were located near homes. The students received 2 years elementary education, mostly by untrained teachers. At the end of the 2 years, they had to sit for a standard exam which determined would who rise up to the next level.

Next was the elementary B: These schools were fewer in number and offered 4 years of education. Only very few from A schools progressed to this stage, and at the end, there was another major exam.

Those who were lucky to pass the B school exit exam proceeded to elementary C schools. These were very few and located away from homes, mostly at the mission headquarters, and offered 6 years of elementary education. This was the highest level open to the Africans, as there were no high schools available.

In all these schools, the curriculum tended to concentrate on the technical education, agriculture, hygiene, and religion on top of basic literacy and numeric skills. This type of education was designed to control the African social, political and economic upward mobility (Anderson, 1970; Wamagatta, 2008).

On the other hand, the White and Indian races had a well- structured elementary and high school education with academic orientation. They had to spend 6 years in the elementary school followed by 4 years in high school. Examinations were few, fairer and not a determinant of whether one would proceed to the next level. Upon graduation, most would proceed to occupy their predetermined stations in life. Those who wanted to proceed in education found their way to India, Europe, or South Africa (Wanyoike, 1974).

Since the 1920s, the Africans started agitating for better education similar to the one offered to the other two races. They were particularly interested in the provision of high school and other postsecondary education. The government refused to listen to them at all. This was despite the Africans constituting 98% of the population and the other two races forming 2%. The Africans therefore continued receiving the mission education which fed the students with religious content which was in conflict with their traditional beliefs and cultures and identity as a people. (Bogonko, 1984)

After a lot of frustrations, the Africans decided to raise money and build their own schools, especially high schools which would offer a better and more respectable education. They could not get teachers, as no African had been educated beyond elementary C or any college. They then proposed that the government provide them with teachers while they would construct and run these schools. But again, this was rejected despite the African having collected enough money. The government counter proposed that they hand over the money to the missionaries to fund more elementary C schools, but the Africans would not have any of these arguments. The government based its argument on the premise that Africans were not ready for high school education as most of them fail the elementary C exam which was a prerequisite for high school education. (Note this was not a requirement in the other school)

According to Scott (1936), by 1925, the government established some institutions for training artisans and another one for training elementary school teachers. The main objectives of these institutions was to train men and who would later be sent back to the reserves to work there as elementary school teachers and stop the agitation for higher education. However, this was not acceptable to the Africans, and the struggle continued.

Social Structure and Its Implications

Colonial Kenya was organized on the basis of race, with three racial groups (Africans, Asians, and Europeans). This racial ideology also formed the basis of the ruling ideology. The superiority of the Europeans over the other two groups was emphasized, with the Africans relegated to the bottom of the social ladder. The church was employed to reinforce this ideology by giving it some biblical basis.

Race also formed the basis of division of labour, with Africans supplying the manual labour, Asians in low level administration, while leadership and property ownership was the preserve of the Europeans. This power relation in the labour market dictated the type of education and training offered to each racial group. Europeans needed education for leadership and management and hence the higher standards. In contrast, Africans were destined to the manual labour market, and hence the education system was geared to producing illiterates with the right altitude for manual employment (Mwaria, 1991)

In order to achieve this racial basis through education, several strategies were employed:

Unequal allocation of educational resources across the three groups, of course with the Africans benefiting the least while the Europeans minorities benefited most.

Africans were not allowed to learn English until the lat year of schooling. They were however examined in it.

Christian education was compulsory to the Africans but not to the other races. This was aimed at teaching modern values and civilizing the Africans. If Christian values were the way to civilization, then why was it not taught to the Indians, who were Hindus?

Use of examinations to eliminate most of the Africans aiming at higher education.
Ideological outlook and imparting of skills aimed at reflecting the position its products (Graduates) will occupy in the social structure (Anderson 1970).

Independent schools in Kenya.

The 1930s were marked as years of intense struggle between the locals and the colonial government for the high school education. While the government argued that Africans do not need high school education, the natives, through their chiefs, argued for it. The authorities argued that what was offered through missionaries was enough. The government cited that there were not enough students to justify a high school based on the standard exam results. Another reason offered was the lack of funds. All this time, the Whites and Indians continued to enjoy high quality education in the country as well as in India, South Africa, and England.

The locals requested the government to allow them to be in charge of their own education as the missionaries were very negative to the African cultures, but again this was turned down. This time, the natives decide to raise funds and construct their own schools. They requested the authorities to help them in paying salaries for the teachers, but again this was turned down. Later in the decade, after noting the determination of the natives, junior high school was introduced, but again their management was under the missionaries whose agenda was different. They were however funded by the government and offered a 3 year education but the curriculum continued to lean towards technical as opposed to academic education. Some of these schools were mandated to start training elementary school teachers and artisans in various trades (Wamagatta, 2008).

By 1939, Kenyans had already moved to neighbouring countries for higher education (mostly Uganda and Tanzania). In the 1940s, after a lot of frustration from the authorities, the independent schools movement started in central Kenya. These were schools that were free from missionary and government control. They were funded and managed by the Africans though self- help programs. The local communities incorporated the African views into education, and these schools gained popularity. They questioned the African domination by the other races and soon became political hotbeds. This did not make them popular both to the missionaries and the government. However, since they were not dependent on the government, there was little that could be done. The only option was for the government to give in and start offering high school education. Several high schools in different parts of the country were started.

According to Anderson (1970), by 1940, there were 63 independent schools in central Kenya with a total enrolment of 13,000 students. Each independent school was under a local committee which was responsible for the recruitment and payment of teachers, setting the school fees to be charged, and other fundraising. This led to the formation of an umbrella organization, Kikuyu Independent Schools Organization (KISA) by the locals. To help meet the demand for trained teachers, the first teachers training college was started in 1939 without any government or church blessing. Though it was originally intended to train teachers, the college soon included an elementary, primary, and high school, and by 1947 the enrolment was over 1,000 students.

Stanfield (2005) argued that at this time, the government had been looking for a reason to act and stop these schools whose popularity was going beyond the central region and other independent schools were started in other regions. The missionaries were also alarmed as they watched students moving to these new schools. With funds collected from the people, KISA started sponsoring students to overseas universities. These people would later come back and take over the management of the schools and college. Having travelled to other places, they started agitating for political and economic independence. After all, they had already proved the colonialists wrong by successfully managing their own school system. This was what the authorities and missionaries feared, exposing Africans to the global arena. They were joined by soldiers from the Second World War, and this was the origin of the MAUMAU movement and serious political debate. By this time, the authorities were building more high schools for the Africans (Anderson 1970).

In Kenya’s struggle for independence, it was their schools that gained independence, providing the impetus for the political reforms. However, the situation did not last for long. A police investigation of the MAUMAU early in 1952 sealed the fate of the independent schools. When the government later in the year declared a state of emergency, KISA and the independent schools were banned. The country was at war, as the product of the independent schools led the political front of the freedom movement with the Second World War ex-soldiers taking up arms. Most of their political leaders were detained without trial. The war finally came to an end in 1956 and time to negotiate. In absence of the alternative schools, the government and their missionary counterparts took over the running of education (Stanfield, 2005).

Post Independence Days

The country finally negotiated for political freedom and gained independence in 1963. The new government inherited a country completely different than it was only 70 years earlier. It has changed from serving the majority African population and all the efforts geared towards serving the needs of the Western, mostly British communities. Within this time, Africans were reduced to being beggars in their own country through loss of their land, political/economic oppression, and a complete destruction of the social order. In place was an educational system which for years was used to subordinate any African contribution towards running of the country. By this time, the country’s economic and social basis was modelled to serve the colonialist with big cities all over the country and wage employment was the order of the day.

An educational policy that was concerned with using schools to develop manpower for economic development and employment in the civil service was inherited. The new government embarked on rapid expansion of secondary and tertiary education. There was less emphasis on the basic primary education because this was taken care of by the departing government. Racially segregated schools were phased out in order to provide a standard education for everyone. This means that education that was previously meant for the White community was availed to the Africans without any change. The problem was the British curriculum, with exams set and marked in England. The local people complemented the government by constructing more high schools through self-help basis. However, this happened more in the urban centres, and the rural regions were neglected, a disparity that remains up to today. In order to address this, some schools were converted into boarding facilities where students would remain for3 months and then break for 1 month recess. This was comparable to the residential schools in Canada. The missionaries continued to play an important role on the education front (Woolman, 2001).

By the 1970s, the policy shifted towards integration of education with the rural development. Primary schools were to prepare students for agriculture, family welfare, and community development. Secondary schools were called to promote national unity, economic growth, individual development, social equality, respect for Kenya’s and diverse cultures, and international understanding (Woolman 2001, p. 33). However, this scheme was dropped in 1983, after the MacKay’s report which introduced the current system popularly called 8-4-4 system, which is based on the Canadian system. Once again, a curriculum that was meant for other people was imposed on the country. Within no time and after a huge amount of money was invested, the system was found not too be meeting its goals and targets. It was not only a big burden to the students and their parents who had to meet the costs, but very expensive to the taxpayers. It had to be reviewed and several commissions were set (e.g., Ominde commission in and 1964 Koech commission in 1995) which made recommendations on the way to make education more relevant to the country’s aspirations. Some of the recommendations included the following:
new efforts to build patriotism and national unity
mutual social responsibility, morality, and ethical standards
education for all, including early schools leavers
more provision for continuous learning
quality and relevance based on science and education for rapid industrialization
legal guarantees of each person’s right to education

According to Woolman (2001), currently Kenyan policy includes universal education, with equal opportunity for all. The core goals are to reflect traditional values of training in social justice, morality, and responsibility along with acquisition of life skills needed in the local environment. Other goals include national development and unity among individual services to the nation, preservation of cultural heritage, human dignity, political equality, and multicultural education. However, the government still continues to have a strong input into the education policies, and this does not work well with the professionals as the resulting curriculum goes a long way to serve political interests.


Birth and childhood

I was born on July 17th 1960 in a small town called Limuru, 30 kilometers west of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. This town is in the middle of the country in the fertile Kenyan highlands which are known for the production of high- quality tea and coffee. The climate is quite good, with temperatures averaging in the mid 20s throughout the year. Being just 50 kilometers from the equator, the areas have two rainy seasons, i.e., April to June (long rains) and September to October for the short rains.

I am the firstborn in a family of five brothers and one sister. My father was the last born in a family of four brothers and two sisters, and hence I had a lot of paternal cousins, nieces, uncles, and aunts. My mother also came from a big family of six sisters, four brothers, and a lot of cousins and nieces. Included in the family line are four grandparents i.e., two grandmothers and two grandfathers.

I was born 3 years before the country attained independence from the British government after a bitter 7 year war between the indigenous Africans and the settlers with their local collaborators. This was a result of unfair treatment of the African people in all spheres of life including land ownership, employment opportunities, education policy, and respect for their human rights.

In my early life, I can recall growing up among my extended family consisting of many cousins, nieces, uncles, and aunts in addition to my parents and grandparents. We used to do everything together, with the older children teaching games and others social activities to the young ones. They had inherited the same from their older siblings. My whole world at this time consisted of my family and the immediate neighbors.

As a young boy, I would accompany the older boys to the field to look after cattle, goats, and sheep. I was also introduced to life skills like hunting and picking fruits from the bush. When we were lucky and caught a small animal like a rabbit or even a deer, we would skin, roast, and make a meal out of it. However, if the prey was very young, or mothering, we would release it back to the field. All these skills were learned by observing, questioning, and then imitating. There were no classes, and learning was an ongoing affair and a part of life. This agrees with what Holt (1989) stated: “Living is learning. It is impossible to be alive and conscious without constantly learning things. If we are alive, we are receiving various sorts of messages from our environment all the time” (p.157).

Respect for the elders was a social expectation, and any disrespect would earn a punishment. Bringing up the young ones was more of a social responsibility, and every member of the society was expected to be positively involved in the process.

Joining School

In 1967, my effort to join school was unsuccessful, as I was judged to be too young though I was already 7 years. My small stature worked against me, and the only test was to pass my left hand over my head until it touched the lobe of the right ear. There were no preprimary schools, so this condemned me to another year at home together with other kids who were at least one year younger than I was. It was my turn to act the big brother to the young siblings and teach them new games as we herded livestock.

I finally made it to school in 1968, and I recall the initial days were really exciting. There were no classes and we spent our time making new friends, learning new games, and listening to their stories. To most of us, this was the first time out of our families and their protection. While most of the boys were good, there were a few bullies, especially older boys who would promise us hell on earth if we dared report them to the teachers.

We were slowly introduced to the world of rules and control. Whereas we were happy to meet new friends, I soon realized that the friendship was not to be extended into the classes. For the first time in our lives, we were expected to remain quiet in the class, and any other way was considered rude and attracted a punishment from the teacher. Punishment in most cases involved caning and verbal admonishment. This did not go well with the young scholars. We had to learn to obey the bells which signified the end of one lesson and the start of another. In some cases, a new teacher might take over the class, but the best was when the bell rang, as this meant recess. We had another chance to talk to our friends freely without the control or consequences from teachers.

Those days, schooling involved learning to count as well as some sounds (phonetics) ,which in most cases were dull and boring. We were introduced to the English language for the first time in our young lives starting with the alphabet. Our mother tongue was relegated to the back stage despite the fact that we could barely speak any English, let alone writing. The English stories read and songs sung to us had no social relevance, as they were mostly written for other cultures. As the teachers could not trust us with books, we had to learn writing on the floor with our fingers. As our scholarly skills improved, we were promoted to using black slate and chalks before progressing to plain paper (lineless) and flip charts.

We were soon allocated our respective classes with some sort of seating plans and grouping, and this created the first problem. To most of us, this was the first time we were locked in a room and forced to share desks with strangers. I had at least hoped that our teachers would let us pick our partners, but they had their own ideas. We were introduced to the world of rules and order. We were not to talk in class, even to our desk mates, and one student was appointed to be an overseer (monitor) and report the lawbreakers to the teacher.

To most of us, this was the first encounter with power dynamics. We were expected to follow and obey teachers’ instructions even when they did not make sense to us. At this time, the most important issue for me was making friends and then sharing games and stories. After all, this was how we grew up. We had no restrictions and always learned from each other and never against each other. Now that we were in school, any effort to learn from friends was considered as noisemaking and hence subject to punishment. Another confusing issue was asking questions. Whereas we had always been encouraged to ask questions as one of the ways of learning, in school this was sometimes considered rude to the teacher. The only way of knowing was from the teacher to the students, with no feedback except tests and quizzes. Luckily for us, we only had to tolerate this new lifestyle for half a day and then go home for the rest of the day. Soon, most of us started to hate school because there lacked any connection with the real world as it was known to us.

By the third year (1970), I had been inducted into the world of individualism and competition. Before I started schooling, I was made to believe that what matters is what you can achieve together with others, but once in school, we started treating each other as enemies for the first time in our lives. This negated all that we had learned at home, namely that we are our brother’s keeper. We had been taught to think and reflect how our actions and deeds affect other beings and the environment. We had been taught that each of us belongs to a larger body of humanity and nature. We had been taught that everyone must work towards the common good of the society.

On top of the teacher’s brutality, there was no special education, and if you cannot understand the content as presented by the teacher, then you must be “stupid”. Every Friday, there were always tests, mostly in arithmetic, English spelling, which the teachers used as the basis for making the seating arrangement. Those who scored the highest were arranged in one group (A) while those who did not perform well found themselves in another group (E). Those who were unlucky to find themselves in group E were made to clap for the winning group. They were also expected to keep the class clean for the coming week as a reminder that they needed to improve their performance, otherwise, they would continue sweeping the class and cheering for the winners.

At the end of every term, there were the main exams, with the winners being rewarded in front of the whole school. Whereas this worked for me and a few of others in the class who were termed as bright, the majority hated the whole system. They developed low self- esteem and were really discouraged, as this again formed the basis of how the teachers would treat them without respect. This was also the basis of whether or not one would be promoted to the next class the next year. Though I had initially thought school an interesting place, it later turned out to be a real nightmare to me and most of my classmates. This was the starting of the negative altitude towards schooling and eventually led to students dropping out of school. By this time, education was neither compulsory nor free, and this made it easier for the dropouts. As we had to pay fees, I imagine a lot of the students wondered why they had to pay for something that did not make sense to them, in a community (school) where they felt unwanted or unappreciated.

Only a fraction of those of us who joined grade 1 made it to grade 4. Most had been frustrated and either dropped out, repeated classes, or were sent away for not paying their fees. By this time, we were expected to have attained literacy and basic numeracy skills and to be ready to expand our scholarly world further. I do remember studying the history of old Greek, Egyptian, and Roman empires in grade 4. We were also introduced to the science of living things in addition to religion, and this created the first major confusion to us. While the religion teacher taught us that the world was created in 7 days, in our next class, the teacher would tell that we evolved from monkeys over a very long time. If you again questioned any of them, this was rude, and challenging the teacher most of the times called for punishment.

Upper Elementary School

In grade 4, we entered the senior elementary which qualified us to attend school the whole day. By this time, most of us were more schooled than most of our parents and relatives. During the colonial era, schooling was not considered necessary for the Africans. The very few who made it to school, went up to grade 3 and then sat for an exam which was administered only to the Africans to test whether they had attained the basic skills, which included writing their names, simple addition/subtraction and reading, and writing in their mother tongue. They were then released to work in the agricultural sector as laborers. Beyond this, schooling was considered a luxury, unnecessary, and waste of funds. Most of the African schools did not go beyond grade 3.

I can remember the excitement at home as my father rewarded me with my first fountain pen, a school bag, and a geometrical set. At school and for the very first time, we were issued with text books and trusted to take them home. I and those of us who were lucky to have made it this far, were exempted from some of our routine duties at home since we needed a lot of time to complete our homework. However, in schools, the teachers did seem not to share the same ideas. They got more brutal and allocated us more manual duties like digging, cleaning our classrooms as well as the teachers’ houses, latrines and well as the school paths. All this work was to be completed during the lunch recess break. If one failed to complete the tasks in time, this resulted in severe punishment in terms of caning or suspension.

By now, we had become accustomed to a lot of homework, and by the time we were in grade 6, we barely had any time to relax and sometimes spent half the night trying to cope with the work. There was a lot of rote learning, as teachers expected us to reproduce their exact words almost verbatim, and woe to us if we could not. This was an enormous task for most of the young scholars and made our lives very difficult. By this time, most of us were bored by a curriculum that had no relevance to us and hence lacked any meaningful connection. As there were not written text books based on the African lifestyle, we had to rely on the Western world view, which in most cases, made little sense to us.

Socially, we were becoming more isolated from our friends and relatives, since little time was spared for them. In school, we had classes up to 3.30 p.m. Even though we were excused from some duties at home so that we could complete our homework, we still had to do some chores as required by our parents before working on the homework, which in most cases was due the next morning. This left little time for social activities with other children. There was a lot of pressure not only from the teachers but parents also. We were expected to work hard and pass the grade 7 exams, since this was the ticket to a good public high school. There were limited chances to advance beyond elementary school, and hence the competition was intense.

In 1974, at an age of 15 years, I was in grade 7. Grade7 was a night mare to every student because it was a do- or- die situation since it led to the first major standard exam, the certificate of primary exam (CPE). Those who passed the exam progressed to high school while the failures dropped out, and they were the majority. The teachers spent the whole year preparing us for the exam which mostly involved working on the past exam questions in the hope that some of the questions would reoccur. The exam was composed of three major papers: English (both grammar & composition), Mathematics, and general paper (included science, geography, history, religious education, civics, and general knowledge). We sat for the exam in November and it was marked over the Christmas break so that the results could be released in January. This would enable the successful students to join high school in late January.

I remember the excitement when the results were released. I graduated at the top of our class of 120 students and was offered a chance to join one of the best high schools in the region. However, a lot of my classmates were not equally lucky, and this was the end of their academic life. Only five of us proceeded to the next level of the academic ladder. While we were the village celebrities, the rest of my classmates were not treated with a lot of respect. After all they were “failures” and life was not very bright. Few of them were offered a chance to repeat the year and reseat for the exam at the end of the year. This was the first time that I was persuaded to believe that I am different from the rest of my community. I passed the test, they failed. This started to create a gap between me (and fellow celebrities) and the others. This again exempted us from a lot of chores and activities which we were made to believe were for the academic failures.

High School Life

In late January, 1975, I joined my new all- boys’ high school which was far away from home. The school offered 4 years schooling, and each grade had 3 classes; each with 40 students. I joined the other celebrities from different schools and communities in the country. For the first time in life, I was away from my parents and relatives. All the students and teachers were new to me. For the first time, I was alone and had to learn to do things on my own as this was a boarding school. All this was at the age of 15 years. The teachers and students were from different tribes and races. The principal was a harsh Italian Catholic priest and gave a welcoming speech to the new students. I do remember being cautioned against bringing my old primitive ways from the village schools into the reputable school. I remember the first lecture; it was about the proper use of the washroom. The principal demonstrated to the whole school how to sit on the basin, use the tissue paper, and the flush. He made all the new students each repeat the demonstration to the whole school, and this was demeaning to us as washroom habits are supposed to be a private affair and behind closed doors. We were expected to take a cold shower every morning, and he mandated the senior students to ensure this. The older students interpreted this to mean physical and mental harassment under the pretext of inducting us to high school.

Within very few days, our celebrity status evaporated as we were inducted into the world of higher education. We were made to feel as if we had learnt nothing in our former schools and homes. The teachers were never tired of reminding us to forget our old primitive ways and habits and that we should focus our attention on the bright future assured by academic success. To take care of our moral needs, the priests would start the day with a one- hour Catholic mass in the school’s chapel, where again we were introduced to the qualities and expectation of a good Christian boy: no girlfriends, no smoking, blind obedience to school rules, and daily reading of the bible. The teacher’s authority was never to be questioned, even when they did not make sense to us. We are expected to remain quiet in class unless we were answering a question, otherwise, serious consequences would follow. Again, this may range form being sent to the principal’s office for caning to some manual tasks outside class or even suspension for some days. In order to control the students, some students were appointed class prefects to lord over the others and report the wrongdoers to the teachers or the principal.
The school had two sections, the academic side for the so- called bright students and the technical side for the weak ones. Speaking of the mother tongues was forbidden, and serious consequences including suspension for a week might follow. In the first- year, the first year students followed a common curriculum comprised of both the academic and technical subjects. The teachers were to make a decision as to the section placement at the end of the year after vigorous assessment. The top students would proceed to the academic side while the others would head to the less prestigious technical side where they would concentrate on more hands- on teaching in the workshops as well as agriculture. They were destined to the trades where the perception was that this training would result in no chances for any upward mobility. We believed that some professions were only for those without proper education, and this created more social classes.

In the academic section, we believed we were destined for better things if we continued working hard, otherwise a demotion to the technical section awaited the lazy students. We continued following a curriculum we could barely understand or even relate to since it was too abstract. While the so- called weak students spent half their time in class learning the theoretical work followed by spending the rest of their times in the workshops learning the practical application of the theory, we spent most of our time in class listening to our teachers as well as taking notes. Sometimes, we would go to the labs for experiments based on theories we barely understood. Assessments involved reproducing the teacher’s words almost verbatim, otherwise we would fail. In some subjects like mathematics, where reproduction of the teachers’ words was not possible, the performance was dismal. Soon the performance was biased towards the liberal art and against the sciences, mostly due to the calculation component and problem solving.

A normal school year was divided into three, 3- month terms, each followed by a month- long break. While we were torturing our brains in schools, our age mates were learning real life skills under the directions of the adults and heading towards maturity. They were attaining skills which can be applied to improve their lives in the community. During the school breaks, we were expected to participate in the communal activities productively, but we lacked the connection and skills to do so. All the theories and skills learnt in schools could not be applied in our local settings. This was compounded more by ideas planted in our minds in schools that we were made for a better life than the one offered by our communities. By the time we were in the final year in high school, our counterparts who did not make it were ready to graduate to the next stage in life, marriage and starting their own families, i.e., adulthood. On the other hand, I could recite several theories in science, dissect a frog, knew the geography and history of all the major regions in the world outside Africa, yet, I could barely prepare a meal.

By the end of the fourth year in high school, it was time for another standardized exam (the ordinary levels). This was what was used to separate the men from the boys. For over one month, we had to sit for exams in eight subjects, testing us on all that we had learnt in the course of four years. At the end of the exams, the old ritual returned to haunt us. Again, I was judged a success and hence preceded to the next level in the academic ladder, the advanced (A) level high school, which was equivalent to pre-university preparation. By this time, one was expected to have decided whether to pursue science or liberal arts at the university. Since there were very limited chances at the only public university, exams were used to justify why one was selected or not. One of the major uses of standard exams is to justify the system’s failures. Since neither the colonial or independent governments could provide enough places in post elementary education, they then turned to standard exams to explain the predicament. Talk about blaming the victims. They were made to believe that they did not deserve these chances since they failed the exams. However, they pass rate of these exams were tied to the available vacancies.

Post Secondary Education

Again, I was lucky to have been judged a success after the pre-university exams (A-levels) and was offered a chance to proceed to the only university in the country at the time. I enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree and was hopeful that finally, I would gain skills which would enable me to contribute in the national development. Every exam I passed pulled me further and further from my people and the real life. As a university student, nobody including my parents expected me to participate in the rural life as I was destined for a better life in big cities. My social life was greatly affected, as most of my age mates could not relate to me. I was treated as a local celebrity, and my former classmates who were unlucky during the exams had a problem associating with me. By this time, most of my former friends had already settled in life, most already with families and careers.

Having spent most of my growing life in schools and away from my community, I found it hard to connect or even to be involved in life within my community.

Entering the Labor Force

After 3 years of rigorous training in chemistry, I finally graduated and was expected to join the labor force. This was the first time I had to face the reality. I had expected to easily find a good job since science graduates were supposed to be in great demand. I was first hired by the government as a chemist, and I was very excited that I could make my contribution to help my country develop. I hoped to apply all the scientific theories into practice, but what was offered was completely different. The country had not acquired any advanced laboratories where my skills could be utilized, and I had to be content doing some other nonrelated duties like reading and writing reports as well as attending meetings where we would spend hours discussing some imaginary development plans. I soon realized that I had been chasing skills that our country was not ready for. Worse still, a lot of money had been invested to get skills that were of no use to my country. This was very frustrating since the duties we were performing did not require a university degree. In fact, a lot of our juniors who had mostly dropped out of high school were working better but paid less than us due to their less schooling.

After one frustrating year, I realized my skills could better be utilized in the education sector. I therefore applied to teach chemistry in a high school and was accepted. For 2 years, I was a chemistry teacher and was enjoying it. But what was I really doing? Feeding my students with skills that I knew they would never utilize productively since the country was not ready for them. I remember arguing with my colleagues about the science curriculum we were implementing. It was not teaching our students any skills that could help them improve their living skills. If one did not proceed to higher education, then all that was learned was useless. In practice, our parents and grandparents who had little or no formal schooling were doing far better and most were openly questioning the whole purpose of schooling.

My real turning point followed a discussion I had with an old man about the value of schooling. This man suggested to me that the problem of the schooled people is that they think all answers to everything can be found in books. Since there are a lot of books, they do not know the one with the real answers to their problems, and hence they ended up faking the answers connected to the ideas of the last book they consulted. If they were to consult another book, they might change their previous answer. He told me the problem is that there are a few or no books that have the right answer to the African problems and that is why our scholars are still searching. Since they cannot find them and are afraid to accept the truth, they use other peoples’ (European) solutions to our local problems, even though the situations and solutions are different in their timing and space.

I recall him telling me about how his son graduated from a college with a diploma in accounting and bookkeeping. The old man was happy his son could utilize his skills in his business empire as an accountant. He however was having a problem trying to convince his son that he could work in the rural town. The young men have been trained to view work as being employed in a big town and by a big company. However, such companies were very few in Kenya or even Africa. After his efforts to secure such a job were fruitless, he came back to his dad asking whether the offer to work in the family business still stood. The dad soon realized that his son could not actually work in his business. The type of accounting he had trained for was computer based and the old man did not have one. The young man trained for jobs and technology that were not even available in the market in our country at the time. The young man took the next available job at the family business, a counter salesman, and after some time, he was sacked for been unproductive. I asked the old man whether his son could not adopt some of the skills to fit the local situation. He replied that the only way the man can work is if he gets a computer.

This made me think about my situation. I am just like the young accountant. After training for an imaginary job at the university level and not finding it, I resigned to fate and took the next available job. This was the turning point in my life. I decided to make the impossible possible. If I could not get the right job, maybe I could create it. If school did not equip me with real life skills, then life will. That was how I ended up in the pharmaceutical industry. I created a company dealing with the marketing of human medicine.

In order to be able to do this, I had to get some training in pharmacy. I decided to use my scientific training to gain leverage in the industry. I approached a local pharmacist and offered my services for free in the evenings and the weekend. Since I was already a well- known chemistry teacher, he accepted my offer, and for 6 months I learned most of the basics about the industry. He taught me most of the technical know-how as well as introduced me to the marketing network in the industry. My next step was to get some skills in business management. In order to gain this, I enrolled in a correspondence diploma course in business management which I completed in f4 months as opposed to1 year. In one of the assignments, I was required to create and present a business proposal. My proposal deliberately involved starting a pharmaceutical distribution and wholesaling business, and I asked my friend the pharmacist for some practical ideas to include. On completion of the project and before sending it to my examiner, I again requested the pharmacist to proofread it. After going through it, he was amused and even intrigued at the idea about starting it if he could get a reliable person to run it as a separate entity as well as finances.

I later visited the old businessman and sold him the idea of getting his son a job where he could utilize his computer accounting skills, and he also bought the idea of starting a business. After evaluating the potentials, he agreed to request financial support from his bankers. I then arranged a roundtable meeting between us three, and we were ready to start. It was agreed that I was to resign from the teaching job in order to run the company on a full- time basis. The other two would be board members since they were already involved in running other businesses. We bought a computer and hired the young man to be in charge. Since initially we did not have a lot of business, the young man was involved in running the accounts for both his father’s business as well as the pharmacy.

I was to make connections with the suppliers as well as create a new customer base. The next step was to draw the business projections and present them to the bank for their evaluation. Towards this, I had to utilize a lot of transferable skills form my previous job as a teacher as well as a student. If need arose, I had to learn from an experienced person. After 6 months, we were in business but realized we were limited by our local suppliers and competitors. I then came up with a plan to get off- shore suppliers. A visit to the Chinese and Indian commercial attaches at their respective embassies connected me to a lot of suppliers from their countries. Within 2 years, we were representing two Chinese and Indian suppliers in the country and beyond. By now, the company had grown and we had to hire more staff.

I later resigned from this company and went on my own to start another company dealing with water treatment products. This was where I was working before migrating to Canada in early 2003. I again realized that to get a job in the pharmaceutical industry was not easy and I had to come up with a second plan. Why not use my science degree and previous experiences as a teacher and train as a teacher with the hope of getting a teaching post as a science teacher in one of the high schools in my new country. That is how I ended up at the faculty of education in Nipissing University. I do enjoy teaching chemistry and mathematics, and that is what I have been doing for the last 3 years.


Colonization and Its Influence on Education

The process of colonization involves one nation or territory taking control of another nation either through the use of force or by acquisition. The colonizing power introduces and implements its own system of government and education/schooling within their colonies, mostly regardless of the colonized people’s views. With time, they hope that their ways of doing things will be embedded in the minds of the colonized people, and this is assimilation. Assimilation involves the colonized being forced to conform to the cultures and traditions of the colonizers with or without their consent.

However, the colonizing power knows that with time, they gain more strength through mental than physical control. This mental control program is best implemented through a central intellectual location, the school system. Eventually, the colonial education/and schooling system aims at extending foreign domination and eventually economic exploitation over the colonized. The colonized are absorbed in the colonizer’s economic model, and this opens the doors to all sorts of exploitations and abuses. This type of education is never aimed at a separate or independent development of the colonized in their own societies and cultures. In other words, it is not aimed at empowering the colonized. In the name of education, the colonized people are removed from their indigenous learning structures and forced toward new colonial structures and mind sets.

According to Macaulay (1835), the colonial education system eventually produces a new class of people who act as the interpreters between the governed and governors. This new class of people is not only colonized in blood and color but also shares the opinions, taste, moral standards, and intellect with the colonizers. Based on their privileged positions, they come to believe that they are better than the other members of their society and are used to facilitate further assimilation.
More often than not, implementation of a new education and world view leaves the colonized with a very serious lack of identity and a limited sense of their past. Their indigenous history, customs, world view and education simply slip away. They become a hybrid of two different cultural systems, and with time, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the new imposed ideas and the formerly accepted local practices. The situation becomes more complicated when this new class of educated people is not fully accepted as equals by their colonial masters.

The process of colonization and assimilation annihilates the people’s belief in their names, language, environment, heritage, unity, capacities, and ultimately, in themselves. This eventually makes them see their past as one wasteland of no achievement and hence distances them from it. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from them. Macaulay further argued that colonial education, far from giving the people confidence in their abilities and capacities to overcome obstacles or to become masters of laws governing external nature as human beings, tends to make them feel their inadequacies and their inability to do anything about the condition of their lives (Thiongó, 1986).

Education and Development

Throughout the colonial period, Africans were made to believe that they were not developed because they were not educated. The same argument was used to justify why the other two, European and Indian, races were developed. This explains why the struggle for independence in Kenya was much related to the struggle for education. Africans were sold the idea that only when they attain a certain level of education will they be able to be integrated into the process of development. It therefore makes sense that in order to control the lives of the Africa people, then you have to control the type of education available to them. This was the situation at independence, a people who were thirsty for education in order to control their development and affairs.

In the post colonial era, a lot of money and resources (sometimes greater than 30% of the GDP) were channeled into schooling. This was the result of the misguided notion that schooling is that magical key that will open the doors to development. However, despite all these efforts, there is little or no development to show for it. This has led to the question of whether there is any direct relationship between the two issues, and the answer to this question is not very clear. In some aspects, the answer can be yes, but in most it is no. This has led to the idea that not all types of education lead to development. It is therefore necessary to find out

  • What type of education will lead to the much desired development?
  • What type of development are we talking about?
  • Who defines this development?
  • How do we measure progress towards the goals and the indicators of attainment?

Unless we do so, the country (continent) will continue to follow an undefined road to development despite high levels of the schooling. This will not only be frustrating but leads to waste of resources and time.

According to Ntaragwi (2003), the most plausible explanation is that the kind of education Kenyans receive does not equip them with essential tools that would enhance development. He continues to argue that this type of education is not really relevant to our country’s developmental needs. Another possible conclusion is that maybe education is not a necessary ingredient for development.

One of the major problems is the lack of input of the local societies in the definition of development. If the people are to be a part of this process, then it is essential to bring them on board and get their definition of development. It will then be necessary to figure how their perception matches the country’s socioeconomic and cultural realities. This will then give them direction or focus that the developmental process will take.

Esteva (1992) describes development as a process through which potentialities of an object or organism are released, until it reaches its natural, complete, and fully fledged form. It is therefore a necessary prerequisite that for a human being to be developed, he/she has to undergo a process that will enable one to grow into mature form that enhances the attainment of the full human potential. Ntaragwi (2003) argues that this will involve one’s ability to use the environment successfully to attain that potential. This will include meeting one’s basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, and reproduction

If we apply this definition, then it is possible to see that the Kenyan communities were much more developed long before the onset of colonization. If development means self- sufficiency, then many communities in Kenya had developed before the onset of the Western communities and their mode of development. They were not only able to meet their basic needs but did so without upsetting their balance with their environment.

However, this definition was changed in the 19th century after the work of Charles Darwin. He introduced the idea of evolution into the developed world, and the two words became synonyms in the scientific world. The human communities were figured to be in the process of evolution from low to high. This led to the notion that some communities were “developed” while others were “undeveloped”. The Western world assumed the developed status while the rest of the world was classified to be undeveloped, underdeveloped, or developing. The developed world assumed the role of developing the rest of the world. This differentiation of the world formed the basis of colonization (Ntaragwi, 2003).

On this basis, development was redefined to a new meaning which was loaded with Eurocentric connotations that put the world in a hierarchy in which the West was ranked above the other communities. The rest of the world has therefore to be developed to achieve the same status as the West. In order to achieve this, the West employed colonization, Christianity, imperialism, and education. They worked to replace the local political, economical, cultural, and educational systems with new Western ones. This is the starting point of Westernization. To achieve this, the colonialists and missionaries employed education and schools.

It was only after the colonizers were sure that they had achieved their objectives that the colonies were allowed to proceed to the political independence stage. Having penetrated every sphere of their lives including their mind sets and world views, the Kenyan communities were destined for economic and cultural dependence. On attaining political independence, the new leaders continued on the same aspirations and goals of the departing power’s definition of the process of development. Unknowingly, they slipped right into the shoes of the departing colonialist and inherited all their governing organs without any alteration whatsoever. They continued to apply the Western model of development, which did not reflect the Kenyan realities.

The African Indigenous Education

According to Sifuna (1990), education is defined as the whole process by which one generation transmits its culture to the succeeding generation. He also defined it as a process by which people are prepared to live effectively and efficiently in their own unique environment. It is therefore important for education to enable the society to interpret its needs and aspirations as well as come up with solutions to them. Since societies are different, they therefore have different education systems.

This is in agreement with Nyerere (1968), who stated that educational system in different kinds of societies in the world have been, and are, very different in organization and in content. They are different because the societies providing them are different and because education, whether formal or informal, has a purpose. The purpose is to transmit from one generation to the next the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the society and to prepare the young for their future membership within the society and their active participation in its maintenance or development.

Kenyan people as well as all the other African groups are made up of different and distinct societies. They do not live in a homogeneous society or as one nation as assumed by the Christian missionaries as well as the colonial administrators. Another false assumption was that they did not have any sort of education or organization and hence one had to make up for them. This is because for ages they had different indigenous (homegrown) forms of education to transmit their own particular knowledge and skills to ensure their existence. According to Sifuna (1990), though these education systems varied from one ethnic group to another, the objectives and goals were very similar.

Standardized Exams

In the African traditional learning, there was no testing or preset goal to be achieved by the learners. Young learners were under no pressure to attain a certain level of learning by the community, and everything was done at the leaner’s will and time. The motivating factor was a certain level of satisfaction that contributed to the society’s well- being. Everyone was expected to be useful as a civil duty and in most cases learners would volunteer. If one was not successful, there were no consequences, and learning was mostly informal and under the direction of the adults. If you did not like a certain task, then you would try something else, since at maturity, everyone was expected to contribute something to the community.

In formal schooling, teachers do employ exams as one of the many means of evaluation to decide placement of the students in their respective classes. Tests are also used to find out progress towards attainment of the preset goals. This way, the results are used to find out those students who may require extra help. This way, a teacher uses various methods of evaluation depending on the student’s ability, environment, and the nature of the task at hand. This process is supposed to be nonjudgmental as well as stress free, and both students and their parents are usually supportive of them as far as they are only used to monitor progress and mastery of some skills. However, teachers must ensure that these evaluations take into consideration o the different learning styles. This is mostly done on a regular basis. However, in some countries, some standardized exams are used for other reasons.

In Kenya, there were exit exams are at the end of every stage: in grade 8, they determined those who were to proceed to high schools, in grade 12 they determined those who were to proceed to the university (before 1987, from grade 12, one proceeded to the A-levels and lastly the A-level exam which was the determining factor as to who were or were not to join the university). At any evolutionary stage, the standard exam created classes of people, i.e., successes and failures with the former believing that they were more intelligent than the latter. Since schooling was promoted as necessary for success in life, those who failed felt that they were doomed in life because mostly all the chances of upward mobility were curtailed by the system. The exams were used to judge the success of not only the students but also the teachers as well as rating of the schools. Test scores become a big issue and everyone in the community is interested in them. High pass rates are used to indicate a teacher’s superior skills, and in most cases, lead to promotion and higher pay.

Teachers find themselves under intense pressure from everyone, including politicians, to raise the test scores. This makes them teach to the exams, which in most cases means rote learning. Politicians use the test scores as a means of accountability for the funds from the government. Not to be left behind, commercial interest groups (e.g., book publishers etc.) come up with all types of resources that can help in improving the grades without care as to what damage this will do to the students. Parents are also happy with higher scores since they erroneously take this to mean more intelligence. But is this really true? Is one more intelligent just by passing these exams?

Koln (2000) raised several issues concerning test results and their application. These include the following:

Are exams a measure of intelligence and practical capabilities or are they geared towards measuring the learner’s test- taking abilities?
Who sets these exams, and how subjective are they?
How do they decide what to include or omit from the test?
How do they avoid ambiguous, confusing, biased, or stupid questions?
How realistic are these tests?
How do they prepare students for life outside the classroom?
Are the test results a measure of achievement?
Can the result be affected by factors outside beyond the school control e.g. family size, parent’s income, the community cultural/ economic heritage?
Do these tests avoid higher level questions in order to improve the scores? Most rely on short term memory questions for success.

By the very nature of standard exams in Kenya, the results are standardized in order to fit into the government plan. The results were usually worked on to conform to the realities of life. An example was when the results were used to determine the vacancies for post secondary education. Some students had to fail, or even pass to fit in the data. This way, nobody will blame the government for lack of opening. We had a lot of cases where some students who were judged as failures went to other universities in other countries and excelled. They later came back to the country to take teaching positions in universities they could not qualify to join in the first place. A lot of the succeeding students later find it hard to make it in life and in most cases had to be trained by their former classmates who dropped out of school. The major problem of standardized exams is expecting the same results from learners under different environment or conditions.

Standard tests also lead to uniform curriculum despite the mitigating factors. This is what is used when we compare school’s performances and ranking. This is still a big issue in the educational sector in Kenya and students compete or even bribe to join certain high schools whose test score are high. Teachers in those schools, in order to maintain the scores drill their students on past questions until the answers stick in their memories, and hope they will be able to reproduce them during the exam. Cases of those with high scores in high schools exit exams dropping out of the universities are not rare.

Identity of the Kenyan People

Any organized group of people usually identify themselves based on their linguistic background as opposed to their color or looks. On this basis, groups like Irish, Italian, German, Chinese, etc. refer to all the people who speak this particular language. However, this simple fact seems to have escaped the minds of the colonizers when they moved to Africa or any other colonized area anywhere in the world.

In Africa in particular, color was used as the only basis of identification. This seems to have been based on the view that Africans (or any other colonized group) were uncivilized people who lack any sort of organization, and hence they came up with the term “Black people”. They completely disregarded any cultural or linguistic diversity and grouped everyone together. This misguided notion formed the basis of future social, economic, and educational programs (Mbiti, 1992).

However, the Black people do not see themselves this way. They are not an amorphous group of people having a common history, culture, as well as they same world view. They identify themselves according to their linguistic groups. It is on this basis that Kenya can be divided into 42 distinct ethnic groups (tribes). All these tribes speak different languages and have different cultures, customs, history, economic activities, and philosophies. That was why the term “Black race” was considered racist, particularly when it was employed to refer to the skin color of the people with complete disregard to their culture, language, and ancestry.

In Kenya, ethnic groups are determined by the geographical regions, language, and common culture. Each ethnic group had its own social and political organization with a very strong sense of kinship. It is this kinship that controls their social relationships, governs their ways of life, determines the customs and laws, and determines the behavior of one individual towards another (Mbiti, 1992).

Therefore, in order to properly understand the Kenyan people and their cultures, it is necessary to consider the following factors and their contribution to the bigger picture:
cultural awareness among the Kenya peoples i.e. intra cultural
cross cultural awareness i.e. transfer/borrowing form one culture to another
inter cultural awareness i.e. awareness between different cultures through interactions( Mbiti, 1992)

This was the missing link when Western education was introduced in Kenya, that is, exclusion of the indigenous form of education from the whole educational map. This led to the first fundamental failure of education planning, i.e., alienation of learners from their cultural identity. This made it difficult for the Kenyan people to connect or even relate it to their real life. This resulted in a dysfunctional education which failed to address a full range of social, economic, cultural, political, and psychological issues.

According to Mbiti (1992), African people identified themselves more as a community as opposed to the individual. Society members owed their existence to one another. This includes their ancestors as well as their contemporaries. Marriage and children were highly valued as ways of extending families and societies. Communities lived together in villages which included farm fields and livestock sheds along with their houses and religious shrines. These traditional houses varied from one community to the other, with most being round while others were rectangular in shape.

It is worth noting that there was very little that was included in the educational curriculum that depicted the African (all the colonized) people in any positive way. Most of the emphasis was placed on the European way of life and life outside the African continent. Schooling did not include African’s contribution to ancient human development and civilization. However, there was a lot of emphasis on the slave trade.


One of the questions I have to answer almost daily is if there are schools in Africa. Another one is whether I am a refuge, escaping from war and whether I will ever go back to my home country. Some people want to know whether there are any houses, vehicles, or towns. Some of my colleagues were surprised when I told them that I was living a much better life than what I am currently living in Canada. They were also surprised to learn that I am not a refugee and would consider going back at some time in the future. My 13 year- old daughter had to tell a nagging classmate that she might have had a better childhood, maybe better than her. And that made me wonder how little the Western world knows about my homeland. All that is known here is that Kenya is a poor and desperate country awaiting the help of foreigners, otherwise Kenyans will perish. To some extent, this is true depending on the source of information. If World Vision and Plan International are the main source, then the message is that African problems can be over if enough dollars can be donated? They can build more schools, hospitals, and produce food and the problems will be gone. Sometimes I wish it were as simple as that.

There is a need to genuinely look at these problems, understand them, before looking for solutions. Up to now, I do not think the world has been honest about solving these problems and honestly, the situation reinforces the theories of racial superiority as proposed from the Western world point of view. That is why they will take something like democracy or schools and impose them on a different society and expect it to work in a completely different environment and culture. After all, it worked in their world, why not in Africa? This is what has been happening since the colonial era, with the same result. In fact, the situation in Africa now may be in some aspects, at a worse situation than a generation ago. This brings me to the major topic in this paper: schooling and education as agents of development in Kenya

When the colonialists first came to Kenya, there were no formal schools and they concluded that the local societies were uneducated and hence uncivilized. This was despite the fact that they found very organized groups of people with a system of government as well as social order. People were living in harmony with each other as well as taking good care of the environment. They did not even appreciate the local people’s hospitality, even after being welcomed with open arms and given land to settle and built their churches and trading centres. Rather they came up with plans that would serve their twin issues of establishing Christian faith in order to control the growing Muslim faith that was expanding in the area as well as political and economic domination. In this, they employed deception as well as their military superiority. They also exploited the African people’s trusting nature. Since the slave trade had been outlawed in the world, they had to come up with another and better plan: colonization and education.

While the Kenyans (Africans) were celebrating the new friendship, their friends viewed them as a factor of production. But there was one problem: Kenyan communities at the time viewed work as a means of supplying their basic needs (food, shelter, and clothing) as well as creating wealth, which again was gauged in terms of livestock and farming, not money. They realized that the local communities’ livelihood was centred on land, which were a communal heritage as well as a unifying factor. The best method of making a community destitute is to deny them access to land. With a stroke of the pen, the British government declared the country a colony with the consequences that all the land resorted to the Queen of England. This was despite the fact that the local Kenyan population did not know who the queen was. The queen in her wisdom proceeded to allocate the fertile land to the British settlers with little or no regard to the local communities. A new sort of government was also established to rule over the whole country. To help to maintain law and order, a police force was established. The occupational forces also introduced the payment of taxes to the British government.

This was the starting point of destitute people in the country. Men suddenly found themselves unable to supply the basic needs to their families, and this affected their self- esteem. Being landless and destitute, they had no alternative but to turn to the invaders for solution, selling their labour for food and money to pay the government taxes. In order to justify the payment of taxes, the new government introduced the racially structured school system, with the Kenyans being offered the lowest possible form of schooling and training. I believe the major driving force was to produce graduates who were to continue looking up to the colonizers for solutions to their problems.
The colonial forces teamed up with the Christian missionaries to make the Kenyans more submissive to authorities and their imposed laws. The schools were also to give the Africans skills and a mindset that would allow them to be exploited without complaints. The easiest way to achieve this was to make the Kenyans doubt their potential to solve their problems. Another way was to preach the superiority of the White race over the local majority. The European way of interpreting reality became dominant truth and anything else rendered invalid and primitive. The schools started propagating these ideas in the minds of the innocent Kenyan children. By this time, development was redefined to reflect these alien views. Some of the cultural practices practised by the native populations were outlawed by the new laws.

The schooling system as inherited from the colonialist was and continues to be confused with education. It came loaded with Euro centric values which were imposed on the Kenyan children during the colonial and post independence days. This type of education acted more like a part of colonialists’ ideological apparatus designed for capital reproduction and accumulation (i.e., aimed at producing better workers as opposed to critical thinkers or problem solvers). It was actually more of training clothed as education and ended up replacing the indigenous African education. It was not geared towards liberation but ensured enslavement in a controlled environment called schools. These schools were and continue to be managed more like jails or mental asylums to ensure total obedience and loyalty to the system and its apparatus of governance (both in the colonial and independence eras).

I believe proper education should help the learners discover and understand themselves and their communities better. They should be able to identify what matters most to themselves and their communities. After clearly doing this, they will then strive to come up with ways and means to solve these problems and improve the living conditions of their communities. In order to do this, I believe that education must be centred on the needs and goals of the students and their environment. This way, we can say that education will be used as an agent of development. The learners will be able to apply their education to help their societies. It is then necessary that the learners continue their education in their environment so that they can be making connections with reality on the ground as well as remain connected to their people and their aspirations.

I believe this is one of the major problems with education in Kenya. The schools are so removed from real life that they are not relevant. Learners continue learning imaginary problems which are not relevant to them or their communities. They continue to accumulate skills and knowledge that are not relevant to their lives. That is why they cannot contribute anything towards the betterment of their lives or people. To be meaningful to the learners, education should be grounded in the needs and aspirations of the learners and their people. Since people have different needs, then there is a need to come up with different approaches to address the diverse needs. This leads us to the second erroneous assumption in education in the country, namely, the one- size- fits- all approach introduced by the colonialists and later inherited by the independent nation. The education planners removed the individual and their communities from the equation in their efforts to create a unified nation. This was grounded on the basis that individual cultures will eventually melt down and evolve into one mega national culture which will again create common goals and objectives.

This led to the formulation of a curriculum that ignored the input of the local communities and in total disregard of the environment, resources, identity, and ways of life. The assumption I believe was that they would all embrace this new world view. They then came up with a standard curriculum and exams and hence expected the standard results. This type of education lacked any relevance and meaning to the learners as they learn about lives and experiences of places they have never been to. An example was teaching about winter and winter games and English literature at the expense of our seasons as well as our diverse heritage. Another example is teaching about cash crop farming to people whose main occupation was livestock herding, or teaching students to read and write in a foreign language to people who could not read nor write in their native language.

This type of education lacked any meaningful relevance to learners except passing exams. This in turn promoted rote learning where the learners are more interested in passing exams than gaining skills that can be used in life. This also killed creative thinking, problem solving skills, and imagination.

Education should also be cumulative. It should aim at adding onto the pre-existing knowledge. This is the type of education that is likely to lead to growth and finally to maturity. One of the fundamental flaws is the assumption that Africans did not have any prior knowledge or interpretation of reality. This was deduced from absence of formal schools. Kenyan learners were treated and continue to be treated like empty vessels to be filled with wisdom or knowledge from their teachers. Schooling ended up confusing the learners, as what they learned in school in most cases did not complement what they had already learned at home and within their societies. However, instead of looking for ways to marry the two, the schools were sold to the learners as the only way of interpreting reality. Since education is value based, learners adopted the new world view promoted by schools. This forced them to have a new way of viewing reality, which in most cases was in total contrast to the needs and aspirations of the learner’s societies.

Learners in turn started redefining development according to these newly acquired worldviews. This in turn led the learners to start identifying with other people’s problems at the expense of their own. This led to the present situation where Kenyans graduate with skills that are more suitable to a different environment. Remember my skills in chemistry in an environment where there were no chemical industries. If they have to utilize these skills, they then have to migrate to where their skills can be used (i.e., developed world). This is the origin of the brain drain in the whole of the African continent. This is the result of implementing curriculum meant for a different society.

Initially, development in Africa was defined as the ability to provide the basic needs to their communities and in a given environment. With the schooling and redefining of the needs, Kenyans joined the bandwagon of industrialization as promoted by the Western nations. Since Europe was looking for food for their population as well as raw materials for their industries, the Kenyan people started growing cash crops for export in order to earn money. All this happened at the expense of producing the basic needs for their people: food. The natural resources became a source of money at the risk of environmental degradation. Trees became a source of timber for export, and the earth was raped for minerals to satisfy the Western industries. The use of agrochemicals for disease and pest control in plantations ended up polluting our rivers. Careless felling of forests without replanting led to desertification and now, global warming as the ecosystem equilibrium is disturbed. Last, Kenyans became a source of cheap labour and schools became preparation grounds for the labour market. This notion persists in our schools today, that in school, students gain skills that enable one to gain wage employment.

I believe that if handled correctly, education should be transformational. It can be an agent of social, economic, and political change in a society. However, for this to happen, people need to identify their prevailing situation and then decide what type of change will be needed to lead to a positive change. They will then need to work towards this direction as a people. In such a situation, the society will own and identify with the change. They will then find different means of achieving their objectives using the available resources and environment. This type of education will build on the pre-existing knowledge and hence be progressive in nature as society moves towards maturity.

Schooling on the other hand has a conservative tendency. It works towards ensuring that students (learners) conform to the prevailing situation. This leads to social, political, and economic adaptation. In most cases, students are not encouraged to be critical thinkers for fear that this may lead to their questioning the teachers. Teachers as well as education planners come up with preconceived goals, and the learners are made to conform to them. Some sort of questioning is never encouraged as the teachers take the role of messengers delivering a curriculum delivered to them. All this takes place in a controlled environment called classrooms, where the students are sheltered from real life. In most cases, they do not relate to real life situations. This type of learning cannot be used to solve society’s problems. It however creates graduates who are conformists and so do their societies. The objective is, in most cases to produce graduates that are willing to obey the rules without questioning.


If education failed during the colonial times, the situation did not improve a lot after independence. Since the new African states lacked the manpower to manage education and other instruments of governance, they continued to rely on the very same forces they were fighting against before independence. While an African took over some of the leadership positions, all the technical expertise remained intact as before. The argument was the need for a smooth transfer and training. In order to gain the much needed manpower, a lot of Kenyans were airlifted to the Western nations for training.

The colonial education as inherited by the newly independent nations had perfected in creating a power structure that was not only alien to the majority African communities but in most cases not to their interest. The new rulers exploited this situation to their advantage as they moved into the shoes of the departing forces. A new class of people took over the affairs of the state and all the privileges and under the tutorages of the departing forces and they formed a new alliance that will forever continue to work to the disadvantage of the people, both psychologically and economically. Welcome the era of neo-colonialism.

The era of cold war worked to the advantage of the new dictators. From the late ‘50s up to the early ‘80s, all the emerging states were made to take sides for or against the East or West and their respective dispensations, with no room for nonalignment. This formed the basis on which developmental aid was given. Education was not spared: either follow the communist model and get the associated benefits from the East or go the Western capitalist way of the West. In either way, an opposing group emerged and was financed by the losing power. If the government was pro- West, then the East would sponsor an opposing (mostly underground) party with an aim of overthrowing the regime. While the country would be guided by a Western model of education and worldviews, the opposing group would be selling the communist model as the solution to all the social and economical ills. As the two do not coexist, the situation soon leads to coups and civil wars with the two super powers arming the opposing sides, and the consequences are very well known to the whole world. Dictators were sponsored mostly by the Western powers in the guise of fighting communism.

Education continued to be formulaic and based along these lines. As in the colonial era, fear of consequences led to schools producing passive citizens who were afraid to question or even think independently. The policy was obeying first, question later, as happens in the military. The fate of nations rested on the myopic leadership as opposed to the citizens. This was to continue up to the fall of the Soviet Union as a super power. This was when Africans, and most of the third world nations, saw the real face of the US and western world enter the era of the New World Order. Suddenly all the former dictators who for decades had been dining in the Western capitals as well as being financed by the Western powers were no longer useful. That was when democratization and respect for human rights became a condition of getting financial aid from the remaining super power and its allies.

I believe that having lost over 2 decades, Africans suddenly awoke to the realities of the situation. Most of the continent had little or nothing to show in terms of social, economic, ecological, or educational development. The continent was in a worse situation than at independence. The dreams of independence evaporated as communities turned against communities at the instigations of the rulers and their sponsors. In most countries, violence has become an accepted way of solving problems as opposed to dialogue and consensus building.

After independence, the new states had the noble idea of creating a unified nation free of tribalism or racism as experienced during the outgoing regime. School and education were to play a big part in the task. According to Woolman (2001), formal schools originated from Europe where states evolved as a political expression of mostly one culture. Schools then acted as a conveyor of this dominant culture. However, the situations in a new African country such as Kenya were different because the states were highly multicultural, as mentioned before. Kenya has 42 different and distinct cultural groupings. Whereas it was easy to impose the colonizing power’s culture and world views during their era, which culture would schools propagate after independence?

Faced by this crisis, the country opted to continue with the same system and philosophies that they were opposing during the agitation for freedom. In doing this, the argument was that a new national culture that will unite the country will evolve. Just like their forerunners, they continued to deny the high levels of cultural and linguistic diversity. Schools were expected to be the agents of cultivating this national spirit and unity as well as work towards national goals. This led to the second dilemma of whether these national values can ever have a deep significance as the moral and social foundations of the individual cultures.

Woolman (2001) argues that whereas it is a fact that school, if properly employed, can play a vital and significant role in negotiating the relationship between individual cultures and the state, national stability and strength depend more on the integration of plural culture and traditions. However, just like their predecessors, cultural diversity was excluded from education. A more reconstructive approach where individual traditions and cultures are recognized was more appropriate. Common values should then be identified and integrated with modern content and skills. This way, differences will be respected even as national goals are negotiated.

In both the colonial and postcolonial eras, education was promoted as a means of fostering national development. Up to this day, education and economic development continue to be seen as essential working partners in the modernization of the so- called developing countries. According to Ntaragwi (2003), it is assumed that when people are undeveloped and backward, they are lacking in many modern qualities like education. The remedy for this predicament is for them to be “educated”. Everybody is therefore striving to get some education so as to be a part of the process of “developing” the nation. However, even after receiving education, there are other hurdles to jump (p. 214).

Our system of education only leads learners to absorb alien ideologies that construct imaginary pictures of prosperity that are shaped by foreign lifestyles. In most cases, the learners aspire for something “better” than what is available in their native communities. It soon dawns on them that they have been learning to solve problems that do not exist in their environment and at the expense of their real needs and aspirations. They have been following the Western model that bears little or no relevance to their living environment and realities of life. Learners continue to believe that Western education is what they need in order to make it in life. That is why most graduates become frustrated when they can not find a readymade job.

In the pursuit of this type of education, learners surrender their identity and culture and end up hating themselves, leading to low self- esteem. They end up making Western culture the central point of understanding their world. Since all education is value based, western values and perspectives replace the values they had learned at home. According to Eshwani (1993), schools become a place where children learn to regard their local cultural practices as backward and inferior. That is why most educated people in Kenya (Africa) are very disconnected from their communities and hence cannot apply the skills gained for the betterment of their communities. This way, schools end up killing any local creativity, agency, or value system (Ntaragwi, 2003).

Just like in the colonial era, the church continues to demonize most of the African practices. Learners in schools learn to embrace an empty sense of “modernity” that deprives them the basic ability to be themselves. It is only of late, when everything seemed to go wrong, that people started reflecting and questioning the so called “modernity”. People are now questioning and challenging this notion and ways in which such concepts as education and development are constantly applied in their social and national policies are constructed.


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