A History of Religious and Secular Schools in Kisumu

From Single-faith-based Religious to Multi-faith-based, Integrated Education

This essay examines when and how faith-based schools emerged in Kisumu and how they have evolved over time. Kisumu schools now admit and educate students from all backgrounds. With a focus on a few specific schools the intention is to offer lessons on how people can stop discrimination and achieve progress, unity, and mutual development.

On July 21, 1951, the first foundation stone of Victoria Primary School was laid by John Riddoch, one of the leading white residents of Kisumu. Although the inscription marking the foundation of the school does not say much about the target audience of the school, the history of the school attests to the fact that it was constructed by the colonial government to serve largely the interest of whites, and, to some extent, the rich Asian families, in Kisumu.

The school was later taken over by the government around 1980, but it was originally meant for whites, and a few Asians in Kisumu. The school, therefore, did not admit students from any other group, especially local Africans. The policy of selective admission of students to the school was accompanied by a lot of ordinances that saw the whole area the school was located in secluded for whites and to some extent rich Asian families.

Thus, passing by or visiting the school was considered to be trespassing, punishable by law. At times, those who did so were whipped or bitten by the dogs set upon them by white men who used to perambulate around just to see the Africans pass there.

Racial and religious policies of discrimination were introduced into Kisumu with the advent of colonialism in Kenya. Colonialism brought with it different religions with different objectives, expectations, and practices. This could be seen in the rise of Christian and Muslim schools in Kisumu, both with strict religious programs that were mandatory and had to be followed to the letter by students attending such schools. For instance, most Catholic schools in Kisumu, or any other mission school for that matter, required their students to wake up quite early every morning, attend church services (which were performed according to the Catholic doctrines), sing hymns, and, in some cases, they could even demand that students convert and follow their religion. It was these kinds of religious practices that prompted non-white and non-Christian communities to establish schools to cater to the interests of their children.

Arya Primary School is a notable example of a school founded to serve the interests of the Asian and Muslim community in Kisumu. The school was founded in 1953. In fact, it is not a coincidence that the school was founded just two years after Victoria Primary School was founded to serve largely the interest of whites in Kisumu.

The establishment of the Arya Primary School was thus simply because the Asian community in Kisumu was not happy with the way their students were treated at the largely white-dominated Victoria Primary School. Policies and decisions at Victoria Primary School were dictated by Europeans and Christians. They were also not happy that their Muslim students were not allowed to express themselves freely. After examining problems faced by their children at Victoria Primary, the Asians decided to built Arya Primary School to provide their children with an education not influenced by white Christian values.

For the Asian community in Kisumu, Arya was where their children could learn freely and practice their religion. The Asians often insisted on their children following their diet which in most cases was vegetarian. The establishment of Arya Primary School therefore gave the Asians some peace of mind. Some of the Asian parents also even started making arrangements for their children to go overseas for further studies upon completion of the primary level of education at Arya Primary School. But this was not the only school with policies of discrimination against the local Africans in Kisumu.

Another school with a religious bent in Kisumu was the Muslim Primary School. From the name itself, it is clear that the school was constructed for members of the Muslim faith in Kisumu, a very clear indication that there existed religious discrimination in schools in Kisumu during that time.

Muslim Primary School was created to serve the interests of the Asian community girls and therefore did not admit children from other religious backgrounds, especially those who practiced traditional African religions. In fact, in the school compound, just behind the classrooms there is a mosque, an indication that this school was predominantly Muslim. Even the school uniform, the official school attire, was based on Islamic practices. Later on, the school started admitting children from other backgrounds, but, the leadership of the school continued to be dominated by Asian community members.

Returning to Arya Primary School, this school was managed by the Asian community from its founding to 1968, when the Kenyan government took over its management. The take-over of schools such as Arya by the government resulted from the achievement of independence in Kenya. After independence, the new government wanted to bring an end to discrimination in public schools. Arya Primary School thus became a public school managed by the District Education Board. The same fate befell many other schools in Kisumu and Kenya as a whole from that time.

Arya Primary School started admitting students from all religious backgrounds in Kisumu and its environs. The management has reformed the school. There is no longer any notable racial or religious distinctions in school admission. The children at the school are from all backgrounds–Asian and African.

However, there are still overt and covert practices in these schools that sometimes border on racial and religious discrimination. While racial discrimination has largely come to an end, at least in public, religious discrimination has not ended entirely. Most schools still follow the religious practices of their sponsors. Christian schools follow the practices of their Christian sponsors, while the Muslim-dominated schools follow the practices of their Muslim benefactors. The schools often enforce the doctrines of their sponsors on students without exceptions.

When you attend a Muslim school, you are not allowed to eat or consume certain types of food stuff within the school compound. The same applies to the Christian schools, where there are strict rules that require that the students must gather or assemble to pray and get instructions before classes commence. Once assembled, the students are required to participate in Christian religious practices, singing, preaching and even praying according to the dictates of the Christian religion. Some school administrators even go to the extent of forcing students, again without exception, to participate in the doctrinal practices of the churches that sponsor their schools. They demand, for example, that all students must take Christian religious classes and even attend Christian religious services.

In conclusion, there is no denying that racial and religious discriminations existed in many schools in Kisumu in the past. The good news is that many of these discriminatory practices have largely come to an end. Racial discrimination in schools has, at least in public, almost come to an end. The bad news is that other forms of discrimination–religious and ethnic–still exist in some schools in Kisumu, in particular, and Kenya, in general.

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