President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Education ministry to let the management of schools originally managed by churches revert to the different faiths, a move that could take the education system decades back.
The President also directed that ownership of the land on which church-built schools stand be given to the churches, meaning the government will no longer be the custodian of such property.
But the directive is replete with legal and logistical challenges. Many churches can no longer afford to run schools like they did before and immediately after Independence.
The schools were taken over by the government following the enactment of the Education Act, 1968, which sought to the implement the recommendations of the Kenya Education Commission headed by Prof Simeon Ominde, among them that all schools be managed by the government.
Education experts told the Nation that Mr Kenyatta’s call, if implemented, will once again allow churches to take full control of the schools they started.
Following the publication of the Act, churches were designated as “sponsors”, and their roles defined. These included providing pastoral care, having representatives on school boards, and participating in the appointment of school principals.
Subsequent reviews of the Education Act — in 2011 and 2013 — changed their roles, so any attempt to give the schools back to the churches would require changes in the law, which calls for public participation, as provided in the Constitution.
Speaking Tuesday at the University of Nairobi during the funeral mass for former Mombasa Archbishop John Njenga the President said, “There are a lot of schools sponsored and built by the church. And the Ministry of Education — and I’m saying it for the last time today — I want you to ensure that you resolve that sponsorship issue. And secondly, you have one week to restore all church-owned school land to its rightful owners.”
He revealed that one of the Education principal secretaries will Wednesday meet with an Education secretary from the bishops’ side to “finalise that agenda that we have discussed”.
The motivation for that switch, Mr Kenyatta said, is the drastic change in learners’ behaviour.
“Look at what is happening in our schools. Look at the level of indiscipline in our schools. Look at some of their activities, where schoolchildren are burning schools. It tells you there is something missing in their lives. This is not something that we heard of in those days,” he said.
In addition, the President said chaplaincy will be restored in schools to help mentor students.
“This is a must, and we shall do it. I don’t believe there is any law that stops us. It’s just a question of doing it,” he said.
“The Church feeds our spiritual needs, the State feeds our physical and human needs here on earth. But our bishop has shown us that it is possible to merge the two and still remain acceptable and achieve the same objective,” said the President, noting that Archbishop Njenga regularly visited his father at their Gatundu to discuss education matters.
“We need to be able to get back to that level where church-sponsored schools are allowed to mentor our children,” the President said. Kenyan churches have in the past been demanding a higher stake in the running of schools.
Under the current law, — the Education Act of 2013 — school sponsors have various roles. They have representatives in school management committees, give advice on matters spiritual development, and offer financial and infrastructural support among other roles.
The Act also says that a church-founded school should have a board of management comprising six parents, one member from the county education board, one teacher, three representatives of the sponsor and three members from various sectors.
In 2013, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the umbrella body for protestant churches, complained that the government was increasingly interfering in the running of schools previously under their care.
Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi replied that government control of all schools was to ensure uniformity.
Deputy President William Ruto, who spoke before the President, also touched on the relationship between the Church and State in the running of various sectors, especially education.
“That is a discussion we need to revisit so that we can manage our education better and train our children to have the highest standards of morality and integrity,” said Ruto.
Archbishop Njenga, who was remembered for his passion for education, was buried in a crypt next to the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi at 3:30pm.