Missionaries introduced western education in Kenya. The first missionaries to settle on the East African Coast were portuguese Roman Catholics. By 1557, they had established monastries at Mombasa and Lamu. The second wave of Christian missionaries included the Lutherans, who were sent to Kenya through the Church Missionary Society(CMS).
Among these were Johann Ludwig Krapf, Johann Rebman and Jacob Erhadt. The partition of Africa in 1884 established British rule in Kenya and led to an increase of Christian missionaries. As the missionaries established themselves in the mainland, they started schools as a means of converting Africans to christianity.
The CMS missionaries set up one of the earliest mission schools in the country at Rabai in 1846. Their acceptance was due to the fact that they used schools to rehabilitate slaves who had been returned after capture by Arabs. The Arabs had established themselves earlier on the Coast, and introduced some schools where they taught the Koran.
Thus, the Christian missionaries had to move further inland, away from the Muslims, where they could easily rehabilitate the returned slaves.
With the construction of the railway between Mombasa and Uganda, the missionaries expanded their work into Kenya’s interior. An attempt to set up a school and a mission at Yatta in 1894 was resisted by the Akamba.
Later, the British Colonial government urged missionaries to expand the education system to include a technical focus in the curriculum in addition to religion.
Although some were reluctant, for fear of losing the monopoly of schools to the government, some went along and even received funding.
The missionaries then moved to Western Kenya and set up schools and missions. The first school in the region was established in Kaimosi in 1902. In 1908, the missionaries formed a joint committee on education that later became the Missionary Board of Education, representing the Protestant missions in the British protectorate.
In 1909, the British government established an Education board with Henry Scott of the church of Scottland as the chair. At the same time, Fraser and Giroud commissions were set up. The recommendations included a push for industrial development, technical education, and the teaching of religion as a moral foundation.
The import of expensive labour from India was discouraged. Prof Fraser also recommended the establishment of a Department of Education.
After the First World war, a more concerted effort by the British to develop African colonies was established. The British began reexamining and reevaluating education in the African territories. In 1923 the British secretary of state established a committee chaired by the parliamentary under-secretary of state to advise of the educational affairs of the African-Kenyans.
This marked the beginning of the first educational policy by the British colonial government. This period marked the beginning of the three-tier education system in Kenya – racially segregated schools for Europeans(whites), Asians and Africans.
It was also the start of a venture between the colonial government and missionaries. After independence, the three-tier system developed into three types of schools: Government, private or missionary, and harambee(a grass-root movement of self-help schools).
Government schools, formerly reserved for whites, and the private schools were the best equipped.
The missionary schools continued to exist although some were converted into government schools. The quality of harambee schools, which were geared towards increasing education for Africans, depended on the economy of the location.
The education system offers eight years of primary education, four years of secondary education, and four years of university education. The language of instruction from Secondary school onwards is English.
In lower primary in rural primary schools, vernacular dorminant in a region is the language of instruction.
As of 2010, Kenya has close to 25,000 primary schools, 6,000 high schools,21 teacher training colleges, two diploma teacher training colleges, 66 technical training institutes and colleges of technology, four national polytechnics and 7 public universities. It has many private institutions of higher learning.