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close this bookPrimary School Physical Environment and Health - WHO Global School Health Initiative (SIDA - WHO, 1997, 96 p.)
close this folderAppendix A. Case studies
View the documentA1. What makes a school different? Madras, India
View the documentA2. A school for a growing population: Bogotá, Colombia
View the documentA3. Schools made by people: Kenya
View the documentA4. A school in a warm, humid climate: Viet Nam
View the documentA5. Schools in a hot, dry climate: Rajasthan, India
View the documentA6. A school in a cold climate: Hunza, Pakistan
View the documentA7. Schools at a high altitude: the Altiplano, Bolivia

A3. Schools made by people: Kenya

Kenya shares many of the characteristics of other developing countries. More than 50% of its population is under 15 years old. The projected population growth indicates a doubling of the number of school-age children every 17 years. But where Kenya differs from many countries is that, rather than seeing this as a massive problem to be resolved by central government, Kenyans are using traditional methods of community self-help to tackle the problem from the bottom up.

The formal schooling system in Kenya was initiated by Christian missionaries in the mid-19th century. By 1950 three-quarters of schools were missionary schools. From the outset, the normal course was for the local community to provide land and buildings while the missionaries provided trained teachers and teaching materials. However, many communities became dissatisfied with the type of education on offer and, since they were already providing the school facilities, decided to break free of the missionary system and set up their own schools.

To this day, the central government does not get involved in primary school construction (except in some exceptional circumstances, such as schools for nomadic groups). The Ministry of Works provides prototype designs for schools and there are regulations governing materials and standards. However, it is clear that these regulations are not rigidly imposed since many schools are built of mud and thatch which is explicitly prohibited. Also, unlike in many other countries, the Kenyan primary school is not a static creation; there is a steady process of gradual improvement. A school may start as a simple hut of mud and thatch but gradually become transformed into a complex of concrete and corrugated-iron classrooms.

The key to this process of improvement is that local people feel that their school belongs to them, rather than to the government. In Kenya there is an established practice of communal self-help, known as harambee, which can be roughly translated as “let’s all pull together”. When Kenya became independent in 1963, the principle of harambee became a corner-stone of development policy:

“Our motto of harambee was conceived in the realisation of the challenge of nation-building that now lies ahead of us. It was conceived in the knowledge that to meet this challenge, the government and people of Kenya must pull together. We know that only out of our efforts and toil can we build a new and better Kenya” (Jomo Kenyatta, 1963).

Harambee projects are normally initiated, planned, implemented and maintained by local communities. By their nature they are low-cost and make the best use of locally available resources.

A number of studies have been made of the harambee tradition. One study concluded that “one of the keys to the success of most projects is the existence of at least one individual with energy, wisdom, and talent for organisation”.(13) For a major harambee project, such as building a school, a community will generally form a committee to oversee the works and resolve any problems arising from the existence of different community interests. In 1968, the government decided to formalize the status of these committees. An Education Act officially recognized their role in negotiating with the authorities and in raising money for construction and maintenance.

Even though the Kenyan Government has never financed the construction of primary schools, most communities now have sufficient basic facilities to ensure that their children receive eight years of schooling. While the standards of construction, furniture and maintenance cannot be described as high, they are in fact higher than in neighbouring countries where schools are provided by government. The conditions which have made Kenya’s achievement possible can be listed as:

· the high priority given to education by local communities;

· the well-established tradition of communal self-help;

· a consistent government policy, since independence, giving the local community responsibility for the construction of schools and teachers’ houses, the provision of furniture and maintenance;

· no government interference in design, choice of materials and construction methods.


A characteristic of community-built harambee schools in Kenya is that they start with simple and cheap local materials (mud and wattle walls, thatched roofs and mud floors) and over time are progressively upgraded (brick walls, metal roofs and concrete floors).