culture and customs
social relationships

family life
social change
spiritual beliefs

introducing the area


 quotes about education
 key testimonies featuring education

Kenyan womanEducation is a major theme in this collection, commonly viewed as the key to development and progress, as well as essential to effective Sabaot integration into Kenyan politics. The testimonies collectively chart the substantial shift in attitudes that has occurred during the lifetime of many narrators. Older people tell numerous stories about children being taken to school against their parents' wishes, while today many narrators regard school fees as their most important investment. And a recurrent explanation for the declining practice of polygamy is that people know they cannot afford to educate many children.

Education was first brought to the area by missionaries, and for both pre- and post-independence governments it was a means of encouraging people to integrate into a more settled, "modern" society. The pastoralist Sabaot were, for the most part, initially less than enthusiastic: ".[education] favoured a settled life, but as you know, the Sabaot were pastoralists who moved from one place to another in search of green pasture for our livestock. This made it impossible for us to go to school. However, today we have discovered the value of formal education. everyone in the community would like to take his child to school." (Kenya 13) Indeed, many now complain there hasn't been enough government investment in local schools, which they feel contributes to the political marginalisation of the Sabaot.

However, although education is universally regarded as essential to progress, there is ambivalence about it too. This is not entirely surprising, as education has had a fundamental impact on Sabaot society, some of it uncomfortable: "When these children come back home during holidays, they seem to have a lot of contempt for the way the parents advise them, for they see us as being obsolete and old-fashioned." (Kenya 14) Many narrators comment on what they perceive as immoral and disrespectful behaviour by young people as a result of education. Some dissatisfaction may be due to the high expectations people now have, which may not often match reality. Most say that an educated child will never be out of a job, and will be sufficiently well-off to support the wider family. "[People] expect a learned person to be a good future leader since some of them suffer from rural inferiority. They assume that once a person is learned, she should be ready to give out what they have to others. You are expected to socialise with the people by distributing your salary to them....They expect anyone who has gone to school even up to class seven and eight level to be employed." (Kenya 1)

The topic of women's education is also extensively discussed, and supported by many: ".if you educate a girl, you educate a nation" (Kenya 5) . Some say it is good for the family as well as the nation, because an "educated girl will always remember when her parents are in problems" (Kenya 2) . But it is acknowledged that boys are still often given priority, because of the continuing belief that boys will be the family breadwinner. In practice, it seems that men and women increasingly play equally important economic roles, particularly since education has altered the range of employment opportunities open to women. Attitudes to adult education are also explored, with women seen as the best and most motivated students.

quotes about education

"People that time looked at success in terms of the number of livestock one did not require education to command a big herd of cattle! In fact those who had gone to school had depleted their herds....Right now the population has increased and there is no space for keeping large herds. This has made it imperative for many people to go to school so that they are able to gain employment....Sabaot have...discovered that the power of the pen is mightier than a herd of cattle."
Masai, M/57, retired primary school teacher, Kenya 11

"It [education] means better living, and the knowledge would help one overcome the many hurdles of life. [The Sabaot] feel that they have been short-changed in the past because they did not have enough education. We believe that we can bargain better for the national cake if we have good education. We have seen how education has helped other communities, and how they have taken advantage of the education they have to prosper themselves."
Moses, M/36, teacher, Kenya 12

"Our children these days spend most of their time in school, and it is in school that they pick up bad habits. In school they interact with children from different backgrounds, and due to peer pressure you find that a child you were trying to mould into a good citizen changes drastically..Therefore it is true that parents are nearly failing in their role to mould upright youth, because we don't have much time to stay with our children the way the old generation did."
Hezron, M/48, village elder, Kenya 14

"You should also note that the majority of the Sabaot who went to school are the children of those who migrated out of Sabaot land. This was because they got an opportunity to live with the non-Sabaot who enlightened them. For example, even myself I moved in to the core Sabaot land when I was already a trained teacher but I went to school outside."
Masai, M/57, retired primary school teacher, Kenya 11

"[People] sent children to school so that they can get employment and be good future leaders. We also need future leaders apart from providing them with employment so that our district advances since we are very much behind. If we are not going to take more children to school, we are also going to continue being underdeveloped. At the moment, there are very many schools being built so that we are not among the last developed in the country."
Lydia, F/24, teacher, Kenya 1

"Education is the first key. If a child does not learn, he/she is digging his/her own grave."
Patrola, M/45, cooked food vendor, Kenya 9

"...there is a tug of war between that cultural education (traditional) and the present academic education....Maybe if there was a book for Sabaot to be used in schools. Maybe through that, some cultural values will be maintained."
Robert, M/30, farmer, Kenya 22

key testimonies featuring education

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Lydia   Female/24   Teacher     
Summary Transcript   11   Masai   Male/57   Retired primary school teacher   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   12   Moses   Male/36   Teacher   Kibuk  
Summary Transcript   13   Joseph    Male/86   Former pastoralist now a farmer     
Summary Transcript   14   Hezron   Male/48   Village elder     
Summary Transcript   16   Jane   Female/36   Teacher   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   22   Robert   Male/30   Farmer   Cheptais  
Summary Transcript   5   Beatrice   Female/53   Retired headmistress   Kapsokwony