As missionaries parcelled out Mt Kenya region among themselves in the early part of last century, the area that would later become an administrative centre known as Embu fell under the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the missionary arm of the Anglican Church in Britain.
Sometime during World War 1, the CMS established a small primary school for Africans in what is today Embu municipality.
In the early 1920s, the school was moved to several sites near a village known as Kangaru, including what is today known as Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (now Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation or Kalro), and the Embu Agricultural Institute before settling at the current District Education Board (DEB) School.
The school remained a typical rural institution and recorded little growth over the years but in a surprise show of camaraderie between the colonial administration and the church, on December 30, 1946, the Embu Local Native Council (LNC) led by their chairman, Embu District Commissioner, Robin Wainwright, resolved to build a school on a self-help basis.
The LNC was a semi-autonomous local authority, which was supposed to give the African a feeling of control over their affairs but was always chaired by the district commissioner.
The Embu District of the time included the Mbeere and the people of present-day Kirinyaga District.
Leaders who were active in the Embu LNC at the time were Senior Chief Njagi Ruriga or Muruatetu of Gaturi location, Chief Arthur Mariana, Chief Njagi Muthangeto of Ngandoni and Chief Joshua of Ngariamu location in Kirinyaga.
The original school was built with temporary materials on a three-acre piece of land acquired from enthusiastic Embu residents at a concessionary price.
Construction work commenced on New Year’s Day in 1947 with volunteers from the above locations, prisoners and building technicians of the LNC.
By January 13, 1947, the building works were completed at the present site of DEB Kangaru Primary School.
The school was ready for the first intake of 30 boys under the tutelage of the sole teacher Jeremiah Nyaga who had graduated from Makerere University College in 1944.
The pupils were recruited from the only two CMS primary schools in the zone, Mutira and Kigari, which were considered the top performing institutions.
However, due to the overwhelming community enthusiasm, within a week, the school was forced to admit a further five pupils, making a total of 35 pioneer learners.
The opening ceremony was attended by dignitaries such as Nyeri provincial education officer V.A. Ottaway, Central provincial commissioner Wyns Harns, Embu district commissioner R. Wainwright, Senior Chief Muruatetu, all location chiefs, councillors, church leaders and people from all walks of life.
To crown it all, after three months, the Governor of Kenya, Sir E.P. Mitchell, in the company of the British Colonial Secretary, visited the school in a high-profile event.
This visit was followed by that of a famous senior dean of Oxford University who specialised in colonial history. In quick succession Miss (later Dame) Margery Perham, the adviser to the Colonial Secretary on African education, toured the school.
Seeing the enthusiasm with which the school had been received, the government awarded a contract to build the school with permanent materials in 1948.
The main building materials were bricks that were made at Kiamaciri under the supervision of an Italian World War 11 prisoner of war. The Italian also oversaw the building works and he was often called a dictator because of his uncompromising standards.
The new buildings were opened by no less a person than the Governor, E.P. Mitchell, in 1949. At this ceremony, eight girls were also admitted as day scholars.
By the late 1950s the school had grown tremendously and a high school was started at the current site of Kangaru High School. Kenneth Matiba taught briefly at the institution in 1960.
The girls section was moved to a new site in 1989.
Today, Kangaru High School has a student enrollment of 1,400 and 60 teaching staff. The school is well known for its prowess in the game of rugby.
Notable alumni include Evans Gicheru, Arthur Magugu, Justin Muturi, Njeru Githae, Mutava Musyimi, Ken wa Maria, BMJ Muriithi, amongst others.
Never before had the crown been seen to lavish so much attention on an African project. Was Kangaru Primary School an apologist’s attempt to build a model school for Africans in a rural setting?