The influence of Western education in Nigeria began with Christian missionaries in the mid-1800s; prior to this traditional education existed and focused on providing individuals with the skills they would need to support the community, as well as learning individual tribal laws and customs. Christian missionaries first set up and ran schools in Lagos, Calabar and other cities along the coast of Nigeria. Instruction was heavily influenced by Christianity at this time and soon, instruction began in English. Many of these schools were founded by the Methodist Church of Scotland Mission, the Church Missionary Society, and the Roman Catholics. One of the consequences of this early implementation of private education is a persistent belief even today that private schools are superior to the public education system.
In 1851 Great Britain invaded Nigeria and started the process of colonization, but did not actively support education, funding only a few schools and giving grants to create new mission schools. During the time of colonization, there was a large growth in the number of elementary and to a lesser degree secondary schools, but there were only two post-secondary schools: Yaba Higher College and the University of Ibadan. In the 1950’s Nigeria chose to change to the British “Form 6” system for organizing their education, which divided schooling into 6 years of elementary education, and 5 years divided between junior and senior secondary school, with a possible further two years for university preparation. They also adopted the exit examinations which determine whether students are prepared to enter university. It is worth noting as well that the divisions in present-day Nigeria were already developing, with 90% of this growth taking place in the South. Even at this time in the North, which was largely populated by Muslims, Western education was strongly discouraged in favour of Islamic education, resisting the interference of Christian missionaries. This was reinforced by Britain’s choice to keep Northern and Southern Nigeria separate until 1914 when they were amalgamated.
After Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, more post-secondary institutions were founded. By 1980, about 12 million school-age students were enrolled in primary school with an additional 1.6 million enrolled in post-secondary schools. It was the golden age for education in Nigeria and it looked like the trends would continue moving forward.
Unfortunately, the decline leading to the present state of education in Nigeria took place between 1980 and 1990. Starting at this time although the number of students was increasing, the number of teachers was not keeping up, and even those teachers that existed were not being paid on-time. In addition, the shortage of schools and materials also stem from this time period. One solution was to increase tuition fees, which resulted in riots, strikes and school cancellations. It was the students of this era that suffered which has had damaging effects on Nigeria’s economy. Graduates from this period lack skills they should have acquired through their education which has led to increased unemployment and underdevelopment in the country.
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