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Education in Nigeria - An Overview

In 1990s, there were three different education systems prevailing in Nigeria- the indigenous system, Quranic schools, and formal European-style education institutions.

In the inner regions where majority is concentrated children learned farming skills and other work including responsibilities towards adulthood for taking part in community and social works. Age-based schools in which mature men instructed groups of young boys in community responsibilities often complemented this process.

Apprentice systems were largely popular through all occupations. The apprentice supplied service to the teacher over a period of years and in due course struck out on his own. Truck driving, building trades, and all aboriginal crafts and services from leather work to medicine were passed down in families and obtained through apprenticeship training as well. In 1990 this aboriginal system incorporated more than 50 percent of the school-age population and maneuvered almost completely in the private sector; there was virtually no regulation by the government unless training included the need for a license. By the 1970s, education experts were asking how the system could be integrated into the more formal schooling of the young, but the question remained unresolved by 1990.

Islamic education was part of religious duty. Children learned up to one or two chapters of the Quran by rote from a local mallam, or religious teacher, before they were five or six years old. Religious teaching included the Arabic alphabet and the ability to read and copy texts in the language, along with those texts required for daily prayers. The primary level was most influenial. A smaller number of children mainly from upper strata of society went on to examine the meanings of the Arabic texts. Later, grammar, syntax, arithmetic, algebra, logic, rhetoric, jurisprudence, and theology were added. After this level, students conventionally went on to one of the famous Islamic centers of learning.

In the mid of 19th century western style education introduced in Nigeria by visiting missionaries, the first mission school was built in 1843 by Anglican Church Missionary Society which worked in 1850 to found a chain of mission schools.  In 1887, an education department was established in Southern Nigeria for education administration. By 1914, when northern and southern part were united there were 59 government and 91 mission primary schools in the south.

The missions administered all 11 primary schools except for the King’s college in Lagos. The missions got traction in the middle belt; a mission school for the sons of chiefs was opened in Zaria in 1907 but lasted only two years. In 1909 Hans Vischer, an ex-Anglican missionary was asked to put in order the education system of the Protectorate Northern Nigeria. Schools were established and grants provided to missions in the middle belt.

In 1914 there were 1,100 primary school children in the north, and 35,700 in the south; the north had no secondary schools, compared with eleven in the south. By the 1920s, the pressure for school mounted in the south, which further led to increased numbers of independent schools, financed by local efforts and to sending students overseas for advanced training.

The education systems mainly emphasized on examinations. In 1916, Frederick Lugard, the first governor of the unified colony founded a school inspectorate. The tasks of the inspectorate were executing discipline, buildings, and adequacy of teaching staff. School performance was mainly examined on the basis of numbers and rankings of examination results. This technique of assessment was still used in 1990 to describe educational results and to gain education for jobs in government and private settings.

The progress in education was slow but steady during British rule and until the finish of World War II. By 1950, Nigeria has developed three-tier education system of primary, secondary and higher education based on British model of education. On the occasion of independence in the late 1950s, Nigeria had gone through a decade of extraordinary educational growth leading to a movement for universal primary education in the Western Region.

In the north region, enrollment in primary schools gone up from 66,000 in 1947 to 206,000 in 1957; in the west (mostly Yoruba areas) enrollments gone up from 240,000 to 983,000 in the same period, and in the east enrollments gone up from 320,000 to 1,209,000.

The enrollment in secondary level institutions gone up from 10 000 in 1947 to 36000 in 1957; 90 percent of these, however, were in the south. By 1984-85 more than 13 million children attended almost 35,000 public primary schools. At the secondary level, approximately 3.7 million students were attending 6,500 schools (these numbers probably included enrollment in private schools), and about 125,000 postsecondary level students were attending 35 colleges and universities.

According to the constitution adopted in 1979, administering primary education in Nigeria is responsibility of the states and local councils. State and federal authorities have simultaneous powers over post-primary education. First 6 years of education was also made compulsory by the constitution. Education has strengthened manifold in Nigeria in recent times. Projected adult illiteracy rates for the year 2000 stand at 35.9% (males, 27.7%; females, 43.8%). As of 1995, public expenditure on education was 0.5% of GDP. Children start receiving primary education in Nigeria in local language; however, English is introduced from third year. The government administers Teacher Training Colleges in Nigeria at large.  The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was estimated at 37 to 1 in 1995.

Nigeria has joined UNESCO on November 14, 1960. The country hosts the UNESCO Office Abuja. Nigeria is to pilot-test UNESCO national education support strategies (UNESS). The program launched in May 2006, have purpose to help governments in planning lucid education policies so as to achieve 'Education for All'.

Nigeria is one of the 35 countries implementing the UNESCO Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE), a 10-year initiative aimed at achieving the goals of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012). Nigeria also participates in the 10-year UNESCO Teacher Training Initiative for sub-Saharan Africa (TTISSA), which will give a hand to the continent’s 46 sub-Saharan countries in restructuring national teacher policies and teacher education.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics has conducted detailed study on education and literacy scenario in Nigeria. For more details, Click Here.
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