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Education in Nigeria: History and policy

Education in Nigeria
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The Methodists, a Christian missionary group introduced formal education in Nigeria about 180 years ago. Since then, Nigeria’s population has grown and the demand for schools has also increased.

Nigeria’s population in 1950, was 37.86 million people. This was 107 years after the Methodist missionaries built the first primary school in Nigeria and 36 years after Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria.

Colonial Nigeria
Colonial Nigeria – Source: Alchetron

Education in Nigeria has grown into a large industry and created countless opportunities for economic activities.

What is education?

‘Education’ is derived from the Latin words ‘Educare’, ‘Educare’, and ‘Educatum’, ‘e’+ ‘duco’.

The term ‘Educare’ means to raise, nourish, train, or mould. The teacher must raise the child like a plant in the garden. His abilities should be nurtured and developed with proper care.

‘Educare’ also means ‘to lead out’, ‘to draw out’ and ‘to bring forth’. Individuals’ innate abilities should be nurtured and given room to grow. Every child is born with these abilities. It should be located and proper education should be provided in order for it to develop.

Furthermore ‘Educatum’- Education is something imposed from without. External development is achieved through activities and experience. The teacher instructs and directs him in order to shape his abilities through education.

‘E+ duco’- ‘E’ means ‘out of’ and ‘duco’ means ‘to lead’. The child possesses inherited abilities. It is genetic. It should be developed, but by whom and how? It is possible with education and the active participation of the teacher.

What these definitions of education take for granted is that the learner carries latent talents, qualities and abilities that education nurtures and brings out.

The process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits, is known as education. Storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research are examples of educational methods.

Education is frequently carried out under the supervision of educators, but students can also educate themselves. Education can occur in formal or informal settings, and any experience that has a formative effect on how one thinks, feels, or acts can be considered educational. Pedagogy is the teaching methodology.

Education in Nigeria before colonialism

Prior to the arrival of Western education in Nigeria, children were taught in two ways across the country:


Prior to the British occupation in the 1840s, Northern Nigeria was prominently taught purely Islamic religious education. Every Muslim community in Nigeria had a mallam who taught children as young as five years old the Qur’an and the Arabic alphabet.

Communities established schools that also taught science and math in larger cities. With a few exceptions, almost all Islamic schools were built in the north by 1913, and there were approximately 19,073 in total, with over 143,000 students enrolled.

The government took control of all Islamic schools in the 1970s, but in 1990, the schools were given the ability to operate independently, without government intervention once more.


Before the 1840s, the indigenous form of education was the second form of education in Nigeria.

This system taught children practical skills that were required based on the needs of the local community and general society within a specific area. Children as young as two to three years old were assigned to an age group, and each age group was given specific tasks around the village, such as clearing brush or sweeping lanes.

Boys were taught farming or more specialised tasks, such as drumming and wood carving, as the children grew older, whereas girls were also taught household tasks. The boys would also form apprentice interactions with master craftsmen, which is still practised in Nigeria today.

Education in Nigeria
Source: Shutterstock

What is the history of Nigeria’s education system?

Preschool or kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, and then college, university, or apprenticeship are common and formal divisions of education.

Some governments, including at the global level, have recognised a right to education: Article 13 of the United Nations’ 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognises a universal right to education.

Most regions make education compulsory until a certain age. Formal education in Nigeria can be traced back to the efforts of European missionaries in the year 1842. All missionaries who came to Nigeria combined evangelical and educational work. As a result, the Methodist Church of Scotland Mission, the Church Missionary Society (CMS), and the Roman Catholics established the first mission schools.

The spread of western education, however, was not as smooth in the north as it was in the south. This was due to the fact that the north had enjoyed the Islamic educational system for many years prior to the introduction of western education.

Methodist missionaries started the first primary school in Nigeria in 1843. They introduced formal education in Nigeria. A few years later, in 1854, some Christian missionaries started CMS grammar school in Lagos which became the first secondary school in Nigeria.

Once Lord Lugard had amalgamated the northern and southern parts of Nigeria in 1914, there was a growing demand for schools in Nigeria. The rapid growth in education led to the establishment of the University of Ibadan in 1948, this was the first Nigerian university.

Individuals and groups in the private sector took the responsibility to establish private schools in addition to public schools. The educational sector in Nigeria has both government and private schools across all levels of education.

The first primary school in Nigeri
The first primary school in Nigeria
Source: wikicommons

What is Nigeria’s educational policy?

Educational policies are initiatives mostly by governments that determine the direction of an educational system.

The federal government’s national policy on education establishes standards, procedures, and implementation plans to ensure educational development and the delivery of high-quality education in Nigeria.

The first national education policy was published in 1977, but it has been revised several times since then by successive stakeholders in the federal ministry of education in response to changing educational delivery.

According to the 2014 edition of the national education policy, the government is in charge of formal basic education, which is mandatory and free for all. Basic education includes the following:

Pre-primary education for one year
6 years of primary school
3 years of junior secondary schooling

An individual shall be able to choose between continuing full-time studies, combining work with study, or embarking on full-time employment at any stage of the education process after junior secondary education.

In addition, new educational objectives and curricula were highlighted in the national education policy to guide and regulate educational activities at all levels of education, both public and private.

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