Nigerians value education a lot. Education in Nigeria did not start when the Europeans came; education had been part and parcel of this country long before those Europeans brought in western form of education to the African West coast.
In those days, children were taught by the adults about the works, survival skills, social activities and culture that prevailed in those days. While the western form of education is being imparted formerly, these other forms of education were taught to the children in informal manner. Be that as it may, they achieved their expected end.
Despite the fact that the western form of education had not come in those days, there were some Nigerian societies that taught their kids about cultures, social responsibilities and other things in formal manner. This is to say Nigeria was an organized entity long before the Europeans came. For example, the children and youth of those days were taught about rite passages and a host of other things in rather formal manners. They might not be able to read and write European letters, but they had grounded knowledge about their cultures and societal practices.
When the people from the western world came to Nigerian, they started building their own form of education on the already established cultural and societal backgrounds.
When it all began
It was in the 1840s; that was when the Europeans invaded Nigeria with their own form of education. It all started in those coastal cities of Nigeria, like Calabar and Lagos, along with a host of other coastal cities. Few decades after, many European schools were already established in these coastal cities with Nigerian students on admission in such schools. These students were taught mostly by European teachers, who taught them how to read and write. Mode of teaching in these schools was English language.
It must be noted that Great Britain, Nigeria’s colonial masters, did not contribute anything to education in Nigeria. Rather, it was the missionaries and churches that sowed the seed of western education in Nigeria. Only very few schools were funded by the British colonial masters in those days. However, many Nigerian graduates were allowed to study at universities in Great Britain on scholarships, many of which were given by the British government.
The British government was actually not interested in expanding western education in Nigeria; they were only interested in giving grant to mission schools to carry out such expansion.
Northern part of Nigeria is predominantly occupied by Muslims. In those days, the people of authority in this part of the country actually prohibited western education; they opted rather for Islamic education. Reason for such prohibition was because the religious leaders in this part of the country did not like the idea of the Europeans interfering with their religion.
Consequently, lots of Islamic schools were established in the northern part if the country and they taught their kids only about Islamic religion as the sole form of education. It was only at a later time that they started yielding to the inevitable pull of western education. Despite their yield, some of them still combine both Islamic and western education together.
How things stand today
Things have really changed today. It is now on record that up to 78% of men in Nigeria are educated in the western way and that up to 64% of women have received western education. The result was arrived at based on the level of English literacy obtainable in Nigeria. The percentages do not mean all those people have received university education; it only means that they had passed through one form of western education institution or the other.
It must also be stated that this statistics is based on results obtained mainly from the southern part of Nigeria; many of the northern states in Nigeria are still hell-bent on Islamic education alone and some of them still see western education as haram.
Be it Islamic or western education, Nigerians are educated one way or the other. It can therefore be said that Nigeria is a nation filled with the educated.
Only two higher institutions were present in Nigeria as at the time Nigerian got her independence from Great Britain. These higher institutions were Yaba Higher College and University College, Ibadan. Yaba Higher College was founded in 1934 and University College, Ibadan was founded in 1948. Later, Yaba Higher College had its name changed to Yaba College of Technology, while the name of University College, Ibadan was changed to University of Ibadan.
Several years after Nigeria’s independence, several other universities were formed and some of them are University of Lagos; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. University of Benin was founded in 1970. Federal universities were founded in other parts of the country at a later date, and this was how cities, like Maiduguri, Sokoto, Port Harcourt, Jos, Ilorin and Calabar got federal Universities around the 1980s.
At a later date, the government established institutions of agriculture and polytechnics across Nigeria in cities like Kaduna and Lagos.
As at 1980, it was recorded that up to 12 million Nigerian students were enrolled in primary schools. Up to 1.2 million children were enrolled in secondary school in that year also. Furthermore, teachers training colleges had up to 240,000 students on enrolment. Up to 75,000 students had gained admission into universities as at that year. These numbers do not include those Nigerians that gained admission into foreign universities.
The decay of today
Yes, Nigeria had it good in times past. We started very well on the path to educational liberation, but it is unfortunate that education state in Nigeria as at present is nothing to write home about. There is great decline in education system and values in Nigeria today and many university graduates are unfortunately unemployable since many of them are half-baked graduates.
What is the way forward?
No one can actually say. The government has lots of work to do and the teachers too need to be proactive. Another factor that seems to be drawing education backward in Nigeria is the poor quality of teachers being produced today. Nigeria really has a long way to go if the country is to get better educationally.