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History Of Education In Nigeria

Education in Nigeria started long before the Europeans introduced western education. Parents taught their children the necessary things they needed to survive at that time, basic things like their language, food, culture etc.

Therefore, it is necessary to note that a formal form of education was already taking place and achieving desired results before the advent of the informal form of western education.

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Those days, maturity from youth into adulthood required a knowledge of the necessary social and survival skills and these teachings were the foundation which western education in Nigeria was built upon.

Read Also: Prospects and Problems of Educational Management in Nigeria

History Of Education In Nigeria
History of Education – Photo Source: https://i.onthe.io/smngoz3cb5i2f8ipjg.953d8189.jpg

Introduction of European Education

It began in Lagos, Calabar and other coastal cities in the 1840s. The teaching of English Language began to take roots a few dacades from that time.

The colonial rulers did not take up the responsibility for promoting education, they only funded a few schools. The schools that were existing at that time were set up and operated by Christian Missionaries.

The colonial government preferred  to give grants to mission schools rather than expand the system. By 1914, after the period of the amalgamation of the northern and southern proctectorates, there were already over 35,700 primary school pupils in the south.

While in the north, there were just a few over 1000. There were also no secondary schools in the north at that time. The sole reason for the disparity in numbers of pupils in the north compared to the high figures of their southern counterparts was the prohibition of Western style of education in the Muslim dominated north.

Read Also: 10 Problems of Science Education in Nigeria and Possible Solution

The religious leaders felt that the missionaries were interfering with Islam and did not want that. This lead to the establishment of Islamic schools whose primary focus was on Islamic education in the Muslim north.

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Before the end of 1920, there were already pressure for school places in the south and this lead to an increase in the number of independent schools owned by locals.

The acceptance in the south also lead to first sons of distinguished upbringings travelling abroad for more advanced training. The system of education at that time focused strongly on examinations.

A school’s ranking was determined by points allocated to it due to the numbers and rankings of its examination results. Frederick Lugard who was the first governor after the amalgamation, set up an inspectorate to look after discipline, qualifications of the teaching staff, and the infrastructure.


Before Nigeria got her independence from the British, it had only two established tertiary institutions; the Yaba Higher college which was founded in 1934 and the University of Ibadan which was a college of the University of London until after independence when she became autonomous.

The years that followed independence saw the creation of more prestigious universities including the University of Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Lagos.

The 1970s saw the introduction of the University of Benin and other universities located in Calabar, Ilorin, Port-Harcourt, Jos and Sokoto. In the 1980s, a number of Polytechnics including the Yaba College of Technology and the Kaduna Polytechnics were founded.

The importance of formal education in the socio-economic development of Nigeria made it a huge programme of government at different levels in the country.

Read Also: 7 Roles of Educational Technology in Nigerian University Education

Some states even had as high as 40 percent of their budgets dedicated to the education sector. By the mid 1980s, there were more than 13 million pupils attending 35,000public primary schools in the country.

There were over 3 million students attending 6500 schools at Secondary level and 125,000 tertiary level students attending 35 colleges and universities in Nigeria by the end of the 1980s.

During this time, it was projected that the early part of the next century will bring about universal education.  There were already thirty five polytechnics, millitary colleges, state and federal universities, colleges of education, colleges of agriculture, with the total enrolement of people in those institutions put at 200,000 (which was less than one percent of the population between the 20-30 years old age group).

Today, Nigeria can be described as a nation with educated individuals and it is estimated that over 78 percent of the male population are educated while that of the women stands at 64 percent.

The Present

Education in Nigeria today is in a decline that can be traced back to the 80s and the 90s. Since this period, the education system has been hit with myriad of problems including; poor maintenance of existing schools as a result of inadequate funding and mismanagement, shortage of quality teaching staff due to irregularities in payment of salaries.

In the tertiary institutions, lack of necessary funding has led to a shortage of space and resources,and the continuous increase in tution fees often leads to riots, suspensions and cancellation of semesters.

The issue of incessant strike actions by university staffs demanding better working conditions is also a recurring problem in the education sector.

Read Also: Education System in Nigeria; Primary, Secondary and Tertiary

Once upon a time Nigeria had the least number of indeginuous engineers per capita among third world countries and till now, nothing has been done to stem the tide.

The crisis bedeveling the education sector today is such that makes you to wonder if there would be enough qualified graduates to adequately prepare Nigeria for the 21st century.

There is a great decline in the value of education today and many graduates the schools are producing lack the necessary skill set to be gainfully employed and this is adding to the increased poverty rate in the country.


At the initial stage, things were going smoothly and according to plan. But unfortunately for Nigerians, the education sector has also faced its own fair share of struggles as with almost every other industry controlled by the government.

The damage has already been done in Nigeria’s education system but it doesnt mean it has left us in a completely hopeless state.

The foundation which the Europeans laid their western style of education is still as strong as ever, and this has ensured that the education system in Nigeria is able to stay firmly together.

Read Also: History of Accounting Education in Nigeria

The federal government needs to start refocusing attention on reversing the crisis bedevelling the education system before Nigeria lost a whole generation of skilled labour force.

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Alile Efosa

Alile Efosa is a Content Developer at InfoGuideNIgeria.com. InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistant on this topic, kindly contact us.

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