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History of Nigerian Educational System

The Nigerian educational system has been through stages from the colonial to the post-independence era. The amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria in 1914 brought people of different ethnic groups and faith together, as one nation thereby creating a society that necessitated the adoption of a federal structure.

Also, the activities of the missionaries in the predominately Muslim north were restricted by the British policy of indirect rule.

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This curtailed the spread of western education and the Christian religion, leading to a sizeable educational gap between eras.

The system of education in use today in Nigeria is the Universal Basic Education (UBE)  also known as the 9-3-4 system which was introduced to replace the 6-3-3-4 system.

Read Also: History Of Education In Nigeria

History of Nigerian Education System
Nigerian Educational System – Photo Source: http://indiadidac.org

This newly adopted system took of in 2006 and it is expected to be reshaped to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target.

The system mandates that a child will have a compulsory 9 years of basic education up to JSS 3. He/she then moves on to spend 3 years in senior secondary school. The next stage is the tertiary stage where degrees are handed out after 4 years.

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

Education System pre-Independence

The clamor for self government and educational relevance by Nigerian nationalists which gained momentum in 1944 started the educational expansion in Nigeria.

The development drove the promulgation of the 1948 Education Ordinance, responsible for decentralizing educational administration in the country.

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Features: In the Southern part of Nigeria, the educational system at that time comprised of a 4 year junior primary education, then a four year senior primary education and a six year secondary education.

In the northern part however, it was 4 years of junior primary schooling, 3 year middle school and 6 year secondary classes.

The clamor for self government by Nigerians resulted in two constitutional conferences that brought political leaders and the colonial government together between 1951 and 1954.

The resolutions involved drafting a new federal constitution. The Education Law of 1955 in the Western Region, The Education laws of the Eastern and Northern Regions of 1956, and the Lagos Education Ordinance in 1957 were the resulting outcomes.

The different regions had administrative features and statutory systems of education that were alike, comprising of primary, post primary and further education.

The education gap that was existing because of the insistence of the Muslim north to reject Western form of education was widened further with the introduction of the Universal Primary education in the  Western and Eastern regions of the country in the 1950s. Qur’anic and traditional method thrived in the Muslim north.

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

First 20 Years Of Independence

The National Curriculum Conference was convened in 1969 to review the educational system. It came up with new national goals for Nigeria that would determine the future and direction of education in the country.

This period also coincided with the takeover of mission schools by the federal government as education was now largely seen as a huge government venture and not a private enterprise.

By the year 1976, the oil boom gave the federal government an improved revenue position, which motivated it to embark on the ambitious Universal free Primary Education (UPE) programme.

The objective of the UPE was to give all children between ages 6-12 years, free primary education to bridge the educational gap and reduce the plummeting illiteracy levels. The program took off with high expectations but failed in its goal of eliminating illiteracy due to lack of proper planning.

Features: The system of education at this time was the 7-5-2-3 educational policy: 7 years primary education, 5 years secondary education, 2 years in higher certificate levels and 3 years tertiary education.

The intent of government to develop an educational policy that factored in the will of Nigerians brought about the 1977 National Policy on Education which was Nigeria’s first indigenous policy on education.

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

The 6-3-3-4 System Of Education

The National Policy on Education of 1977 was towards addressing the relevance of education in the heart and minds of Nigerians.

The policy placed the responsibility for centralized control and funding of the education sector on the shoulders of the federal government. The 6-3-3-4 system which was modeled after the American system was introduced by the policy.

Features: The 6-3-3-4 system mandates that a child will spend 6 years of primary school education, 3 years of junior secondary school education, 3 years of senior secondary school education, and 4 years of tertiary education. This policy sought to make universal free primary education (UPE) mandatory for all children.

In the northern part of the country, the Qur’anic system with its many problems continued to be the preferred form and it was on course with the national system because there was no attempt to make it compulsory even though the UPE mandated free and universal primary education.

The 9-3-4 System Of Education

The National policy on education was revised again in 2004 to meet the developmental needs of Nigeria. The revised version prescribed a Universal Basic Education (UBE) program.

The policy proposed that admissions into tertiary institutions will be based on 60 percent of science programs and 40 percent based on humanities.

Features: The 9-3-4 system of education mandates 9 years continued education made up of 6 years primary education and 3 years junior secondary education, 3 years of senior secondary education and 4 years of tertiary education.

However, the policy is failing to achieve its vision for higher education as tertiary institutions are not capable of meeting the prescribed 60:40 science and humanities ratio because candidates prefer the humanities due to social demands.

Read Also: Prospects and Problems of Educational Management in Nigeria


Since the colonial era, the Nigerian government has been expressing commitment to education, believing there will be accelerated national development once illiteracy and ignorance has been tackled.

That not withstanding, Nigeria has many problems such as unequal access to education, the educational gap between the southern and the northern part of the country, and inadequate finance and infrastructure.

These bottlenecks continue to hamper the effectiveness of the educational system. In order to minimize these issues, it will be wise to involve people in the policy making process and attention must be given to reviewing all the good parts of previous policies whether in the colonial or post-independence era.

As we have witnessed so far, a stable democracy will provide a suitable environment for implementing the National education policy effectively.

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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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