Education is the foundation upon which we build our future. – Christine Gregoire.
We need to revisit the history of education in Nigeria briefly and then ask ourselves how we got to the present sorry pass and morass that we are in, in the educational sector. Based on research and interviews with older Nigerians, it is evident that formal Westernised education was introduced to the country by British missionaries in the 1800s. The Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) started several schools in the mid-1800s. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the colonial government began building primary and secondary schools. Then in the 1950s, Nigeria adopted the British system called the Form Six that stratified learning into six elementary years, three junior secondary years, two senior secondary years, and a two-year university preparation programme. Those who performed excellently were qualified to enter universities.
In 1976, Nigeria passed a law making education compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 12. By 1985, the country as a whole had 35,000 primary schools, with no fewer than 13 million students. Another 3.8 million primary school-aged children lived on the streets. Conditions became progressively worse. By 1994, the number of primary schools had changed little, even with the country’s high birth rate.
Secondary education fared worse than the other levels of education. In the 1970s and 1980s, the majority of primary students finishing sixth grade didn’t go onto junior secondary school. Also unfortunately most who managed to get some form of junior secondary education didn’t progress further.
To compound matters, those who were capable of undertaking higher education had limited opportunities as few openings existed in the 1960s. At independence, there were only 6,000 certifiable students admitted into the higher institutions, while there were only six higher educational institutions in Nigeria – University of Ibadan, University of Ife, University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Nigeria at Nsukka, and the Institute of Technology at Benin.
There is an underlying theme here and it is neglect and lack of the right vision for our educational sector. We inherited a system from our colonial masters and apparently not much has changed from what we received; we still treat education the same way that we did when we were under their rule. The education system we inherited was mostly elitist, no-frills and conservative. The decay in the public sector led to the explosion of private schools across Nigeria, which have contributed significantly to the growth of the sector but still they are marred by the lack of unified accreditation and high school fees.
But presently: How do we stop using education as a tool for post-election patronage, in which politicians award educational projects as reward for the support of their cronies?
During the second quarter of 2017, I met highly placed representatives of a global nonprofit that is quite active worldwide in funding projects, especially in education. I attended their event with the objective of networking with organisations like them. They explicitly informed me that they were no longer funding educational projects in Nigeria. They liked our initiative and advocacy efforts with STEM education but they were pulling out. I then went back and did research; they had funded a lot of projects but there wasn’t much to show for the efforts.
Its truly heart-breaking.
Next week, I will continue with how we can create a vision for education in Nigeria that works for the 21st century.
In the mean time; I would love to hear from you our readers; your thoughts on creating a vision for education that works for the 21st century; your responses to this article. I respond to our readers who correspond directly with me. We are all learners in the journey of life!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.