Long before the Europeans arrived, education had been part of Nigerians. The Children were taught about their culture, social activities, survival skills and work. Most of these education processes were impacted into the children informally; a few of these societies gave a more formal teaching of the society and culture.
In these Societies, there are formal instructions that governed the rites of passage from youth into adulthood. The youth is expected to have attained the necessary social and survival skills as well as having a grounded knowledge in the culture. These are the foundations of education in Nigeria, and upon them were the western education implemented upon.
European Education was introduced into Nigeria in the 1840s. It began in Lagos, Calabar and other coastal cities. In a few decades schooling in English language gradually took roots in the Nigeria. During the Colonial years, Great Britain did not promote education. The schools were set up and operated by Christian Missionaries. The British colonial government only funded a few schools. The policy of the government was to give grant to mission schools rather than expand the system.
In the northern part of Nigeria, which was predominantly Muslim populated, Western-style education was prohibited. The religious leaders did not want the missionaries interfering with Islam. This gave way to establishing Islamic school that focused primarily on the Islamic education.
Today, adult literacy has been estimated to be over 78 percent for men and 64 percent for women. These statistics were made based on estimate literacy in English. That excludes the literacy in Arabic among northern Muslims. It is therefore not erroneous to call Nigeria a nation dominated with educated persons.
Prior to Nigeria’s independence, Nigeria had only two established Post-secondary Institution. Yaba Higher college (founded in 1934, Now Yaba College of Technology) and the University of Ibadan was founded in 1948. It was then a College of the University of London until two years after the independence when she became autonomous. More prominent universities which include University of Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife), Ahmadu Bello University and Mohood Abiola Kashimawo University (formerly University of Lagos) were founded in the years that followed the Independence.
In 1970s more universities were founded which include University of Benin (founded in 1970), and new university opened in Calabar, Ilorin, Jos, Port Harcourt, Sokoto and Maiduguri. In the 1980s, more universities were opened as well as institute specializing in Agriculture and Technology. A number of Polytechnics were also opened, which includes the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos and Kaduna Polytechnics.
In 1980, the estimated enrollment in the primary schools was 12 million, Secondary and technical colleges 1.2 million, teachers colleges 240,000 and Universities 75,000. One would expect that with such an estimate, the Nigerian education in Nigeria three decades after would have greatly improved. Unfortunately the reverse has been the case.
The present decline in the Nigerian education system can be traced back to the 1980s and 1990s. Then there was a shortage of qualified teachers, the few qualified teachers were not paid in a timely manner. The number of schools did not grow with the population and many of the existing schools were inadequately funded resulting in poor maintenance. In the Universities inadequate funding led to the shortage of space and resources. Increase in tuition fee often resulted in riots leading to cancellation of semesters. Industrial actions by the University Staff requesting for higher salaries and better working conditions also compounded the situations. However, today governors in most state are addressing these issues.
The damage to the educational system has been done. Most graduates lack the necessary survival and social skills that should have been learnt in schools. These have led to many disastrous situations in the nation. The center of the nation’s growth “the Education system” no longer holds value; hence the entire nation is falling apart. Products of the Nigeria education system are not employable, causing massive unemployment and under-development in the country. No survival skills leading to increased poverty rate in the country.
The situation however is not entirely hopeless. The foundation of education in Nigeria upon which the Europeans laid the western-style education is strong. This has managed to hold the educational system of the country together through the trouble days. However, if left unattended, we will all join Chinua Achebe and exclaim: Things fall apart, The center cannot hold… Anarchy is set forth everywhere.