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Indigenous Education In Nigeria

April 10, 2010

Education as a natural human activity could be acquired any where through either formal or informal process. Before the advent of the western education, the people of indigenous societies have ways of inculcating the societal norms, values and attitudes on the members. This process of enculturation is the primary function of education. Incontrovertibly, indigenous societies have means of initiating, instructing, drilling, orientating and indoctrinating the younger people following the listed processes in education before the introduction of western education. Vocational training and moral teachings are also essential components of indigenous education before the introduction of the western education.

Looking at it from historical perspective, there were two highly developed systems of education in Nigeria before western education was introduced. Specifically, there were the indigenous and the Islamic education systems, both of which are still in existence side by side with western education (Obanya et al 2000). Education was indeed present in the indigenous society whether or not there are organized schools. It is worthy of note that if education prepares the individual for living in society, and the Nigerians were able to prepare there young ones to live in the Nigerian society before school education was introduced to us, traditional Nigerian societies can said to have possessed a sound system of education.

Realizing the fact that education is not limited to schooling, it could therefore be argued that the indigenous societies have ways of exposing the young ones to cherished values. Indigenous education even though, it was not a formal system, develops in the growing child the spirit of collective behaviour and content of indigenous education focus the inculcation of culture of respect and love for ancestral gods and the Almighty God, respect for elders, respect for the traditions and customs of the community into which one is born. It is also equipped the child with the skills necessary to support itself and is family in adulthood.

Except that history and literature are learnt in the traditional society through story telling, there is no denial of the fact that the elders tell the young ones the history of their people, such as success and failures at wars, migrations etc. in the indigenous settings, physical and health education is taking care of through systematic dances which are either ritualistic or social. It is to be emphasized that prominent in the indigenous practice is the development of sound character and good moral judgment. Every family faced the education of its children with all seriousness because signs of miseducation shown by any individual in the society would not only bring shame to the person but also to the members of his family.

Lending credence to the position that there had been in existence indigenous education before western education was introduced, Ajiboye (1999) maintained that western education as we know it today is predated by traditional education in Nigeria . He regarded as erroneous and incorrect the impression created by some foreign authors that there was no education in Nigeria before the arrival of the missionaries. This is because, the informal education, as it is being referred to now, is as old as the society itself and has been highly developed before the advent of the formal western education. As observed by Fafunwa (1974) every society whether simple or complex has its own system of training and educating its youths, and education for the good life has been one of the most persistent concerns of man throughout history. The objectives of traditional education are political, social and economic.

Dismissing the assertions from some quarters that indigenous education is primitive, savage and barbaric, Fafunwa (1974) argued that such contentions should be seen as the product of ignorance and due to a total misunderstanding of the inherent value to the society. As stated by Fafunwa (1974) indigenous education is a process of transmitting culture, this is the goal this educational system intends to achieve, irrespective of the curriculum, methods and organization designed for the purpose.

Fafunwa (1974) also pointed out that traditional education is all embracing and that every social institution involved in this system of education and this could lead the individual to acquire behaviour patterns, abilities and skills necessary for effective citizenship in the community in which the child lives.

In the same vein, Okon and Anderson (1982) argue that it was only uninformed that could contend that traditional education probably does not seem comparable to modern western education. it is true that it did not include reading, writing and science in the conventional sense, but it covered many areas that are taught in schools today. When the traditional curriculum is described in terms of social studies, history, home economics, literature, music and dance, arts and crafts, religion and vocational training, to has surprisingly contemporary ring to it.

Osokoya (2009) agrees with other scholars that there was functional education before the missionary education was introduced to Nigeria . His submissions were enough to believe that indigenous education had been deeply rooted before the introduction of western education. According to him, education then was generally for an initiation into the society, and a preparation for adulthood. It was an education that emphasized social responsibility, job orientation, political participation, spiritual and moral values. Each traditional society has specific means of assisting the young ones to learn the geography and history of their community.

Education before the advent of western education was generally for an induction into the society. The system, though informal was aimed at inculcating attitudes and values in children and integrating individuals into the wider society. (Osokoya 2003). The indigenous education was given through carefully planned programmes of initiation, festivals, age grade system, home and community education among others.

The indigenous education curriculum included mathematical concepts, training in the art of good and correct speech, history, literature, physical education and vocational education. The Yoruba according to Taiwo (1968) have developed a system of counting which is mathematical skill in the traditional system of education. Through story telling, poetry and incantation chanting, the elders taught the younger ones the history of their ancestors, success and failures at wars between villages and clans. Vocational training were given through apprehenticeship system. The vast aprehenticeship training system began as part of wider education process in which the indigenous societies of Nigeria passed on their cultural heritage from one generation to the other. Learning crafts is another form of indigenous educational process.

Indigenous people possessed intellectual spoken arts which has been properly developed before the introduction of western education. Babalola (1964) commented that Ijala chant was one of the intellectual spoken arts developed by the Yoruba. Riddles and tongue twisters represent another set of intellectual exercises.

Children also engaged in participatory education through ceremonies, rituals, recitation and demonstration. Proverbs and riddles constituted a formidable intellectual exercise. The proverbs are important to Yoruba because it brings out meaning out of obscure points in conversation and argument.

In general, the system of indigenous education had a close link with social life. It gave a progressive development which conformed with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of child.

In conclusion, I will like to dismiss the contention that there was no education before the introduction of missionary education in Nigeria . There was informal system of education which were been employed to transmit cultural value and helped the children develop mental, intellectual, emotional skills and experiences.


Osokoya I.O. (2003) 6-3-3-4 Education in Nigeria : History, Strategies, issues and problems. Ibadan Laurel Educational publishers.

Obanya P.A.I. et al (2000) Theory and practice of education: Lagos , Basic Books publishers.

Ajiboye J.O. (1999) Introduction of Western Education in Nigeria in Ogunsanya M. (ed) Basic processes in Education. Oyo, Andrian publication series.

Osokoya I.O. (2009) History and policy of Nigerian Education in World Perspective: Ibadan , Laurel Educational publishers.


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Onike Rahaman holds masters degree.He is a professional administrator,writer,editorial consultant,linguistic activist,public commentator and a policy analyst.He is also into human rights advocacy and herbal research.