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The People of Nigeria, Education

Kaduna Polytechnic, Yaba College of Technology, elite families, Ahmadu Bello University, Obafemi Awolowo University

For generations before the arrival of Europeans, Nigerians taught their children informally about their culture, work, survival skills, and social activities. Some societies gave more formal instruction about society and culture as part of young peoples’ rites of passage into adulthood. In Islamic communities, students studied the Qur’an (Koran) and read other religious texts written in Arabic. Many of the more able students pursued higher Islamic studies and became teachers, clerics, or legal scholars. By 1919 northern Nigeria had about 25,000 Qur’anic schools. A large number of Islamic schools are still in operation.

In Lagos, Calabar, and other coastal cities, Christian missionaries introduced European education in the 1840s. Within a few decades, schooling in English was well established, and some elite families sent their children abroad to study. Enrollments expanded rapidly in the south; were uneven in the middle belt, depending on where missionaries were active; and were virtually nonexistent in the north. Consequently, as late as 1973, fewer than 10 percent of children in the far north were enrolled in primary schools, compared with nearly 90 percent of children in Lagos State. The gap was even greater in secondary and postsecondary schools.

Government reforms in the 1970s led to a primary-school enrollment rate of about 90 percent of all Nigerian children in 1980. The rapid expansion contributed to falling standards of instruction and other problems. By 1990 only 72 percent of children attended the compulsory first six years of education, due to government cutbacks, rising school fees, the deterioration of buildings, inferior instruction, and poor prospects for graduates. Enrollment rates remain lower for girls than boys, primarily because many rural northerners remain skeptical about schooling for girls. In 1996 the enrollment rate for secondary schools was 34 percent.

Adult literacy is estimated to be 90 percent for men and 85 percent for women—an improvement over years past resulting from universal primary education and programs for adult literacy. Official data, however, estimate literacy only in English, thus discounting the significant level of literacy in Arabic among northern Muslims.

In 1996 Nigeria had 37 universities, 25 funded by the federal government and 12 by state governments. The oldest, University of Ibadan, was founded in 1948 as a college of the University of London and became autonomous in 1962. Many of the other prominent universities—University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife), Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, and University of Lagos—were founded in the years immediately following independence in 1960. In 1970 the University of Benin was opened, followed in 1975 by new universities in Calabar, Ilorin, Jos, Kano, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, and Sokoto. Since 1980 several more universities have opened, including institutes specializing in agriculture and technology. A variety of polytechnic schools, including Yaba College of Technology in Lagos and Kaduna Polytechnic, offer nondegree postsecondary programs. In 1994 the total enrollment in Nigerian universities was 208,000.

Article key phrases:

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