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The Torch-Bearers of Education In Nigeria

By Emmanuel Ugwu

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The story of formal education in Nigeria reads like a relay race. From the hands of the missionaries the school system has passed to Nigerians. But the change of baton did not happen overnight. It was a slow-grinding process spanning more than a century.

At the dawn of the 20th century, western education was already entrenched in the whole of Nigeria. However, it was more noticeable in the Lagos colony and the southern protectorate than in the northern protectorate where Islamic education was more widespread. In fact the northern Emirs did not encourage Christian missionaries to set up schools in their domain.

Education was purely a tool for evangelisation and the Christian missions made no pretence about it. Their primary aim was to convert and also train Nigerians who would facilitate the spread of the gospel.

The colonial government gave the missions a free hand in the running schools. The colonial government first showed interest in education through the provision of grants-in-aid to secondary schools and scholarships.

Education was entirely British. British history and value systems were taught in Nigerian schools. African traditions and culture were considered unfit to be incorporated in the school curriculum.

But before independence in1960 Nigerians who were products of the British colonial education system began to challenge the colonial education policies. These educationists questioned the inherent anomalies in the colonial system of education.

By 1955, Alvan Ikoku, president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, led the union to demand for a uniform education system for Nigeria. It was turned down by the colonial government. When Kenneth Dike wanted to use oral tradition in his research for Ph.D thesis he was refused but he didn’t give up. When he finished his work it opened a new vista in historiography.

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