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History & Background

Nigeria ranks as the tenth largest nation in the world, and by far the largest nation in Africa, with an estimated population of 123,337,822 people. Located north of the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, Nigeria is bordered on the east by Cameroon, on the northeast by Chad, on the north by Niger, and on the west by the Republic of Benin. Land features change dramatically in Nigeria, from rain forests along the coast to rolling savanna hills about 200 miles north of the coastline. The savanna extends another 200 miles northward across the Niger and Benue Rivers. In the northeast, mountains form the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. The central and western part of northern Nigeria is a flat, semi-desert land called the Sahel. The Sahara Desert expands southward into the northern edges of Nigeria. The total land area is 356,669 square miles (923,773 square kilometers).

In 2000, more than 50 percent of the people in Nigeria lived in urban areas. Lagos, the former capital on the southwestern coast, has an estimated 13.5 million citizens. Lagos is among the 10 largest cities in the world. Other large cities include Ibadan in the west with 1.5 to 2.0 million people, Ogbomosho in the west with more than 720,000 people, and Kano in the north with almost 800,000 people. In 1991 the capital was moved to Abuja, located in the central part of Nigeria north of the Niger and Benue River confluence. By 2000, the capital had grown to more than 335,000 people.

Four major ethnic groups make up about 65 to 70 percent of the population. The largest group is the Hausa/Fulani, a mixture of two ethnic groups living primarily in the northern half of the country. The Hausa/Fulani people number about 35 to 40 million. The Yoruba in western Nigeria number about 30 million people, and the Igbo in eastern Nigeria number about 15 million people. More than 300 ethnic groups, each speaking a different language, live in Nigeria. English, nonetheless, is the common language used for business, education, and government.

Before the British arrived in the early nineteenth century, there were two major types of education in Nigeria. In the Islamic north, education was strictly religious in nature. In each Muslim community, a mallam drilled children as young as five years old in the teachings of the Qur'an and the Arabic alphabet. During the colonial era, larger cities set up more expansive Islamic schools that included subjects such as math and science. In 1913, these Islamic schools, almost all in the north, numbered 19,073 and enrolled 143,312 students. In the 1970s the government took control of the Islamic schools, but in the 1990s, the schools were allowed to operate independently again.

The indigenous system was the second type of education before the British occupation. Students were taught the practical skills needed to function successfully in traditional society. Usually children within two or three years of age belonged to an age-group. Together, they learned the customs of their community and were assigned specific duties around the village, such as sweeping lanes or clearing brush. As the children grew older, the boys were introduced to farming and more specialized work, such as wood carving or drumming. Girls would learn farming and domestic skills. Boys would often enter into apprenticeship-type relationships with master craftsmen. Even in the twenty-first century, this kind of education is common.

Formal, Western-type of education was introduced by British missionaries in the 1840s. The Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) started several schools in the mid-1800s. The colonial government gave the church financial aid, but in the early twentieth century the government began building primary and secondary schools. By the time the British combined the northern and southern regions into one colony in 1914, a total of 11 secondary schools were in operation, all but 1 run by missionaries. There were also 91 mission and 59 government elementary schools.

Western education slowly entered the northern region. In 1947, only 66,000 students were attending primary schools in the north. Ten years later, the number enrolled had expanded to 206,000 students. In the western region, over the same period, primary school enrollment expanded from 240,000 to 983,000 students. The eastern region experienced the most dramatic growth in primary enrollment during this period, jumping from 320,000 to 1,209,000 students. The number of secondary school students in the entire nation grew much less dramatically, increasing from 10,000 in 1947 to 36,000 in 1957. Most of this growth, 90 percent, was almost entirely in the south.

In the 1950s, Nigeria adopted the British system called Form Six that divided grades into six elementary years, three junior secondary years, two senior secondary years, and a two-year university preparation program. Those who scored high on exit examinations at the end of Form Six usually were qualified to enter universities.

Although Nigeria celebrated its independence in 1960, the second half of the sixties brought the chaos and disaster of the Nigeria Civil War. After a long series of ethnic riots and killings against the Igbo of eastern Nigeria, the Igbos seceded from Nigeria in May 1967, naming their new country the Republic of Biafra. The war destroyed much of the nation's educational framework, especially in eastern Nigeria. Biafra surrendered in 1970, but the country never fully resolved the issues that led to the war.

In 1976, Nigeria passed a law making education compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 12. By 1980, approximately 98 percent (15,607,505 students) of this age group were enrolled in primary school, up from 37 percent in 1970. The military and civilian governments paid little attention to education, however, and the quality of education deteriorated nationwide.

By 1985, the country as a whole had 35,000 primary schools with 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 students in school had changed little, even with the country's high birth rate.

Secondary education fared worse than the other levels of education. During the 1970s and 1980s, the majority of primary students finishing sixth grade never went on to junior secondary school. Those who did rarely went on to senior secondary school, and for those who were qualified for higher education, very few openings existed in the 1960s. At independence, with about 6,000 students, there were only six higher educational institutions in Nigeria: the University Ibadan, the University of Ife, the University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, and the Institute of Technology at Benin. More universities and polytechnics were built in the 1970s, and more students were able to go on for postsecondary education. In 1971, approximately 19,000 students were studying in institutions of higher education. By 1985, the number had increased to 125,000 students, but this still represented a tiny portion of the population.

Nigeria has since struggled through a series of military dictatorships that ended in May 1999 with the democratic election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The government seems determined to restore a damaged educational system over the last two decades of the twentieth century.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceNigeria - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundation, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education