Dr. David OgulaTuesday, April 18, 2017
[email protected]
New York, USA




iteracy and formal education in Nigeria is often discussed primarily from the premise of western education or the Euro-Christian educational system. This system is defined not only by the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also by the premium it places on paper credentials. The educated class disregard other forms of learning that predate the arrival of western education. Many also ignore experiential learning, which is increasingly gaining recognition even in the western world. The visceral debate about President Buhari's elementary school certificate, that ignores his years of military training at home and abroad, is a prime example.

The origin of western education in Nigeria can be traced to the arrival of Europeans on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. The purpose of the visitors who introduced western education was economic and religious. They arrived under the guise of spreading the gospel of salvation to the indigenes and promote their commercial interests. In furtherance of their objectives, early converts were recruited to serve as interpreters or intermediaries between the indigenes and the visitors. However, religious sermons alone could not convert the indigenes to accept the new religion. Consequently, western education was imposed by physical and constructive coercion.

In addition, early western education was built on the philosophy, values, and needs of European missionaries. They offered limited literacy with a greater emphasis on a strong Christian faith. Therefore, they structured the school curriculum around biblical teachings and established schools as extension of the church and on church premises.

Records show that the first formal schools in Nigeria were established in 1843. However, western education only began to spread when the government intervened. Government intervention came through an ordinance in 1883 and over time, western education became entrenched. But its dominance does not refute the existence of other forms of formal education in sub Saharan Africa, especially Islamic education which preceded the arrival of western education in Northern Nigeria.

Though, little weight has been accorded to the impact of Islamic education in West Africa and Northern Nigeria in particular, one cannot deny its influence. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of the Alphonse Fletcher University and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University provides breathtaking exposť of Islamic scholarly records. His television series on Africa's Great Civilizations sheds light on the wealth of Islamic books and manuscripts at the University of Timbuktu dating back 400 years.

The arrival of Islamic education in Nigeria predates Christianity. Islam is said to have been introduced in the Northern part of present day Nigeria in the 11th century. The records show that kanem Ummi Jilmi of the old Borno accepted Islam, and established the first Quranic school in his palace. Islamic education was tied to mosques just as Christian missionaries tied schools to churches. Few who study Nigerian history before the arrival of Europeans would deny the influence of Usman Dan Fodio. He remains one of the paramount figures in the history of Northern Nigeria. Usman Dan Fodio studied law, theology and philosophy under Umar whose teachings inspired him to accept Islam. The education or system of learning Usman Dan Fiodo experienced was no less formal or conventional compared to western education.

Today the average Nigerian is either unaware or discounts the contributions of Arabic civilization in education. Discussions among many western educated Nigerians do not acknowledge the ingenuity of Muslims who pioneered significant scientific and mathematical breakthroughs in the past and continue to do so in the contemporary world. Since those engaged in such discussions are products of western education, they only project one perspective that tends to subjugate contributions by other cultures to human development. They appropriate western perspective as the only civilization that develop formal educational systems.

It is incontrovertible that western education has given us the capacity to think critically, inquire, discover, and develop intellectually. But the stunning irony is that western education which gives us this ability has also served as a tool wittingly or unwittingly for cultural appropriation. Learning that assimilates other cultures and values without critical evaluation is brain washing, it thwarts an individual's capacity to think freely and create new meanings. So the next time you engage in discussions about the evolution of education in Northern Nigeria, put into context the invaluable contributions made by Islamic education and other forms of learning that enrich the human experience.