Education is an indispensable factor in the all round development of any nation. The genesis of Nigerian education, labeled traditional education was progressive in nature, because of its emphasis on functionalism.

Education helps members of the society to acquire suitable appreciation of their cultural heritage and to live a fully more satisfying life. This includes the acquisition of desirable skills, knowledge, habits and value for people living in the society. It equips the members of the society with the capabilities of personal survival  and contributing to other group’s survival in the wider world.

Long before the Europeans arrived, indigenous education had been part of Nigerians.  Indigenous education represents the type of education offered in the pre-literate era, within the community, by community members, who possessed specialised skills or abilities in various fields of human endeavour. In most communities, prior to the introduction of formal education, boys were brought up to take to whatever occupation their fathers engaged in. In some other cases, the boys were sent to other masters as apprentices to learn various vocations and life etiquette.

An Apprentice Trader


The traditional education offered by the community was comprehensive such that it provided training in physical, character intellectual, social and vocational development. Indigenous education had no written curriculum. The major approach, for achieving the education objectives was social learning in which a child learns informally in the home, through religious societies/ceremonies, the age-grade system as well as the apprenticeship system and many more. Since there were no written syllabi, the child learned through imitation/modeling, the various contents of the curriculum that have been informally designed to produce an integrated citizenry.

Although occupations varied according to the geographical areas, the major ones were farming, trading, craft, fishing, cattle rearing, traditional medicine and blacksmithing. The boys also engaged in other trainings  such as archery, tree climbing and wrestling. Intellectual training consisted of them sitting quietly beside their fathers at meetings and listening attentively to  the process of such tasks and skills such as proverbs and the use of wise sayings, oratory among others. All these stimulated their sense of rationality.

The girls were expected to stay back at home to learn domestic and other chores such as cooking, sweeping, hair weaving, decorations of the body, dye production, weeding of farmland among other things from their mothers. Therefore, the pre-colonial education in most parts of Nigeria trained individuals to fit usefully into their societies by learning and producing economic skills for self sustenance, adapting to the role expectations and contribution to the development of the society.

Calabash Art Carver….. Passed Down Generations to Generations


The problem of unemployment was minimal. The limitation of this type of education was the absence of writing and learners depended on their memories to facilitate retention and the transmission of all learned ideas to the next generation Children were taught their culture, social activities, survival skills and work. Most of these education processes were impacted into the children informally; a few of these societies gave a more formal teaching of the society and culture.

Students were taught the practical skills needed to function successfully in traditional societies. 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 of bush. 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.

In these Societies, there are formal instructions that governed the rites of passage from youth into adulthood. The youth is expected to have acquired the necessary social and survival skills as well as having a grounded knowledge of the culture. These are the foundations of education in Nigeria, and upon them was the western education implemented upon.

Apprenticeship has been an age-long method used in training young people in trades and crafts, agriculture, business, and catering. It is a contractual agreement undertaken by the master-craftsman through which the apprentice is trained for a prescribed work through practical experience under the supervision of the master-craftsman. It is a form of workplace learning which enables the apprentice to have on-the-job training. It embodies lessons of mutual respect for the opinions of others, lessons of deference to elders, lessons about the importance of dialogue, lessons about conflict negotiation, the spirit of tolerance and forgiveness, and the spirit to face the future with an open mind.

Women Engrave Design on Calabash Gourds


During the pre-colonial days, apprenticeship was the mode of training. It was a common feature of the traditional setting to see people engaged in a vocation    such as farming, fishing, hunting, carving, carpentry, sculpting, painting, building, decorating, smithing, catering, boat-making, mat-making, dyeing and so on. The apprenticeship system was an institution that was jealously guarded by customs.

Although occupations varied according to the geographical areas in Nigeria, the major ones were farming, trading, craft work, fishing, cattle rearing, wine tapping, traditional medicine and black-smithing. The boys also engaged in such other training as archery, tree climbing and wrestling. Intellectual training for them consisted of their sitting quietly beside their fathers at meetings and listening attentively to the process of such tasks and skills as arbitration of cases, oratory, wise sayings and use of proverbs.

But memory could fail, and in the event of the death of a custodian of some useful information or skill, all was lost. There were, however, little or no cases of unemployment.

Traditional education has existed since time immemorial and instrumental in solving societal existential challenges in areas like sustenance, governance, survival, etc. Children were raised, trained and put through rituals of passage to become full-fledged members of their societies; and they seamlessly fit in and continued with the works started by their forefathers. Every society, whether simple or complex, has its own system of upbringing and training of its young ones and members regarded as life-long education. This type of education has persisted and permeated the core of the human race giving it its nature, according to its geographical coloration.

A Yoruba Woman Handling a Hand Loom


The historical antecedent of education in Nigeria is based on traditional education with functionalism as a guiding principle. Like in any other part of the world, the modern education curriculum can be described as a systemized and diversified version of the traditional or primitive education which was or used to be the culture or the way of life of people the world over. It can be categorically said that the theory and practice of education anywhere is a universal instrument of society’s policy and as such modern day education can be seen as a deliberate evolution of education which still has its umbilical cord strongly tied to the norms, practices and aspirations of a particular group of people.

Nigerian traditional education was largely holistic and varied, but the ultimate goal was to produce an individual who was honest, respectful, skilled, cooperative and who could conform to the social order of the day. The values of traditional or indigenous education cannot be overemphasized and as such, the focus or the objectives deserve mentioning. They are:

  1. To develop the child’s latent physical skills;
  2. To develop character;
  3. To inculcate respect for elders and those in position of authority;
  4. To develop intellectual skills;
  5. To acquire specific vocational training and to develop a healthy attitude towards honest labour;
  6. To develop a sense of belonging and active participation in family and community affairs; and
  7. To understand, appreciate and promote the cultural heritage of the community at large.

Each social institution had a role to play in providing both moral and practical teaching which would enable the younger ones to take up their rightful positions in the community. Children were encouraged to explore their immediate environment, to observe as well as imitate the adults and to discover new grounds and knowledge.

Furthermore, children and adolescents learnt the geography and history of their communities through storytelling and full involvement in communal activities. They knew their local hills, valleys, rivers and plants. They knew when to expect rain and when to plant, when to hunt, fish and harvest. The elders used proverbs and riddles to develop intellect in the young ones. In all, huge emphasis was placed on complete human development. This was the major reason the traditional education was described as having a functional nature.

Traditional education has been observed to have limitations when viewed along the line of the modern day education:

It is geographically bound, i.e. it is limited to the community of the recipient – not universal in nature.

Traditional education uses oral tradition and storytelling as the major tools of teaching the recipients.

One major lesson to be learned in indigenous education is that it produced well integrated citizenry. The curriculum was appropriate to the needs of the primarily agricultural communities where life was simple. Moral training was given both at home as well as other adult members of the family and community. This is done through the informal passing on of knowledge. The informal methods included word of mouth instruction, story-telling and dramatizations. Songs and music usually accompany the stories and help to fulfill the affective components of the educational objectives. Skills were also learnt by observing and doing. Although learning was not structured and formalised, there was curriculum that exposed the younger ones to important facts of what was best for them. In short, the society was very stable since respect for and imitation of elders was a major content of the unplanned and unwritten curriculum.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: