What is Education: Essential History, Epistemology, and Philosophy of Education in Nigeria

what is education - Philosophy of education in Nigeria

As we understand it, education is a process that invites possibility and truth, supports and allows time for exploration. It is a social activity – “a process of living and not a preparation for future living,” as John Dewey (1916) described it.

In this perspective, instructors prioritize learning and social interaction over acting on students’ needs. Their responsibility is to educe, which is connected to the Greek verb educere and means to bring forth or foster potential in both themselves and others.

So, education is not to be confused with schooling. When we think of education, we should not only think of schools and colleges but homes, churches, and society.

This article discussed the history, epistemology, and philosophy of education in Nigeria.

What is Education?

Education is a deliberate action with certain goals in mind, such as the dissemination of knowledge or the development of skills and character qualities. These objectives might include the growth of comprehension, reason, kindness, and honesty. For the purpose of separating education from indoctrination, numerous studies emphasize the importance of critical thinking.

Children in society are taught fundamental academic information, learning skills, and cultural standards through the institution of education.

Human life cannot exist without education. Human life is inadequate, sad, and without hope without it. It refers to purposeful training or instruction. The word “education” comes from the Latin verb “educare,” which means to “raise up.”

Education is a discipline that focuses on how to educate and learn in classrooms or surroundings that are similar to classrooms rather than using other informal and informal socialization approaches.

In the notion that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in life, education is the thoughtful, optimistic, and respectful fostering of learning and transformation.

In his investigation into the meaning of education, Mark K. Smith proposes that it is a process of engaging people while encouraging truth and possibilities.

Formal, non-formal, and informal education are the three main categories of education.[1] Formal education occurs at educational and training facilities, is normally organized around curriculum goals and objectives, and is frequently facilitated by teachers. Formal education is typically separated into educational stages like kindergarten, primary school, and secondary school and is typically required up to a particular age in most locations.[2]

Non-formal education can be used in place of or in addition to formal education. It may follow educational structures, but in a more flexible way, and typically occurs in contexts based on the community, the workplace, or civil society.

Last but not least, informal education happens in daily life and in the family. Whether an experience is intended to be educational or not, it can have a formative impact on how someone thinks, feels, or behaves. Informal learning can take place in all three settings, and there is a continuum in practice between the very formalized and the extremely informalized. For instance, depending on the structure, homeschooling might be categorized as informal or nonformal.

Many philosophers, educationists, and authors have defined education to help man comprehend the subject matter. Let’s look at some of these definitions.[3]

Aristotle defined education as the process of training man to fulfill his aim by exercising all the faculties to the fullest extent as a member of society.

According to Langeveld, M.J., education refers to all interactions and associations between adults and children as a field or a state where educational work is ongoing.

Prof. H. Mahmud Yunus states that education is an initiative that is consciously chosen to aid and influence children with the intention of enhancing knowledge, fitness, and morality that can gradually bring the child to the ultimate goal. For the youngster to lead a happy life, whatever he did must be advantageous to both himself and society.[4]

According to Socrates, education entails bringing forth a person’s innate capacity for universal truths. On the other hand, education is defined as a learning process for the individual to attain knowledge and understanding of the higher specific objects and specific. The knowledge gained formally resulting individuals having a pattern of thought and behavior in accordance with the education they have gained (Big Indonesian Dictionary, 1991).

John Dewey (1978), defined education as all one with growing; it has no end beyond itself. According to him, education is everything along with growth; education itself has no final destination behind it. Horne, H.H. opined that education is the device by which a social group continued existence renews itself, and defends its ideas.

No matter the teaching method, education is meant to inform, transform, and bring hope to the individual and society.

Discuss The Epistemology of Education

One of the most fascinating subfields in philosophy is epistemology. It addresses the myriad questions regarding education that have been put forth by various thinkers. The notion of knowledge has been one of the numerous issues brought up by members of the profession throughout the years.

 According to many philosophers, a student’s capacity to relate to the concepts teachers present in the classroom is a prerequisite for learning. Other philosophers hold that after providing students with information, knowledge is the result.

Teachers frequently question their methods when it comes to how they present information. One of the most difficult decisions facing educators is whether to establish ideals in learning that require that material be accurate or to take a passive attitude toward the knowledge they possess.

Knowledge is the capacity to apply the factual concepts learned through education, and it ought to be subject to validity assessments by students.

Some of the earliest philosophers to analyze the idea of knowledge were Socrates and Plato. Socrates tended to favor the idea that perception is the basis of knowledge. According to Socrates’ theory, in order to assert one possesses the knowledge, one must be able to understand the concepts being put forward.

Other philosophers challenged Socrates’ formulation, arguing that it was open to challenge because perception requires information to be understood, and not all knowledge can be perceived. There is no way knowledge can be based on opinions because they can either be accurate or untrue and are frequently subject to personal bias.

Perhaps the most convincing attempt at defining knowledge is Descartes’ use of reasoning in relation to knowledge. Descartes asserts that knowledge is equivalent to one’s mental capacity. Descartes held that there must be paths of reasoning that are used to develop concepts in order for knowledge to exist. Despite the fact that there is still no agreed-upon definition of knowledge, modern philosophers have been drawn to the idea of truth in its varied applications.

Truth can only exist if it is supported by factual knowledge. On the other hand, for knowledge to be considered factual, it must pass all logical standards. In essence, all of the theories of knowledge developed by philosophers in the field of epistemology translate to a general viewpoint that knowledge is the capacity to apply the factual knowledge acquired during the process of education and that it should be subject to validity tests by specific students.[5]

What is the History of Education in Nigeria?

The federal, state and local governments oversee education. The Federal Ministry of Education is primarily involved in tertiary education, but it is also in charge of overall policy formulation and quality control. State (secondary) and local (elementary) governments are largely in charge of school education.

History of Nigerian education

Education before the advent of the Europeans

Traditional educational systems existed in Africa prior to the European invasion and the subsequent introduction of Western education. Education has always played a crucial role in preparing people to engage completely and effectively in their community.

By instilling the skills needed to attain these objectives, education equips young people to become active and productive members of their communities. African traditional education was not segregated, despite the fact that its purposes differed.

Fundamentally, the goal was to create a person who would mature into a person who was well-grounded, skilled, cooperative, civil, and able to contribute to the growth of the community. A fundamentally informal educational system was used to transmit well-rounded qualities; members of the family, kinship, village group, and the greater society all took part in the educational and socialization process.

There were basically two primary types of education long before the British Government set foot on African soil. They are Islamic and traditional education.

Islamic Education: In every Muslim community, this kind of education was only available to Islamic believers. The curriculum only included instruction in the Arabic alphabet and the Qur’an.

This type of instruction was an extension of the lessons taught in the mosque for young Muslim children who would receive a more fundamental religious education.

Traditional Education: Students were taught how to apply practical skills to significantly contribute to the advancement of their society and were exposed to the realities of society. In addition, they participated in community activities like farming and sanitation and learned more about the community’s customs and traditions.

This was the standard method of instruction that is still followed today. The student’s participation in basic and specialized training was determined by their age and gender. Neither the arts nor science were taught in any kind of formal way during this time period.

Education in the colonial era

Only the primary level of Western or formal education was established in Nigeria in 1842 by Christian missionaries, who managed the educational system in accordance with their respective philosophies.

The Chord missionary society, the Wesleyan Methodist, and the Catholic were the missionary organizations that were available at the time. The CMS secondary school was the first secondary school established in 1859. Lagos grammar school It was unknown what caused the delay in secondary education. However, there are rumors that the missionaries believed that secondary education could help people develop critical thinking skills, which might not have been good for their policies.

During this period, the English pioneer government couldn’t meddle in the school system because of a few political and monetary variables. However, it wasn’t until 1872 that they started supporting education by making donations to missionary organizations.

The Education Ordinance was introduced by the colonial government in 1882 with the intention of having complete control over education. This was their first official announcement regarding Nigerian education. During that time, schools were divided into two categories: public and private. While private school receives little support from public fund, government school was entirely funded by public funds.

Because the curriculum, method, and communication medium were too foreign to a Nigerian child, the education ordinance of 1882 was difficult to implement in Nigeria. The ordinance failed as a result of all of these factors, and in 1887, a new one was enacted. The new ordinance was regarded as the colonial government’s first successful effort to support education. However, only a few Lagos metropolises were covered at the time.

More schools were opened, more foreign teachers were hired, and missions, voluntary organizations, and private individuals were given financial support to open more schools.

Lord Fredrick Lugard, the Governor General of Nigeria at the time, came up with some novel concepts following the merger. The 1916 ordinance is largely based on these concepts. On December 21, 1916, exactly, the ordinance went into effect. The ordinance was able to take care of the entire nation because it was passed after the merger.

The missionaries and the colonial government had long opposed the Northerners’ opposition to western education. Lugard met with leaders from the north to persuade them that the Islamic tradition, which is more important to northerners, will not be affected by education.

The first higher education institution was established in 1932, 73 years after the first secondary school was established. Yaba Higher College was the first college. The college was founded in 1932, but classes began in 1934.

The University College Ibadan was established with just 104 students in 1948. In 1962, there were five universities, up from one. Additionally, a significant number of higher educational establishments were established in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980, approximately 12 million students were admitted to primary school, 1.2 million to secondary school, and 240,000 to universities, according to statistics.

Western education has suffered greatly today. Schools no longer provide the high standard of education for which they were renowned. Nigerian university graduates lack the necessary skills and knowledge to find work. Measures should be set up for Nigerian schooling to accomplish its previous greatness.

Post-colonial Era

The nation’s first university and primary and secondary schools were established at this time. In the year of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Eastern Region established the second university, the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN).

The University of Benin was established in the Midwestern Region around 1970. It is located in Edo State and is currently run by the Edo State government.

In general, there were more universities and schools being built, but only tertiary institutions were required to be built by the federal or state governments. Private universities didn’t start until the late 1990s. The establishment of universities has been divided into four categories by expert writers:

    The system of education equally changed from the initial 6-3-3-4 to the present UBE system of 9-3-4. During this period, the national policy on education specifies how the government and private players, such as non-governmental organizations and private persons, manage educational institutions.

    History of what we have today as western education

    Western education was instituted by the old colonial rulers, British business, and Christian missions, but it did not achieve complete acceptance until the 20th century. When only the males were taught, many parents did not allow their female children to attend school. They learned about life’s principles and other things from the church missionary.

    The Nursery of Infant Church School, which is located in Badagry, was founded in the year 1843. The Nursery of Infant School, which Rev. Father Gomez started, ultimately became the St. Thomas Anglican Nursery and Primary School.

    Between the years 1859 and 1925, a large number more emerged as the nation developed. Schools like the Methodist Boys High School, Methodist Girls High School, Baptist Academy, Abeokuta Grammar School, and many others. CMS Grammar School was the first secondary school in Nigeria and was located in Lagos.

    The Hope Waddle Institute in Calabar, which was founded in 1895, was the country of Nigeria’s first higher education institution. As there was a time when not sending one’s child to school earned one no favors with the white man, western education was able to expand quickly in Nigeria. Students from earlier generations have become more skilled thanks to western education.

    Western education has entered a new age, thanks to Nigeria’s innovative educational initiatives. Western education has several benefits. The western educational system is already widely used around the world. Nigeria’s adoption of western education paved the way for the emergence of internationally renowned universities. Nigerian kids can profit from western education and showcase their nation’s abilities to the globe.

    What Do You Understand by Philosophy of Education?

    The term “philosophy of education” refers to a person’s or an organization’s guiding principles, attitudes, and convictions surrounding how teaching and learning occur in a classroom setting.

    What are the guiding principles for interactions between students, between students and teachers, and between all other parties involved in the institution? Your education philosophy, in essence, reflects your ideas, values, and comprehension of the principles and practices of effective teaching and learning.

    The discipline of applied philosophy known as “educational philosophy” looks into the nature of education as well as its purposes and issues. It provides a review of educational ideas, together with an analysis of the underlying assumptions and reasons for and against each theory. It is an interdisciplinary field that is influenced by many fields both inside and outside of philosophy, including ethics, political philosophy, psychology, and sociology.

    From Socrates’ conflicts with the sophists until the present, the philosophy of education has a long and illustrious history in the Western philosophical tradition. The majority of that tradition’s most notable individuals included educational concerns in their larger philosophical agendas (Curren 2000, 2018[6]; Rorty 1998)[7].

    Approaches to the philosophy of education

    There are seven key ways that can be used to comprehend educational philosophy.

    approaches to philosophy of education


    This philosophy is supported by the conviction that your pupils should study concepts that are timeless and accurate. What are truths? Perennialism holds that truths are the concepts of Western culture. They advise your students to understand Western Civilization’s ideas because they claim they are authentic and timeless.

    Students learn things like reading, writing, math, language, history, the arts, and science here. They firmly believe that since humans are reasoning beings, mental development must be actively pursued.


    Students learn things like reading, writing, math, language, history, the arts, and science here. They firmly believe that since humans are reasoning beings, mental development must be actively pursued. Therefore, if you practice essentialism, you work to instill in your students’ self-discipline, social awareness, and an understanding of both the curriculum’s culture and subject.


    Humans are social creatures by nature, so according to this school of thought, learning occurs best when taking place in social contexts. Here, passing along society’s identity to the new generation is education’s primary objective. This concept places a high importance on group learning since it holds that some talents can only be learned in groups. Additionally, the concept is that when people interact and learn from one another, difficulties and barriers related to race and class are addressed. Finally, progressivists support experimentation and using reason to address issues in society.


    According to this theory, students are viewed as active agents who are always involved in creating their own knowledge. As a result, it is advised that individuals’ knowledge, abilities, and experiences displayed in a learning scenario be respected. In this sense, constructivists believe that there are no passive learners. Finally, students build their own knowledge by fusing prior knowledge with fresh information or experiences.


    The foundation of this philosophy is that the word is derived from existence. In this case, it is assumed that the person is accountable to themselves. The person must define themselves, or they will be defined by others. As a result, the existentialist only accepts what the person defines for himself or herself as right or wrong, truthful or false, beautiful or ugly, and many other concepts. As a result, only the person may decide for themselves what is right or wrong.

    In essence, you assist your pupils in locating relevant study materials. Therefore, your pupils engage in a variety of activities and study a range of subjects and topics. As a result, it is your responsibility to monitor their study until the desired learning results are achieved.

    Social reconstructionism

    This philosophy’s proponents think society has to reform. They think that schools offer the conditions necessary for changing society. The world’s current issues serve as the foundation for their belief. Social reconstructionists claim that schools are the forces changing our world.

    While studying the required themes and subjects, students are free to engage in other activities.

    The social reconstructionist school of thought has the potential to drastically alter our society. This is especially true when it is paired with ideologies like essentialism and progressivism.

    The eclectic approach

    Some people have the propensity to adhere to certain philosophical tenets while rejecting others. With this, they attempt to synthesize diverse beliefs into a single philosophy. The eclectic approaches to educational philosophy are what are known as these types of ideologies.

    If your approach is eclectic, you’ll probably choose elements of numerous ideologies that support your beliefs. You think that these aspects of the various ideologies are the finest and can address societal problems with education.

    Outline the philosophy of education in Nigeria

    The philosophy and purposes of education in Nigeria are frequently at odds with the aspirations of the populace, which can be viewed as the identified societal ideals that should be accomplished or upheld through education. It should be emphasized that the philosophy and goals of Nigerian education have evolved into their current form after going through a number of stages with notable turning points.

    The current philosophy and objectives of education were formulated based on the type of values cherished in society and such that the individual would cherish.[8] The philosophy of Nigerian education therefore includes:

    1. The inculcation of national solidarity and consciousness among the citizens.
    2. Promoting the appropriate values and attitudes necessary for both individual and societal survival.
    3. Mental training to understand the environment around oneself and,
    4. Developing the necessary mental and physical skills, aptitudes, and competencies to enable an individual to live in and contribute to his community. (FGN updated in 1981).[9]

    What Role Did the Early Missionaries Play in The Development of Education In West Africa?

    Christian missionaries from Europe were the forerunners of Western education. Ironically, Western education was also very helpful for the eventual decolonization of West Africa, despite the fact that it was a useful tool for the successful colonization and pacification of Africa.

    In this article, we examine the central and pioneering role those Christian missionaries played in sub-Saharan Africa’s introduction of Western education, specifically the establishment of private and public schools.

     It is noteworthy that post-independence Africa’s educational planning relied heavily on mission school systems, which were modeled after European metropolitan institutions. At the advanced education levels, European college frameworks were completely taken on with little adjustments in practically the recently free African states in general. In the process of creating new identities and advancing the nation, Western education came to be absolutely necessary.

    Following the successful exploratory missions sponsored by Prince Henry (also known as “the Navigator”) of Portugal, missionary efforts in Africa began as early as the late fifteenth century. Prince Henry received several indulgence letters from the Church encouraging the spread of the Catholic faith for these expeditions.

    Although a few Portuguese missionaries attempted to convert Africans by visiting the courts of the oba (king) of Benin and Mani-Kongo, their efforts did not result in the firm establishment of Christianity in these areas. As the Portuguese abandoned their plan to convert, Christianity made virtually no progress in Africa between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries.

    Europe became focused on the new and lucrative trade in slaves; Before the slaves left for the New World, missionaries now offered prayers to them on the coasts.

    Missionary zeal was rekindled during the late 1700s by the evangelical revival movement in Europe. Many evangelicals committed themselves to the task of Christianizing and “civilizing” the primitive, backward, and so-called “godless” races of Africa, encouraged by reports from explorers.

    There were two main areas of missionary concern for Africa: first, to teach native Africans the noble ways of life and second, to assist in encouraging Africans to abandon the inhumane trade of slaves.

    However, Europeans were well aware from the beginning that mission schools were required to introduce Western education to Africans in order for them to successfully convert and become civilized. The goal of the missionaries was to teach Africans about Christianity and use the Bible as the primary reference. For the missionaries, being able to read and comprehend the Bible became an essential metric for success.

    In West Africa, attached to castles in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, the first formal Western schools were established. There were three schools like this; The oldest was set up in Elmina in 1644 by the Dutch West Indian Company, and it was run by the Castle Chaplain to educate mulatto children for whom they felt responsible. The Dutch language, Dutch culture, and Christian education were to be provided to these children.

    The Danes established a school for mulattoes that was comparable to Elmina in 1722 at Christiansborg, also on the Gold Coast. Like Elmina, it was run by a Danish Resident Chaplain. Christiansborg, like Elmina, was dissatisfied, particularly due to the limited support it received from the Danish government.

    According to all accounts, the third school, which the English established in 1752 at Cape Coast, was the first truly mission school in West Africa. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) sent the Reverend Thomas Thompson, its founder, to England.

    It had a clerical curriculum. Philip Quaque, the third African sent by Reverend Thompson to England for instruction, returned to Cape Coast in 1766 as a missionary. He took charge of the Cape Coast School and reorganized it to teach “religious knowledge, reading, writing, and arithmetic”

    Instead of being coordinated beginnings of widespread educational systems, the three schools were started separately. Because they were originally intended to serve a small portion of the population—mulattoes and their children—their operations were quite irregular, and their courses were limited.

    Thomas Fowell Buxton, a prominent British parliamentarian and vice president of the CMS, had called for the government and missionary organizations to work together to “deliver” Africa.

    In the early 20th century, Joseph Shanahan, who was in charge of the Holy Ghost Fathers in Eastern Nigeria, stated: According to Jordan (1949), p. 94, “Those who hold the school hold the country, hold religion, and hold its future.” “We knew the best way to make the conversion in pagan countries was to open schools,” said Father Walter, a Catholic missionary in Western Nigeria.

    Almost every pagan boy requests to be baptized. Therefore, “we started schools even before there was any church or mission house” when the district of Ekiti-Ondo was established in 1916 (Abernethy 1969, p. 39). As Buxton and others have emphasized, education became evidently central to the missionaries’ efforts to achieve these objectives.

    It was argued that such education would enable the emergence of a generation of educated African middle-class elite who would become leaders in the church, business, industry, and politics in Africa. This would help reshape the African economy in favor of legitimate trade. Therefore, in 1827, the CMS established a regular training college for African clergy at Fourah Bay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in response to the upheaval of the time.

    The history of Western education in Sierra Leone, in contrast to the three earlier schools on the Gold Coast, was one of expansion, albeit occasionally hampered by the missionaries’ frequent deaths. In the end, Fourah Bay became a significant Western educational institution where many West Africans trained as clerical or educational professionals.

    Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Fourah graduate who was eventually ordained the first African bishop of the Anglican Church by the CMS, is perhaps the Fourah graduate with the most fame. After a successful private expedition up the Niger in 1857, Crowther was given the task of starting an evangelism mission in Africa. He later played a key role in the development of schools and missions in Eastern Nigeria. In 1891, Crowther died. However, by 1935, the CMS had established schools and missions in almost every region of Nigeria that is now Nigeria.


    Education is the heart of the development of every nation, and Nigeria is not exempted. We have looked at the history, epistemology, and philosophy of education in Nigeria. It is now your turn to provide feedback on what you understood. Kindly use the comment box below to provide your questions and suggestions as regarding Nigerian education.

    [1] Singh, M. (2015). Global Perspectives on Recognising Non-formal and Informal Learning: Why Recognition Matters. Springer-UNESCO.

    [2] Livingstone, D. W. (2005). Expanding conception of work and learning: Research and policy implications. In K. Leithwood, D. W. Livingstone, A. Cumming, N. Bascia, & A. Datnow (Eds.), International handbook of educational policy (pp. 977–996). New York: Kluwer Publishers.

    [3] Marshall, James D. (2006). “The Meaning of the Concept of Education: Searching for the Lost Arc”. Journal of Thought. 41 (3): 33–37.

    [4] Curtis, Will; Ward, Stephen; Sharp, John; Hankin, Les (6 December 2013). “1. What is education?”. Education Studies: An Issue-Based Approach. Learning Matters.

    [5] Noddings, N. (2010). Philosophy of Education. Stanford: Stanford University.

    [6] Curren, R. R. (2018), “Education, History of Philosophy of”, revised second version, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online.

    [7] Rorty, Amélie Oksenberg (ed.), (1998), Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives, New York: Routledge.

    [8] Fafunwa, A.B. (1974) History of education in Nigerian. London: George Allen And Unwin Ltd.

    [9] Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981 re-ed) National Policy on education. Lagos; Federal Ministry of Education.