Nigerian primary education problems

There are problems that faced Nigerian primary education during the first decade after Nigerian independence till date. Such problems as finance and pupils population affected the three regions immediately after independence.

In this blog post, I am going to discuss some of these issues bothering the growth and development of primary education in Nigeria and some possible solutions but before I go into that proper, I think it will be important if we first have a preamble on “The national policy on education” since it controls the education system as a whole.



National policy on education in Nigeria

The national policy on education (1981, revised) defines primary education as an institution for children aged normally between 6 and 11+.

This edition of the national policy on education rightly observed that since the rest of the education system is built upon it, the primary stage is the key to success or failure of the whole education system.

Under this assumption I however want to discuss the five (5) major issues bothering primary education – the most important educational stage.



    Language in education

One of the objectives of primary education in Nigeria is the inculcation of permanent literacy and ability to communicate effectively. This suggests that language plays a very important role in the process of both formal and informal education. Language is more than an instrument for working upon the feelings of others and for self expression. Thus the language of education actively affects the opportunities and possibilities of acquiring knowledge.

In the national policy on education (1981, revised) section 3, 15(H). It is claimed that “Government will see to it that the medium of instruction in the primary school is initially the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community and at a later stage, English” Obviously, the language of education significantly affects understanding. So a serious re-examination of our use of English as medium of instruction in our senior primary school (primary 4, 5 and six) is necessary.

Unfortunately, some institution starts as early as primary one to use the English language. Such schools punish any child who expresses his/herself with the mother tongue. I strongly recommend the use of vernacular as a medium of instruction in primary schools.



    Primary school enrolment and population in Nigeria

When Nigeria got her independent in 1960, the country had 2,912,000 pupils. In 1964, the number of primary schools pupils came slightly down to 2,849,500. Part of the explanation for this decline can be found in the unsettled political conditions that immediately followed independence. Between 1966 and 1970, it was not possible to estimate the growth of primary education in Nigeria.

Most educational statistics of that period clearly excluded their figures from the war affected areas. By 1971 however, the statistics indicated that Nigeria had 15,324 primary schools with 3,874,500 pupils. From then till 1974, the number of schools continued to decrease while population of pupils continued to grow steadily. This population explosion in Nigeria’s primary schools motivated the need for search for a mere effective organisational model for running Nigerian primary schools. The expansion that has characterized the primary education system started since 1974 when federal government of Nigeria announced a universal primary education. With this increase in number, the phenomenon of large schools and overcrowded classrooms began to be more noticeable than before.



    Financing of primary school in Nigeria

The northern region by the end of the first decade (1969) was approaching very cautiously the issue of free education for all her primary school children.

The eastern region had set up the Ikoku commission to help them find an alternative to free education in all primary school classes. They came up with a free-fee education for pupils in junior classes (primaries 1-3) while fees had to be paid for pupils in senior classes (primaries 4-6). The western region set up the Banjo commission which made some recommendation to stem the falling standard of education said to be the direct result of universal free primary education. Without break of the Nigerian civil war in 1967 and the collapse of the first republic, primary education was still a problem to all the region of the federation. However, the somade committee of 1969 recommended that federal government should take over the funding of primary education in Nigeria which they adopted and implemented. Unfortunately, after the first two years of the scheme, they had reportedly spent more than 1 billion naira (1,000,000,000 Naira) which led to the collapse of the programme. Reasons for the collapse are not far-fetched. The below listed factors rendered the federal government incapable of financing the universal free primary education in the country;

  • High incidence of corruption
  • Excessive inflation of contract overpricing and invoicing.
  • Poor planning and budget allocation on education

The government then pushed back the primary schools to state government. As of now, all the state government are grappling with the problem apparently without success.

“Some state government budget up to 30% of their recurrent expenditure to education and the payment of primary school teachers’ salaries gulps a greater percentage of the sectoral allocation”.

The various state governments have made many representations to federal government on the financial burden of the primary schools education. For this reason, the federal government had planned and taken another bold step over primary education. They (federal government) has started to absorb 65% of the recurrent expenditure of all the primary schools in the federation. This has likely lessened the burden of primary school education on the state government.



Different countries have objectives for primary education. Whatever the chosen objective may be, it is usually determined by the needs and circumstances of such a country. For example Fafunwa, Nigeria’s first professor of education saw the need of primary education in Nigeria as helping the child to

  • Master the three R’s of education (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic )
  • Develop sound standard of individual conduct and behaviour
  • Acquire some skills and appreciate the value of work.

Furthermore, the national policy on education (1981 revised) had prescribed the following curricular activities for the achievement of the state objective.

  • The inculcation of literacy and numeracy
  • The study of science and the study of the social norms and values of the local community and the country as a whole through civics and social studies,
  • The encouragement of aesthetic, creative and musical activities,
  • The teaching of local craft and domestic science and agriculture.

With such an ambitious curriculum for the Nigerian primary schools, there is the danger that as the primary school gets bigger and bigger, as a result of population and explosion; more organisational learning problems would emerge. Reports tend to show that some sampled primary school for scientific studies were finding difficult to meet the stated objectives of primary education in Nigeria. For example, a primary six pupil was finding it difficult to show evidence of permanent literacy and numeracy and the ability to communicate effectively.



    Guidance and counselling in Nigeria

Guidance aims and principles are concerned with helping an individual to become all that he is capable of becoming without regard to family, class or social conditions. Counselling aims at helping the pupil to become more effective in the solution of his problem. A close examination of the guidance and counselling tend to show the close relationship between it and the concepts of the objectives of primary education in Nigeria. This may explain why the national policy on education section 3 (10)c states that a number of teachers are undergoing service training in the area of guidance and counselling for primary school. Unfortunately, not enough have qualified to be deployed to the primary schools.

Early treatment of problem in the primary school stage might facilitate the development of responsibility, decision making skills and personal development of the child. The primary school counsellor has a very important part to play in the educational system.  His or her functions include:

  • Counselling individual pupils
  • Counselling group of pupils
  • Consulting with teacher, other school staff and parents
  • Evaluating the effectiveness and guidance program efforts.


If the objectives of primary schools all over Nigeria for example based on the statistics from the federal ministry of education, science and technology Lagos, Anambra state in 2005 had 2,885 primary institutions with 793,867 pupils. The American ratio for primary school counsellors is 250 – 300 pupils per counsellor; this would have left for Anambra state primary school about 2,646 counsellors. When one think of the number to service the 36 states of the federation, it then reveals why the provision of guidance counsellors is part of the major issues bothering primary school education in Nigeria.




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