Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 INDIGENOUS AFRICAN EDUCATION Dr. (Mrs. ) A. A. Jekayinfa General Principles of Education Education is a universal process occurring in all human societies involving a society passed on its culture, that is the social, ethical, intellectual, artistic and industrial attainments of the group by which it can be differentiated from another group. It therefore goes on informally and has deep roots in the environment in which it takes place.
No study of the history of education is complete without adequate knowledge of the traditional or indigenous education system prevalent in Africa before the introduction of Islam and Christianity. Every society whether simple or complex, has its own system for training its youth. When a society develops a process related to its environment and passes it on from generation to generation. It becomes peculiar to the members and the environment (Fafunwa, 1974) and may then be safely referred to as indigenous.
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Thus arises the term indigenous education. Some of the underlying principles of education in different societies may be dissimilar, but in all cases they are worked out to give every individual the opportunity of growing normally in his society, of acquiring skills with which he can feed himself and his family and of contributing usefully to the common weal. Some societies emphasise some attributes more than the others in the process of achieving this standard aim of education.
Thus, while most of the developing societies kill curiosity in their children by restricting their desire to question adults, the more advanced societies encourage their own children to be inquisitive. People believe that this is partly responsible for most of the inventions. From the study of systems of education in different societies, we know that the environment, the circumstances of the people and what they are struggling to achieve, have effects on the principles of indigenous education.
Thus in the ancient world, the Athenians and the Spartans formulated different principles for bringing up their children. In the same way, societies of the third world such as Nigeria and other African countries, where indigenous education is struggling for survival against imported systems of education, had formulated different principles for educating their young ones. Such societies exist throughout the world but out attention here is focused on those in Africa generally and in particular in Nigeria as practical examples for our present purpose.
Broadly speaking, they can be said to be homogeneous of the fact that their environment Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 and certain body characteristics and also their social organization are not too dissimilar. African traditional education is the type of education that was prevalent in African societies before the introduction of the western European type of education. It was a kind of informal education in which all the members of the community were involved. Generally, the youth learn by imitating the ways of life and activities of the elderly members of the society.
For example, the young boys learnt the art of farming by following their fathers and other male elders to the farm and watching how these leaders cleared the land, planted, nurtured and harvested the crops. Later the young ones participated in these activities. Similarly, the girls learnt domestic work by watching and imitating how their mothers and other female elders in the community carried out their domestic chores; for example, how mothers took care of babies and children-bathing and feeding the baby, putting him on her back and rocking him to sleep.
As Fafunwa (1974) observed; functionalism’ is the guiding principle of African traditional education. This is true of the early Greek education particularly Spartan education which also emphasized functionalism. In other words, Africa traditional education, like Spartan education is aimed at making the individual a useful member of the community. This may explain why traditional African Society regarded education as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Education was therefore intended to be a gradual process of induction, into the society and a preparation for adult life and responsibility.
It was sometimes a preparation for a peaceful death or a happy end. The principle of functionalism, goes along with the principle of self development. The principle of self-development is characteristic of African indigenous education. The child is given every opportunity to do things by himself under the direction and protection of the adult. It is believed that each child has his own talents which he must develop but not until he has found out and experienced what happens in the society into which he is born.
It is after this that he can take up innovations without embarrassing himself and the members of his family. Before and during adolescence, he has to go through the a series of initiation ceremonies to make sure that he understands the ways and wherefores of what happens within his society and also that he makes use of all the opportunities available as required by the society. Communalism was another principle characteristic of African traditional education. Members of the community shared what they had and did things in common. They had their common markets, play-grounds and shrines.
They as one, were involved in participation education through various kinds of ceremonies and local festivals. They also together hunted for animals, went fishing sold products of their farms, drummed and danced, wrestled and sometimes, together engaged in some kinds of acrobatic or intellectual activities. The education of the African Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 child or adult was therefore a continuous activity and every member of the society was involved in it by passing on and/or learning what needs to be learnt in the society.
It is a time-honoured principles and practice in almost all African societies that no individual has the right to exist unto himself alone. (Fafunwa, 1974). Everybody has to develop within the society and interact with others for the well being of the society in general. This is why communalism forms the basic philosophy on ownership of property, defence and other aspects of social life. Right from birth, the child is made to realize that his lot is tied on to that of the community which includes himself, his mates, the elders, the souls of the departed and generations unborn.
Consequently, if he happens to default, he would realize the full implications of it, that it does not end with those whom he sees and talks to but also those he cannot see but who see him and follow his actions in details.. The principle allows one to own property and to be individualistic to a certain extent but not all the time. You are trained to share your property, even clothes, with others. ‘ This sounds unhygienic but there are. safeguards to control this, theft and abuse of such privileges.
Under this, same principle, land and landed property were not individually owned but held in trust for the community by the acknowledged head through whom heads of families also held them in trust for individuals who could use them at will but were not allowed by personal claims. In the African indigenous educational system, a child is made to appreciate his role as a member of this immediate and extended family as well as that of the community at large. The early education of an African child is the responsibility of everyone in his immediate environment.
When he is old to learn a specific trade, particularly in the field that is not an hereditary profession, he is sent out as an apprentice to a master tradesman who mayor may not be a friend of the family (Fafunwa, 1974). According to Fafunwa (1974), age – groups are generally engaged in communal work.. They may help other members in clearing, planning and harvesting or ‘help the community at large in road-building, or the chief of the community in performing a given task or assignment. Under this same principle of communalism, people learnt thrift through the ‘Esusu’ system, otherwise known as the Thrift Societies.
The thrift system is modernized today in the form of different co-operative and thrift societies. The principle of communalism helped in educating the Nigerian youth to assist their relatives or neighbours when they are in difficulty. They do this by making contribution levied by their age groups, chief or any other adult member of the society or extended family in the traditional society, each household is a socio-economic entity. Everybody is his brother’s keeper. Moments of joy or sorrow are shared by everyone. One person’s ceremony is everybody’s ceremony.
Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 The third principle or characteristic of African traditional education is the basic acceptance of the existence of a Supreme Being who co-ordinates all natural phenomena as they affect man. This is infact the origin of religion everywhere. It cannot therefore be lumped up with a characteristic like communalism because it is universal in essence. In almost all African societies it is believed that the Supreme Being should be reached through some intermediary such as Jesus in Christianity, Mohammed in Islam or Buddha in Buddhism.
This is made to form the basis of authority in domestic and public relationships and helps to maintain justice, probity and mutual trust in society generally. Therefore, the duty of anyone educating children for the society is to lay emphasis on this. It is religious as it affects relationships and social interactions. The inclusion of these three principles along with the need for the acquisition of basic skills to earn a living makes the full complement of traditional African education. The skills and method of learning of course differ from place to place as these depend on the climatic and geographical conditions.
In African indigenous education, the family is the first school of every child and the mother is the first and principal teacher for the first-five or six years. From about six years, some educational work is passed on to older members of the nuclear and extended family. From about that age, a boy is ‘usually ‘passed to an uncle rather than the father to begin his apprenticeship as a farmer, fisherman or craft man. The girl stays with a woman where she learns ho to obey and pay special attention to house-keeping. The duration of apprenticeship is only broadly uniform.
In the case of farming, it lasts until the young man is about to marry. A full traditional African education and upbringing is not completed, until the late twenties or early thirties. By that time, one would have had opportunity, for satisfactory home training, acquisition of practical skills to earn a living, development of moral composure as well as respectable and reliable knowledge of one’s environment. In all cultures, education is a long, and often trial and error process towards the improvement of the individual status.
Where it is systematized, it needs constant refurbishing to make it cater adequately for all its citizen. Where it is not systematized, it relies on oral tradition and the elders of the society to pass on the culture, an don the cooperation of the family heads to keep up the tradition. Each culture has formulated procedures to suit its environment for growth and development (Fafunwa, 1974). Fafunwa also claimed that the aim of indigenous African education is multilateral and the end objective is to produce an individual who is honest, respectable, skilled, cooperative and conforms . to the social order of the. ay. According to him, seven main objectives of indigenous African education can be identified as follows: Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 ?To develop the child’s. latent physical skills ?To develop character ?To inculcate respect for elders and those in position of authority ? To develop intellectual skills ?To acquire specific vocational training and to develop a healthy attitude towards honest labour. ?To develop a sense of belonging and to participate in family and community affairs ? To understand, appreciate and promote the cultural heritage of the community at large. Fafunwa, 1974, p. 20) Physical Training The African child likes to explore his immediate environment, observe adults when doing their activities and imitate them. Through games, dancing and the like, the African child develops physically. He is always eager to try new things. Character Training One of the hallmarks of indigenous African education is character training. Fafunwa (1974) was of the opinion that it is the cornerstone of African education. Majasan (1967) believed that the two main objectives of Yoruba education are character training and religious education.
He was of the opinion that all objectives are subsumed in them. All the members of the family are responsible for training the younger ones to be honest, humble, persevering and of good report at all times. The child was taught directly by telling him what to do on certain occasions and by correcting him when he goes wrong. The child can also be taught indirectly by learning from the punishment given to other people that were non-conformists. There are proverbs and folktales in Nigeria on moral and ethical behaviour.
Severe punishment is inflicted on young offenders to serve as a deterrent to others on acts likely to bring disrepute to the family. The young ones are taught about hospitality, etiquette, endurance and other good behaviours. Respect for Elders Respect for elders is closely related to character training African society attaches great importance to respect for those that are older than one, to those who are in authority, particularly the Obas, Chiefs Old neighbours and relatives. One aspect of respect is the complicated greeting systems and methods for categories of people.
There are various greeting systems for people and among different ethnic groups in Nigeria. There are peculiar ways of greeting the Chiefs, Obas, father, mother and relatives. Drummers dancer, singers etc. signal greetings to important Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 personalities, friends and even enemies through their respective media. According to Fafunwa (1974), the Africans have the most complicated verbal and physical communication system and the child must master the various salutations of his own ethnic group before reached maturity.
Other aspects of African indigenous education are intellectual training, vocational training and promotion of the cultural heritage. These and other training are geared to meeting the basic needs of the child within the society. Fafunwa (1974) was of the opinion that traditional education is not any more conservative than any other system. He concluded that the strength and weaknesses of any system can best be judged by the relative’ happiness of the masses of people who go through it. There are lots of merits and demands of African traditional education. Below are some of them.
Merits of Indigenous African Education: 1. It promotes transfer of culture, traditions and experiences from one generation to another. 2. It makes children learn how to establish relationship with other people and to exercise control over their emotions in line with accepted norms of the society. 3. It inculcates respect for the Supreme Being and Elders. Demerits of Indigenous African Education: 1. It is a rigid system in the sense that it is not easily adapted to change. The same body of experience and knowledge is’ passed on from generation to generation without critical appraisal. . The training is unquestionable. Children can neither discuss nor argue about anything but have to accept whatever the elders say without question. 3. Too much secrecy surrounds the contents of traditional education. Knowledge is by no means held in common, and knowledge, like the curing ,of a disease which could be of benefit to the whole community, may be jealously guarded. 4. The system instills fear in the children because they are threatened with dangerous repercussion should they violate any of the underlying custom. 5.
The vocational training is time-wasting Le it takes unnecessarily too long a time to learn a particular trade like drumming and dyeing. 6. Technical or technological change is not likely to develop quickly. 7. It tends to be a closed system. It is anti-scientific i. e anything novel is mysterious, either to be feared or worshipped. Scientific innovations, machines etc. are viewed with admiration and awe. Perspectives on the History of Education in Nigeria, 2008 8. The effects of traditional education cannot be accurately assessed or evaluated. Since there are no schools, teachers, syllabuses etc. , in the sense hat we know them, Le. it is not possible to measure comprehensively the progress of the individual pupil. Tutorial Questions 1. Discuss the nature and objectives of the Traditional African Education 2. What are the merits and demerits of the indigenous African Education 3. Can the Indigenous African Education be modified? Give suggestions for the modification References Fafunwa, A. B. (1974): History of Education in Nigeria London. George Allen and Unwin Ltd. Majasan, J. A. (1974): Yoruba Education: Its Principles, Practices and Relevance to Current Development. Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, University of Ibadan.