Modupe Adefeso-Olateju: In the beginning was the philosophy of education – Part 4 (Y! Policy Hub)

by Modupe Adefeso-Olateju

Mo Adefeso (Y! Policy Hub)

Looking ahead: expedient next steps

In the three previous articles in this series, the history, features and context of the Nigerian philosophy of education were re-examined.  Whilst the depth of thought that generated the philosophy is commendable, the growing realisation is that of the need to systematically and deliberately re-align it such that it is clearly and appropriately reflected in policy and practice. In this vein, this final part in the series suggests the following recommendations as priority areas:

  1. Defining national identity:  There is need for a definition of the term ‘Nigeria’ that is drawn from deep within the peoples’ collective histories and their expectations of the future. It is not a snapshot of the status quo, but rather the notion of who we really ought to be given all that characterises us. It is identifying the answer to the question: If Nigeria ceased to exist, what good or benefit would the world lack?  This thought was similarly articulated in the report of the first curriculum conference:

‘It is important for the Federation (of Nigeria) to define its national purpose before it can clearly define its educational purpose.   Nigeria’s educational purpose is the same as its national purpose: to create a good society and good life for all its members and to use all; the intellectual and moral resources man has developed, all the resources he is capable of developing in the pursuit of this goal’.  (W. O. Briggs in  Adaralegbe and Nigeria Educational Research Council, 1972: xx)

Careful observation reveals that Nigeria is positioned and resourced to be a ‘giver-nation’; a supplier country.  It is uniquely positioned (at the heart of Africa where it is easily accessible by land, sea and air), resourced (with a large, diverse and talented population) and endowed (with rich natural resources and an agreeable climate) to provide human and natural resources to the rest of the world.  Anecdotally, Nigeria boasts of skilled manpower in every country of the world.  Its citizens continue to use their skills, talents and training to improve the lot of other countries. 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa and yet it continues to be a heavily import-reliant continent.  Nigeria as an African nation is richly endowed agriculturally yet 70% of its population subsists in poverty while the rest rely to a large extent on imports for their sustenance.  A nation that ought to feed the world has become dependent on the world to feed it! Clearly this is a perversion of purpose.  Nigeria is designed to be a country that cultivates its resources both to sustain its population and to supply to others.  This self-reliant disposition can be nurtured in the vast youth populace through education and training.  The implementation of the curricula and syllabi ought to reflect this by providing opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will position young citizens to actively pursue careers in value-added natural resource development.  For example, greater attention need so be paid to developing competencies in industrial agriculture, export-based industry, impact sourcing and entrepreneurship, all enabled on the platform of cutting edge technology. Again in the words of W. O. Briggs’ at the opening address of the conference in 1969:

This country would no doubt be a happier, peaceful and contented place if we would ensure suitable employment for all its citizens. There is much to be done, and yet thousands of our people are unemployed. We must have full knowledge of our natural resources, both human and material. What is the extent of our mineral wealth and how varied is it? How can we exploit these resources and derive from them the fullest benefit for our people? How long will they last? What are the potentialities our natural products? How can we maximise the productivity of the soil, and ensure reasonable prices for our produce in the world market?[1]

  1. Supporting families: Ideally, character building and values orientation begin at home and are reinforced in the school.  How children behave and perform academically is largely a reflection of the attributes that characterise their homes and families.  Beyond providing education subsidies to public schools, there has been little systematic support for families as they function in these fundamental roles. Persistent poverty and high rates of illiteracy in the country further constrain the capability of parents and families to nurture all-round development of the child.  The 1969 curriculum conference report did not explicitly define how families should be directly and indirectly supported in these responsibilities but there is now need to discuss how parents and families can receive assistance that will enable them to facilitate character development and academic learning of their children.
  2. Monitoring and Evaluation: Given that a country’s educational philosophy is observable not only through its policy declarations but also through practice, it is expedient that a monitoring system be established to review education policy and practice, monitor progress towards goals, and to systematically review the national education philosophy over time.  It is simplistic to suggest an independent think tank charged with holding each unit of the education sector to account – although this can be considered desirable in an idealistic world.  What is more feasible is ensuring that there is a careful and independent monitoring mechanism constituted of education philosophers, policy makers, legal practitioners and education practitioners including teachers. This dynamic group should critically engage with the philosophy and ensure that it is effectively diffused to the level of policy and practice. They should be responsible for holding the education sector to account and helping to disentangle policy-making from politics.  Clear targets for human resource development should be set – including the number of professionals and artisans to be trained annually – and progress towards achieving ambitious but realistic goals should be monitored.
  3. Enhancing teacher capabilities:  As far back as 1969, the dearth of competent teachers was a national challenge.  Today, many train as teachers only as a last resort, and several teachers are in fact untrained.  The philosophy for education called for teachers who had,

‘a calling, a vocation for the job; a love for the profession, a love for the ignorant child – the child who needs aid; a tolerant attitude to the difficult child as well as to the child who knows it all and the good child and a training for the profession either through instruction in a training college or under older hands or both.‘[2] Olatunde Lawrence

Although it is now considered inappropriate to place value judgements of good or bad on a child, the spirit in which this call was issued must be revived.  The world’s most effective education systems are characterised by the belief that teaching is a noble and esteemed profession. In educationally advanced countries such as Finland and South Korea, there is a culture of attracting talent into teaching – only high academic achievers are recruited as teachers and they are appropriately compensated.  Also evident, and more interesting, is a drive to identify people with an innate disposition for teaching and attract them to the profession. ‘Teachers are the product of the system in which they work…and yet it is only through them that it can be reformed.’[3]  Teachers are therefore not meant to be passive receptors of education policy but active shapers of same. For Nigeria to leap ahead in national development, these virtuous teacher characteristics need to be imbibed.



Education should prepare us for a changing society and should itself generate social change…It behoves us therefore to ensure that our children are adequately prepared today, so that they may find suitable answers to meet the needs and challenges of tomorrow. Social change does not necessarily mean the abandonment of our social institutions, customs and cultural heritage. These constitute the soul of a nation and our educational system should show us how best to preserve them in their best form. W. O. Briggs [4]

Education not only serves to position citizens to effectively develop and mobilise individual and social competencies, but in an ever-changing world, also aids repositioning for social change. Education should motivate people to challenge what they know, what they think they have and where they are as individuals and as a collective.

The philosophy of education cannot be disentangled from the vision for the future and must derive from the philosophy of the nation  (Adaralegbe and Nigeria Educational Research Council, 1972). Revisiting the education philosophy highlights the role of education in the past and provides a launch pad for effectively projecting into the future. If Nigeria is to be positioned for local and global greatness, this re-examination and re-alignment needs to be approached with urgency and determination.



Adaralegbe, A. and Nigeria Educational Research Council. (1972). A philosophy for Nigerian education : proceedings of the Nigeria National Curriculum Conference, 8-12 September, 1969. Ibadan ; London: Heinemann.

[1] W. O. Briggs in Adaralegbe and Nigeria Educational Research Council, 1972: xix

[2] Olatunde Lawrence in Adaralegbe and Nigeria Educational Research Council, 1972: 44

[3] S. J. Cookey in Adaralegbe and Nigeria Educational Research Council, 1972: xxx

[4] W. O. Briggs in Adaralegbe and Nigeria Educational Research Council, 1972: xix


Modupe Adefeso-Olateju is an Education Policy Consultant, with expertise in public and private school effectiveness, and the design of Public-Private Partnerships in Education. She holds a PhD in Education and International Development from the Institute of Education, University of London. Modupe sits on the board of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council London, and is passionate about helping young people fulfil their academic and career potential.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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