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Resuscitating Yoruba Traditional Education

By Abdul-Lateef Solihu


The advent of Western education in Nigeria dates back to the 19th century when the first cohort of Christian Missionary set their feet on the coasts of Southern Nigeria, after which the slave trade boom had led to exportation of a large number of Africans to Europe. As unfolded by historians, this Christian Missionary claimed to have come to wipe out the remnant of atrocities perpetrated by slave traders, thereby establishing Western education as the vehicle through which their evangelical missions would be accomplished.

Many Nigerians were made to embrace Christianity, and then trained for English literacy as a prerequisite for propagating evangelism. Some of these trainees ended it up shouldering the task of translating the bible into indigenous languages, while a host of others assumed the position of catechists in their various established parishes.

Heretofore, most of the Northern parts consisting of empires and chiefdoms had their traditional educational system built on Islamic tenets (Ozigi & Ucho, 1981). Whereas, both the South-West and South-East Nigeria, with their politically autonomous empires and chiefdoms had a full-fledged traditional education system with similar aims and objectives (Taiwo, 1980).

Contrary to the Western education, the Nigerian traditional education was informally implemented, putting into account the premise that all the elderly in the society are equally responsible to educate the younger ones. However, the penetration of Western education marked the beginning of the decline of Nigerian traditional education system as its wider acceptance (especially in the South) inhibits the former from achieving its objectives to the fullest.

In a general worldview, education is conceptualized as the process by which teachers convey knowledge, skills and information to students. Given its etymology, the term education is derived from the Latin, ‘educare’ meaning ‘to bring up’, ‘to nurture’, ‘to rear’ and so on. This represents a comprehensive process of nurturing a child by adult members of the family and society which transcends what schools only can deliver since it involves the elderly both in the family and the society (Ayanleke & Akinwale, 2013).

With this point of view, education indisputably covers the transmission of culture and values of a particular society from the elderly ones to the younger generation. Therefore, enshrouded with Western culture and ideology, Western education has inculcated the alien culture and ideology in the minds of Africans, thereby causing them to overlook their values and legacies. Chinweizu (1978), who refers to this phenomenon as miseducation, enumerates some of the repercussions of Western education on Africans as thus:

It was a miseducation which, under the mystique of “Modernizing” me into some “civilized” condition, had worked to infect me with intellectual meningitis that would twist my cultural spine, and rivet my admiring gaze upon Europe and the West. It was a miseducation which sought to withhold from me the memory of our true African past and to substitute instead an ignorant shame for whatever travesties Europe chose to present as the African past. It was a miseducation which sought to quarantine me from all influences, ancient as well as contemporary, which did not emanate from, or meet with the imperial approval of, western “civilization” (p. xiv-xv).


Marrying Yoruba Traditional Education with its Western Counterpart

As a matter of fact, a complete duplication of Western education in Nigeria has left an adverse effect on its end products since the majority of educated Nigerians lag behind in the appreciation of their African cultural values and traditions. For instance, a multitude of Yoruba people would find it challenging to comprehend some of the discourses held in their mother tongue whereby literary devices are employed to showcase the beauty of their forefathers’ legacies. Some even go to the extreme by bartering their traditions for Western ways of life to such an extent of underestimating their traditional identities bequeathed from generations to generations.

Like any other African traditional education, Yoruba native education as successful in implanting the following ethical values in the minds of children: belief in God, respect for God’s creatures, respect for nature, respect for elderly ones, respect for others, knowledge of language, knowledge of family’s ancestral home, knowledge of family roles, love for children, hard work, spirit of sharing and cooperation, avoidance of crime and conflict, love of humor, success through hard work, skills in hunting and farming, responsibility to the largest community, and defense of fatherland (Ayanleke and Akinwale, 2013).

The uniqueness of Yoruba traditional education is echoed in its targeted outcome codenamed in Yoruba as iwa. The end product of all the guidance received by the young ones both at home and outside home is being able to attain a status of the so-called ‘Omoluabi’ meaning ‘a well-mannered person’ in the manner that aligns with the requirements of their indigenous socio-cultural environment and with respect for other people’s values and sensibilities.

Hence, the need to marry Yoruba traditional education with its Western counterpart in school curriculum is indispensable given the importance of preserving our vanishing values and competing with other nations in all that it takes to achieve prominence in this era of scientific and technological breakthrough.



Chinweizu, I. (1978). The West and the Rest of Us. Lagos: NOK.

Ozigi, A. & Ocho, L. (1981). Education in Northern Nigeria. London: George Allen and Unwin Publishers Ltd.

Taiwo, C.O. (1980). The Nigerian Educational System. Lagos: Thomas Nelson Nigeria Limited.

Akinwale, A.R. (2013). Yoruba Traditional Education System: A Veritable Tool for Salvaging the Crisis Laden Education System in Nigeria