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Education in Kano

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Education in Kano



Web page written by Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu, Bayero University,Kano, Nigeria. You can contact Prof. Adamu at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Previously written also for, which was sponsored by Kano Forum (Inuwar Jama’ar Kano), Kano, Nigeria.


Education, Schooling and the Social Response in Kano, 1910-1985


This page presents a rather simplified account of the social response to general schooling in Kano. It briefly analyses the social context of schooling in Kano State from 1910 to 1985.

Section I: Social Response To Education in Kano Before Independence


 Historical Antecedents

Kano State, one of the nineteen states of the Nigerian federation, is located in far Northern Nigeria (see frontispiece map). It was carved out of the former Northern Region in 1968. The people are predominantly rural with “up to 80 per cent of the state’s population actively involved in agricultural production” (Kano State 1981a p.82). The state is also the most populous in Nigeria, because although the official census taken in 1963 puts the population of Kano province at 5.77 million,


“federal projections made predicted an estimated 8.91 million inhabitants by 1980. However, the commonly accepted population figure for today is 10 million people.” (Kano State 1981a p.19)


Like in the rest of Nigeria, accurate and exact population figures are not available and what is given is based on projections and estimates. And despite its agrarian status, “Kano enjoys one of the highest industrial growth rates in Nigeria, ranking second after lagos (the capital)” (Kano State 1981a p.95)


The single most powerful striking social feature of Kano State is its Islamic nature. The 1963 census records Kano as having a Muslim population of 97.4% (Kano State 1974). With this background, no meaningful study of any aspect of development in the state can take place without considering that Islamic religion plays the dominant role in the way people perceive life in Kano.


Islamic became firmly established in Kano in about 1360 (Hogben and Kirk-Greene 1966), and with it, a system of education based entirely on Quranic teaching was also established in a significant part of Northern Nigeria. And this became the main mechanism of training and character formation for young people before and after the colonial arrival of the British in the Northern Region in 1903.


In order to defuse the possibility of an uprising as occurred in other parts of the colonial empire with strong Islamic culture (Sudan and Egypt, for instance), the British adopted a tactical policy of pledging non-intervention in religious affairs of the Northern peoples, especially the Muslims, upon their arrival and subsequent subjugation of Northern emirates in 1903 (Graham 1966).


This pledge involved preventing Christian missionaries from establishing schools in Islamic areas of the North, although they were given free access to “pagan” areas of the North and Southern Nigeria by the colonial administration. The consequence of this was the spread of Christianity and modern education to all areas in Nigeria except the Muslim areas because up till then, the formal system of education necessary for modern development was provided by Christian missionaries who used the education as the main strategy for getting converts.


This identification of modern education with Christian doctrine remains the major historical reason for the non-acceptance of modern education among Muslim Northern Nigeria - and which has political consequences for the entire country after Nigerian independence from the British in 1960.


Moreover, in a area where Islam has been established as a way of life for centuries, the modern system of education was not considered relevant to this way of life. For instance, in 1900 when the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was established by the British Colonial government,


“Lord Lugard estimated that there were 20,000 Koranic schools, in which no less than 250,000 pupils were being taught. That the way of life lacked many of the essentials necessary to a country to take its place among the countries of the world, there is no doubt, that a high order of civilized life existed before the days of the occupation is equally evident.” (Williams 1960 p.6)


But to interact more meaningfully with the people they rule, the British needed to establish a system of education and training which will provide some basic mechanism of furthering their administrative objectives (Allen 1969). It was clear such system of education must not identify with the Christian doctrine, and if it cannot be made in a way the potential students will identify with it, then it should not alienate them either.


The quite revolutionary - for a colonial government - plans of establishing a schooling system along these lines were initiated in 1909, and in 1910 the colonial administration appointed Hanns Vischer the first Director of Education for the Northern Region to start two schools in Kano


“first at Nassarawa on land given by the Emir and later in Kano City...and flourished and fulfilled their purpose in a marked degree, even though they had at first to deal with pupils aged 6 to 40. For these schools came at first a dribble, which developed into a steady flow of trained teachers, literates of the ruling class and skilled artisans. That the flow never became a flood is due to the first world war. Wars and economic recession have dogged the development of education in Northern Nigeria and no less than three serious crises have occurred.” (Williams 1960 p.10)


The establishment of these schools summarizes the intensity of the struggles that went into attempts to encourages the local populace to send their children to school generally in the Northern Region among the Muslim communities.


The Social Response

Almost seventy years after those pioneer schools were established in Kano in 1910, the dribble remained almost the same. For instance, in 1985, the total school population of the students in post primary institutions was 114,487 spread over 206 secondary schools, teacher training colleges, commercial schools, technical schools and vocational centres. Of the 169 secondary schools, 45 were “grammar” or Senior Secondary Schools (Grade 10-12) while the rest of the 124 were Junior Secondary Schools. The number of students in the Senior Secondary Schools was 47,007. This represented some 41% of the entire post primary population, while 34,529 or 30% of the students were in the newly established (in 1982) Junior Secondary Schools (Kano State 1985b).


These figures can only be appreciated better if the entire population of the children of the secondary school age in Kano is considered. The 1963 census places the 10-19 year old population of Kano at 1,350,235 out of a total population of 5.77 million[1].


This was 23% of the population (Kano State 1974). Assuming these figures remained static, and represent a constant number of children of that age in Kano every year, with a total number of children in post primary institutions at 114,487, only 8% were attending these schools.


But this actually represents an increase over the 1963 school population figures. In 1963, there were a total of 2465 students spread into six secondary grammar schools (1233), five technical and vocational schools (260) and two technical training colleges (972). This represents 1.8% of the 1,350,235 children in Kano of school age (Kano State, 1970). The general trend of enrollment over the years since 1976 when the moves to establish the Science Schools as potential solutions to the problem of education as a social service in Kano State were made to 1984 is shown in Table 4.1


Table 1: Post-Primary School Enrollment In Kano State, 1976-1984




% Attendance





























(Source: Kano State 1981b, 1985b, 1986b. Percentage attendance computed from given 10-19 year population (1,350,235) in Kano State in 1963).


The most significant feature of Table 4.1 is the persistently low percentage of enrollment of students in various post primary institutions in Kano State over the years in relation to the post primary school age population. This becomes a compelling political and social problem in that the basis for satisfying manpower requirements for modernization is simply not available.


An indication of the persistence of this problem for many decades in Kano after the Nigerian independence is shown in a report where the Governor of Kano State


“blamed the shortage of indigenous manpower in the state on parents who refused to allow their children to go to school.” (Sunday Triumph 23 September 1984)


And because government is committed to programmes of social transformation requiring educated manpower, the State government often had to resort to drastic measures to enforce parents to send their children to schools. In one instance, it was reported,


“twenty six parents have been taken to courts in Kano State because they refused to send their children to school. The state government had only recently warned parents to either send their children to school or face ‘unpleasant consequences’. The trail judge warned and discharged them on the understanding that they would send their children to school immediately. The parents were warned that if they continue to refuse to send their children to school, they would be sent to jail. Some traditional rulers have also been involved in the campaign to persuade unwilling parents to send their children to school.” (New Nigerian Wednesday 4th July 1984 p.16)


It is interesting to note the persistence of this problem of getting parents to send their children to schools, long after it has become obviously clear there was no longer any formal association between modern education and Christianity; and despite concessions such as the early introduction of Islamic Religious Knowledge in the school curriculum.


But since modern education has been identified as necessary for modern nation-building, it became imperative for the Kano State government to find ways of making it more acceptable. The fundamental strategy adopted by the Kano State government to achieve this was to make education as free as possible for Kano State indigenes. This case was presented by the Governor of Kano who in interview in 1984 argued against fees or levies in education in Kano:


“if we say we are going to impose a levy on education or school fees we must remember that in some areas we still have to chase people to go to school and even if they go you have no guarantee they will stay because once the rain season comes their parents will just withdraw them automatically. We are now battling to make them understand how important it is for them to acquire education. If you impose a levy you are jeopardizing your chances of getting children to go to school.” (New Nigerian Wednesday 25th April 1984 p.3)


This strategy, far more attractive than threats of incarcerating errant parents, became the basis for wider provisions in general education through a system of generous scholarship provisions for Kano State students, especially those wishing to study science and technological disciplines in institutes of higher learning.

Section II: The Education Review Committees

Other strategies of identifying, and more importantly, coming up with a lasting solution to the use of education to solve the developmental problems in Kano adopted by the government were in the establishment of various education committees since the creation of Kano in 1968 from the former Northern Region. The first major education committee was established in 1975 after a military change in government. In his first broadcast to Kano State on 5th August 1975, the new Military Governor announced,


“education will be placed on the top priority of my government’s development projects as it is my firm belief that the development of human resources should form the corner stone of all our development. I will ensure that education spreads at all levels throughout the state. To this effect, I shall set up a body to examine and report to me on all aspects of educational development in the State with special emphasis on our areas of weaknesses.” (Kano State 1978 p.9)


As a first step, the Kano State Education Review Committee, the Galadanchi Committee, was set up by the Kano State government “to review all aspects of education in Kano State to so that improvements could be affected.” (Kano State 1976a p.1). The Committee was given eleven terms of references, the first two of which formed the backbone of the Committee’s objectives where the Committee was asked to


1.      Examine the causes for relatively slow educational progress in the state and make recommendations for speedy improvement. In this respect, you should identify the most backward parts o the State and suggest remedial measures.

2.      Examine the content, method of teaching and relevance of our school curricula and see how these affect the falling standards in our schools and make recommendations for improvement.” (Kano State 1976a p.1)


The Committee submitted its Report in January 1976. The Report dwelt on historical factors and identified a general resistance to western education in kano due to historical links between modern education and the early Christian Missionaries in Nigeria. Its recommendations for the first term of reference included suggesting


1.      Efforts should be made to make the general public aware of the fact that education can and should be pursued for its own sake. It should not be seen as means of getting a job through which to earn a livelihood.

2.      Attempts should also be made to separate western education from religious education and to show the general public that this type of education is not in anyway leading them towards or converting them to Christianity.” (Kano State 1976a p.7)


The government issued a White Paper on the report of the Education Review Committee in June 1976. The government accepted the recommendations of the committee in its first term of reference. In responding to the committee’s recommendations on the second term of reference, the government came to following decisions:


1.      The government will set up a committee of experts within the Ministry of Education to make recommendations on the detailed contents of the course of instruction at the Primary and post primary levels, on methods of instruction an on review of textbooks for all course. The Committee will examine these matters with reference to practices prevailing in other States so as to suggest modifications and innovations which would be in the best interest of the State.

2.      A fact which did not attract adequate attention of the Committee but which has been a matter of extreme concern for the government is th the poor quality of science education in the state. This had led to lack of diversification of course in the state’s secondary education, discouraged entry of students of Kano State origin in science courses at degree levels in the universities, and inhibited the growth of skilled manpower. Government is therefore taking steps to improve science education in all secondary schools in line with the new 3:3 system of secondary education to be introduced form September 1977.” (Kano State 1976b p.5)


It is interesting the Kano State government White Paper was more concerned about the role of science education as an agency of social advancement than the Committee report. It is also significant the government expressed a lack of confidence in the education it provides by describing the science education in Kano then as of “poor quality.” Indeed as the government observed later,


“The present acute shortage of manpower in Kano Sate results largely from the lack of the right kind of educational facilities. In more of our secondary schools, the available science teaching facilities, laboratories, equipment, materials compared against actual school requirements are far too inadequate. In almost all secondary school there is a general shortage of qualified science teachers. The students going into secondary schools do not appear to appreciate the career prospects of personnel with the needed science qualifications. “ (Kano State 1979b p.138)


It is interesting the government made these observations by itself - actually expressing a crisis of confidence in its own provisions for attainment of the educational outcomes it would have preferred.


And although the idea of Science Schools possible solutions to the problems identified by the government White Paper should have emerged from the Galadanchi Committee (its main task is to identify solutions), it is even more significant it did not, even though the Committee was made aware of the nature of the problem when it was gathering its data. As the Secretary of the Committee, Alhaji Ado Gwaram recalled,


“The idea of Science Schools did not come from the findings of the Galadanchi Committee. Some Kano scientists such as Professor Ibrahim Umar (former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University) did appear at the Committee. In particular Ibrahim Umar made several pleas and appeals for doing something about secondary science. He didn’t say ‘do the Science Board.’ But he said you cannot continue a base that has no science attached to it. So our attention had been drawn to the uselessness of doing things the way we were doing them, by eminent people saying look you cannot develop without science. That awareness had been made clear to us by very many people. But directly that we should set up a Science Secondary School was not recommendation of the Galadanchi Committee.” (Interview 22/2/1978)


Thus considering the amount of evidence given by practitioners concerning the role of science in development during the most fundamental educational review committee in Kano, it is curious recommendations which bear elements of the Science Schools philosophy were made by the government directly.


There is no doubt with such low enrollment in schools (as indicated by Table 4.1), the Kano State government needs to determine ways of increasing the number of children attending schools to provide a basis for sufficient manpower from Kano State in science and technological disciplines. This became more so with the weakening of the Nigerian economy from the late 1970s which reduces the ability of all the State governments to recruit expatriate manpower from overseas. However, what is equally important is a long term solution which will turn out to be cost-effective in the final analysis and serves the intellectual needs of the learners.


The next Committee established to look into educational problems with the hope of maximizing educational output was a Study Committee established by the Kano State Ministry of Education in 1979 to


“Identify the numerous problems obstructing rapid educational development and to re-vitalize all existing educational resources in order to achieve better results. “ (Kano State 1979a p.1)


One of the terms of reference given to the Study Committee was to “examine the methods through which the State can increase the number of qualified candidates for admission into our universities bearing in mind the financial constraints the country is at the present” (Kano State 1979a p.34).


After its deliberations, the Study Committee made the following observations in a report submitted to the Kano State Commissioner for Education in 1979:


Kano State is facing an acute shortage of qualified candidates for admission into tertiary institutions. If the State is to adequately prepare itself for economic and social development, deliberate educational programmes must be undertaken whereby the number of qualified graduating students from the State’s post primary institutions can be improved s soon as possible.” The Study Committee’s recommendation about this situation is “efforts must therefore be directed towards maximizing available facilities, teaching staff and students.” (Kano State 1979a p.35)


It is interesting this Study Committee is more geared towards increasing output. And yet, like th education Review Committee, did not provide any tangible basis for strategies to achieve this objective in its recommendations. No one is clear on how “efforts can be directed towards maximizing available facilities” especially since the Study Committee was reminded to consider the economic implications of any recommendations.


The third Committee was a Problems and Prospects of Education Committee set up by a civilian administration in its halcyon days but just before a major upheaval in 1983 which ushered in a new military regime. The observations of this Committee, no less tan others before it, served to indicate the general problems of schooling in Kano State in 1980s. For instance, the Committee observed,


“The people who go through education are largely seen as people who have during the course of their education acquired new values. They abandon their culture for something alien to the majority of the people. They lack a sense of identity, have no feeling of commitment to their people or society, and are not ready to make sacrifices for the society. At present, there is a passive decline in the quality of educated elements. This brings about a downward trend in the quality of ideals, social cohesion, moral consciousness and desire for justice. And the children knowing the feelings of their parents lack enthusiasm for education even when they are forced to go to school.” (Kano State 1983 p.21)


This lack of enthusiasm underscores the general transformation modern education underwent general in Northern Nigeria, but particularly in Kano since its introduction in 1910. Three distinct stages of this transformation can be traced.


In the first stage from 1910 up till the end of the Second World War and before the start of nationalist agitations for independence, education was perceived as an agency for Christian conversion, and on this basis, was not accepted. This, of course, was caused by the historical antecedent which linked schools with Christian missions.


However, with the coming of nationalism and the prospects of obtaining political power, education entered a second stage of transformation when it was partly accepted because it became a mechanism for gaining political control. But gradually it became evident after a series of changes in government that acquisition of education does not lead to political control. Thus the early tactics of Northern political leaders in using education as basis for gaining more effective control on their affairs was not wholly successful, especially when people became aware other, more powerful forces were pre-requisite qualifications for political advancement in Nigeria, rather than extensive level of schooling.


Thirdly, education became equated with the labour market in the 1970s at the height of Nigerian economic prosperity when educated manpower was needed all over the country. It became a guarantor which will secure a safe acceptable job in any productive sector of the economy. But the depreciation of the Nigerian economy in the early 1980s soon made it un-viable as a mechanism of personal advancement in the society. In the first instance, jobs became scarce as the labour market became saturated in some fields (in Kano such as social sciences and administration).


Moreover, due to unpredictability of the market forces, it became apparent education was not adequately preparing learners for the labour market. This became a convincing reason (and a basis for the New National Policy on Education), especially for those who believe they could make a living as commercial entrepreneurs for instance, to resist the educational process and perceive it as irrelevant to their needs.


The ultimate result of this synthesis in Kano was a disenchanted populace that does not see modern education as a relevant force in its affairs. And as such, refuses to co-operate with the government in appreciating its significance as a social service. As acknowledged by the then Director of Education in Kano State,


“It is important to note that most of the so-called experts on education tend to overlook the peculiarity of this State in their efforts to produce a meaningful guidance on all aspects of education, in particular the curricula. The present rigid compartmentalization of education and the neglect of cultural and religious background of the people have thus contributed a lot in making the curriculum in this State mainly irrelevant. Even among the enlightened members of the society, the concept of education is often limited to its narrowest and alien sense, ignoring the culture, religion and the peculiar outlook of this society.” (Imam Wali, Kano State 1979b. p.1)


However, the Problems and Prospects of Education Committee, like the others before it, did not provide any specific strategies to solve the problem. For instance, the Committee could only recommend the following as a basic strategy:


“Community representation in education committees, boards, commissions and other educational bodies must be created. Where they are already in existence, efforts should be made to see that only honest, dedicated and committed people are often chosen. The existing school advisory committees should be made operative.” (Kano State 1983 p.21)


But before the civilian government could study the findings of the Committee (submitted in May 1983), a military coup occurred on 31 December 1983 that puts the entire civil service into a new perspective.


Thus even up to 1983, it was clear problems exist with regards to perception of education in Kano as vital social service. But the precise solutions which will make education widely accepted as a functional service aimed at rapid social transformation were not clear, despite the numerous education review committees established by the Kano State government. This is surprising since the problems of educational development, and the strategies of maximizing output should have been the direct outcome of these committees.



[1]. This age group is selected for analysis here because it is from this cohort the school population most commonly identified as being the basis for further training and manpower production is taken.

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