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Innovations and Curriculum Development for Basic Education in Nigeria: Policy Priorities and Challenges of Practice and Implementation

M.A. Ajibola Department of Primary Education studies Federal College of Education, Zaria, Nigeria E-mail:

Abstract Nigerian educational system has gone through various developments and changes viz-a-viz curriculum issues. The dynamic nature of the curriculum process informed the thesis of this paper, which is innovations, curriculum development for basic education in Nigeria. Analysis of the Nigerian education sector reveals the challenges of incoherence in policy formulation and implementation. The selection and organization of curriculum content, curriculum implementation and evaluation, the development, distribution and use of teaching materials, and the relevance of the curriculum to the needs of society are also problems associated with the Nigerian educational system. Therefore, the need for transformation in curriculum for all the educational levels becomes necessary. Sometimes it appears as if solutions are on the way, at other times one feels that the education system is back in the doldrums. One positive note is that both the government and the people are seeking better ways of doing things and achieving results that would benefit the majority of the people. The paper reviews aspects of curriculum process such as policy, analysis, objectives, content, evaluation methodology and implementation. The paper submits recommendation on further enhanced strategies that will help in the development of education in line with modern trends in curriculum issues. It concludes that for any meaningful advancement to be made in the education sector there must be conscious, deliberate, purposeful, directional policy formulation of the implementation of the curriculum.

Keywords: Curriculum, innovation, policy, challenges of implementation

1. Introduction

Curriculum issues, either in an explicit or an implicit manner, are inextricably linked to current thinking and action on educational concerns and reforms around the world. Experiences of educational reform almost all over the world have shown that curriculum is at the same time a policy and a technical issue, a process and a product, involving a wide range of institutions and actors. Due to the ambiguity of the term “innovation,” it is necessary to establish characteristics of how innovations are defined for this paper. Mintrom (2000) uses the term “innovative” to refer to “ideas or practices that are new within the context of the school.” More clearly stated, an innovation is “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” (Rogers, 1995). Another definition of innovation involves newly introduced method, custom, device etc; “change in the way of doing things”; “renew, alter” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2001) or doing things differently or doing different things” (Dunkin, 2000). Curriculum can be simply termed a brief written account of

one’s past history e.g. of education and many other aspects of life endeavour. Innovations reported under this category are in the area of curriculum and programme development; new approaches to teaching and learning, often combined with the introduction of new educational technologies; and quality assurance. Innovations therefore overlap with the relevance category. Innovations in curriculum have also increasingly taken the form of introducing new programmes as indicated above. The process of constructing the curriculum is unique to each national setting. It is a complex outcome of the opinions and solutions that key stakeholders propose for society’s requirements and needs. There are no ‘successful’ international models to copy. Many innovations with the curriculum include an emphasis on a particular field and the use of the core knowledge curriculum where basic factual information is presented before any abstract concepts, leading to a focus on the mastery of basics.

The problems related to curricula became noticeable soon after Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule in 1960. By the mid-1960s, educators and educational planners were rethinking Nigeria’s education system and in particular, the curriculum being taught in the schools. The question is has Nigeria educational policy been capable of providing the needed manpower development to stir the nation’s socio-economic exigencies left by the colonial masters? The non-directional policy issue has been the main bane of the educational system particular with reference to the curriculum structure. So far, we have had three different systems borne out of incessant changes in policies. It has become a tradition to abandon policy in mid-stream. The effect of this policy somersault cannot be over-stressed. Science Teachers’ Association of Nigeria (STAN) are bodies that have worked hard to translate national and educational objectives into curricula and teaching objectives through the development of curricula designed to help individuals attain cognition, acquire process skills and develop scientific attitudes which will enable them to think critically, manage and use available resources, to effectively adapt to their environment, assume responsibilities and fulfil domestic, economic, social, and political roles. STAN has continued to give a critical appraisal of the science education curriculum with a view to identifying defects and devising original solutions. To this effect, STAN has devoted its efforts to science curriculum innovation and renewal particularly at the primary and secondary education levels.

2. The Philosophy and Historical Perspective of Nigerian Educational System

Taiwo (1986) was able to analyze in detail the post-war reconstruction and development that involved rehabilitation of education in Nigeria after the civil war on 12 th January 1970 that marked the beginning of a new decade, which was significant for quick recovery from the damage of war. However, the then Federal Military Government was guided in its national planning by its national objectives. The five national objectives are to establish Nigeria firmly as:

i. A united, strong and self-reliant nation

ii. A great and dynamic economy

iii. A just and egalitarian society

iv. A land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens, and

v. A free and democratic society

The above objectives are in tune with the philosophy for Nigerian education, which was formulated at the 1969 National Conference on Curriculum Development. The recommendations formed the basis for drawing up the National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1977. The curriculum is aimed at permanent literacy and numeracy and effective communication. It covered the basic needs of children including religious and moral instruction, mathematics, science and skills preparatory to trade and craft education. The medium of instruction will be principally the mother tongue or the language of the immediate community, and at a later stage, English. The government will make a special effort to promote the education of girls and provide the facilities and supervision for ensuring quality in the education. Nigeria’s educational system since then has witnessed a number of changes. These changes

can be classified into policy, objective, content, methods, material and changes in evaluation techniques.

2.1. Policy changes

On this premise, right from attainment of independence, the need for change and innovation had always been prevalent in the educational systems of developing countries. The works of Fafunwa (1967, 1974), confirm that changes and innovations were needed in Nigeria educational system after attainment of independence. The type of education imported to Nigeria under British control reflected the needs of the colonial government. Thus, we had the 7-5-4 which represents 7 years of primary education, 5 years of secondary education and 4 years of tertiary education. While in some regions, it was 6-5-4 across the three tiers respectively. This system was later replaced for the entire country in 1983 by the 6-3-3-4, that is, 6 years of primary education, 3years of Junior Secondary School (JSS), 3 years of Senior Secondary School (SSS) and, 4 years of tertiary education. The difference is the additional one year to the secondary education and its split to 2-tiers: junior and senior secondary. This system sought to correct the structural imbalances in the colonial system of education. Many people regarded the NPE as both an innovation and as a reform in education (Adeniyi, 2001). It is a reform in that it introduced a 6-3-3-4 school system incorporating a nine-year basic education programme as a clear departure from the past. The Universal Primary Education Scheme which was launched in Nigeria in 1976 and now Universal Basic Education (UBE) in 1999 calls for innovation in curriculum development, classroom teaching techniques, and adequate supervision of instructional programs in the schools (Ayo and Adebiyi, 2008). This scheme is monitored by the universal basic education commission (UBEC), and has made it free and a right of every child. The law establishing UBEC stipulates a 9-year formal schooling, adult literacy and non-formal education, skill acquisition programmes and the education of special groups such as nomads and migrants, girlchild and women, Al-majiri, street children and disabled group (Aderinoye, 2007). However, poor implementation of the reforms inherent in the 6-3-3- 4 system of education did not allow innovation and changes to have an appreciable impact on the Nigerian society.

2.2. Changes in Content

Juan Manuel Moreno (2006) states that: ‘Educational reform all over the world is increasingly curriculum-based, as mounting pressures and demands for change tend to target and focus on both the structures and the very content of school curricula’. Arising from the revolution in objectives, some radical changes were made in content. At primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, the contents of subjects studied were reviewed so that they would gear toward achieving the set objectives. The

provision for a core curriculum (or core subjects) and optional curriculum (or elective subjects) is also

a significant change. The aims of these changes are to guarantee an all-round education for learners, and to bring some degree of diversity into curriculum development. The curriculum provisions are immense and profound for school teaching and learning. At the primary level, ten subjects are to be

taken. Two of these ten subjects— agriculture and home economics—are to be deferred to later years of primary school. At the junior secondary school, every student is required to take eleven subjects, nine of which shall be common to all—core subjects. A major innovation here is the requirement for technical and vocational subjects tagged as pre-vocational subjects. In all, a student may take a minimum of eleven subjects and a maximum of thirteen subjects. The secondary school level presents

a far greater variety of subjects—there are seven core subjects and thirty-four elective subjects. The

electives are put into three groups. Every student is expected to take all the seven core subjects, a minimum of one and a maximum of three from the list of elective subjects to be offered at the Senior

School Certificate Examination (SSCE). In addition, a range of new courses and programmes have been introduced that are relevant to today’s needs and problems, such as the issues of HIV/AIDS,

moral philosophy and gender and given a core status in their relevant levels of education. In addition many schools have undertaken widespread reform of the curriculum – in line with the change in focus to science and technology – to ensure that it is sensitive to regional and international issues such as gender, disability and globalisation. It has also involved the infusion of indigenous knowledge and technologies into the curriculum from such diverse fields as traditional arts and crafts, traditional cosmetics, traditional food systems and medicine, knowledge of the environment, and African civilisation. Amongst the new programmes that have been introduced are youth and gender studies, and nationalism. Curriculum restructuring has also involved the introduction of core modules on computer literacy and communication skills, and the curriculum is designed to be learner centred, problem-based and project-driven. These changes require teachers to question their traditional subject practices and classroom routines. New teaching technologies require teachers to reflect on the technical basis of their work, which are the pedagogical assumptions of their practices and, these changes challenge teachers’ existing practices. For these reasons it became difficult for many schools to adopt this pedagogy, one of whose virtues is that it is highly compatible with community orientation since in nearly all cases the problem to be solved especially in public orientation and community values are located in the community. Furthermore, because of the need for schools and colleges to meet the requirements of certain examining bodies, Nigerian educational institutions, particularly at the pre-tertiary level have to change their syllabuses from time to time even when the national subject curricula are constant for some years, the school subject syllabuses are subject to change or modification by teachers, particularly where subject teachers are changed frequently. This is particularly the case with rural schools where teachers frequently ask for transfer to urban primary or secondary schools. In effect, rural schools are usually filled with itinerant teachers: Youth-Corp members, fresh graduates on state service or other categories of newly-employed teachers who have no other option. The tendency for these categories of teachers is usually to modify the syllabus to embody their newly acquired knowledge.

2.3. Changes in Evaluation Strategies

With the introduction of the National Policy on Education adopted in 1981, and revised in 1995 and 2006, some special emphasis have been placed in the use of comprehensive and continuous assessment in schools. Besides, objective multiple choice questions have also been given special attention at both primary and secondary levels. Similarly, new attention is been given to practical experiences and tests in the form of teaching practice and industrial attachment during which learners are observed and assessed. These changes brought about changes in hitherto accustomed practices in learning or teaching, objectives, content and methods. However, in most cases these changes were hurriedly done and problems associated with such changes surfaced when applied on a large scale. Lack of initiative, innovation, skills, independent/constructive mind and creative ideals characterize today’s system of Nigeria education. This is a system that encourages memorization in learning processes and theoretical explanation to areas that need practical illustration. The system favours cognitive development above other domains of education. It is pathetic that Nigeria’s school system is geared toward building pupils with cultural orientation with deficiency in problem-solving approach that requires more than simply recall or performance of rudimentary skills (Bolaji, 2007).

3. Curriculum Innovation and National Languages

With the advent of the new National Policy on Education, a major restructuring was noticeable with regard to language curriculum development and implementation. Whereas during the colonial era the emphasis was on learning the languages of the colonizers it is no longer so nowadays. The language

curriculum currently in use takes into account four groups of languages—English, foreign languages, Nigerian languages as L 1 and Nigerian languages as L 2 . Curricula and teaching materials have been developed for each of these groups. Nigeria now has an explicit national language policy. But Nigeria has made a number of explicit statements about the language issue in the policy (Emenanjo, 1992). The implicit national language policy in Nigeria stipulates:

1. the use of Nigerian languages in formal and non-formal education;

2. the study and use of the developed Nigerian languages as co-official languages with English;

3. the study of all Nigerian languages as subjects and as media of instruction at certain levels of formal education;

4. the study of French and Classical Arabic as electives at all levels of formal education;

A major constraint has been the inadequate numbers of teachers to teach the four groups of

languages. Even where teachers are available, the methods adopted in teaching the language curricula rely heavily on a traditional grammar approach. There is also a dearth of language instructional materials. All these contribute to the low level of implementation leading up to poor results and a very low level of communication skills.

4. Curriculum and Teaching Methods

Curriculum analysis shows that, on paper, the learning experiences that are provided the Nigerian Child from basic through higher education are rich and varied and capable of meeting the immediate future needs of the children. Primary, secondary and higher curricula are generally regarded as superior to those of Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the curriculum of Nigerian schools are over ambitious, resulting in “overload”, and insufficiently attuned to the needs of the labour market, particularly in pre- vocational and vocational/technical courses. The data on learning achievement of pupils in primary and secondary schools have been a huge gulf between the intended curriculum and what the pupils actually learn. It important here to highlight the failings in pedagogical methods, which in turn reflect the poor training received by most teachers. Classroom transactions optimally have four dimensional character, involving interactions between teacher and pupil, pupil and pupil, teacher and material, and pupil and material. What predominates in most Nigerian classrooms, from primary through to postgraduate level, is the unidirectional lecture mode, with minimal use of materials, questioning of teachers or pupil – pupil interaction. At operational stage of cognitive development where most primary and secondary school students belong, this mode of instruction, which amounts to rôte learning, contraindicates meaningful learning. This can be traced to poor quality preparation and resource inadequacy.

5. Content of the Curriculum and Reading Skills

Changes in the content of the curriculum had always been focused on that fact that every Nigerian

should be able to read and write with understanding, and to apply such skills acquired to his/her daily life and to continue learning using the written word. However, there is a fall in reading ability in Nigerians today and there is a big gap between the knowledge taken away from primary to secondary school. The assumption from the syllabus is completely eroded and once the foundation is weak, it affects all other aspects. This has started having effect on the educational system and now a diversion to social activities like watching television is leading to things not too elegant or productive.

A survey of most public schools in Nigeria revealed that only 30% of the pupils had access to

textbooks; a factor that greatly limits the arousal of curiosity, the acquisition of knowledge and early introduction of numbers and letters. Up till now, the Nigerian curriculum does not recognize that the teacher of reading has to be specially trained and since the teachers themselves are not up to the task, they resort to old methods of teaching comprehension and vocabulary. There also no electronic gadgets that aid reading and diction.

© Research Journal of Internatı onal Stud ı es - Issue 8 (November, 2008)



Curriculum Innovations and National Manpower Needs

One major aspect of Nigerian education that has been quite often criticized is the curriculum. The early critics include members of the Phelps-Stokes and Advisory Commissions who submitted their separate reports in 1925. They observed that education in Africa generally had not been adapted to the needs and aspirations of the people. It is quite difficult to advance with improving the processes and the outcomes of educational quality without developing a comprehensive curriculum vision that justifies why and what it is relevant and pertinent (basic and needed) to teach children and young people according to an overall interpretation of societal expectations and demands. This interpretation is always subject to debate and controversial, and is deeply grounded in historical, ideological and political concerns and arguments. A good example is the passionate discussion about the objectives and the content of national history lessons in secondary education, particularly in post-conflict societies like Nigeria. For as late as the 1960s, education in African schools, particularly in Nigerian grammar schools, was still "too literary; not practical, not adapted to the needs of a developing agricultural nation." It was observed, for instance, that the education Nigerians received was meant to serve colonial purposes. This type of academic education only tends to produce proud, lazy people who dislike manual labour and prefer white-collar jobs (Ajayi, 1963). This assertion by Ajayi (1963) is representative of the opinions of later critics on African education curricula generally. The flaws in this aspect of African education have been traced to missionary influence. The National Curriculum Conference of September 1969 was the first attempt by Nigerians to formulate a school curriculum that is relevant to the goals, needs and aspirations of Nigerians. Today, all educational authorities in Nigeria are aware of the pressing need to relate our curricula, at all levels of education, to our national man-power needs. Unfortunately, 46 years after independence, none of the stated goals has been fully achieved. These goals are centred on achieving some national objectives through the instrumentality of education, such as: the development of a free and democratic society; a just and egalitarian society; a great and dynamic economy; and a land of bright future and opportunities for all (Soyombo, 2007). The new curriculum is content-driven and examination centred. Teachers’ efforts are geared towards covering the content of the curriculum within approved time frame of the school calendar. Both the teacher and the student work towards ensuring that the examination syllabi are covered. Oduolowu (2001) observed that there are strands of evidence of lack of creativity in Nigerian child. The issue is, will the Nigerian children be able to cope with the work-force of the twenty-first century which require manipulative skills and a much great ability to solve problems on their own than it has been in the past. No positive impact of whatsoever will be made with system that promotes theoretical knowledge, places emphasis on paper certification rather than stressing the development of innate abilities in a learner evolving through training or practice. In a nutshell, there exists an aberration in policy formulation and implementation. That is to say, that the need to revisit the policy becomes necessary, hence the urgent need to save our educational system from the gully of irrelevances and hopelessness. This demands a new surgical operation under this democratic dispensation. Thus, the need for curriculum transformation becomes imperative. Bolaji, Stephen


7. Problem with Implementing New Curriculum

The problem is not only related to the redefinition of the traditional boundaries among disciplines in response to the changing epistemological nature of how knowledge is constructed, validated and finally applied in daily life, but also about how the new knowledge organization really affects the processes of teaching and learning in the classroom. For example, a social sciences syllabus would surely be a better way of sharing with students more comprehensive frames of reference in order to understand the world they live in than a traditional syllabus based on history and geography as separate and disconnected

subjects. But it could also generate a lot of confusion and uncertainty if teachers and heads of department oppose the new syllabus and do not even try to understand it (Bolaji, 2007). There is also problem associated with overloading of the curriculum and curriculum content because of the high number of subjects that must be taken by students for their certification. Overcrowded classes and timetable became pronounced as a result rapid population change in Nigeria. An average classroom in the primary or JSS contains 70 to 120 pupils at any given time. This puts added stress on school personnel, resources and school scheduling, teacher workload, classroom management and the maintenance of order and discipline. There is strain on teachers, learners and material resources of the school. One of the biggest obstacles to enhancing technological literacy in the Nigeria is the limited amount of high-quality instructional materials to cope with the curriculum. Although some good materials have been developed, the developers do not have the sustained funding, time, or expertise to disseminate their work to a broad audience. Some teachers, education researchers, and curriculum developers have created interesting and effective approaches to engaging students in technology and design activities, but most of them are known only in the school or school system where they originated. Paucity of textbooks and other learning aids is another problem. The problems of book scarcity and the cost have hindered the successful implementation of many laudable educational programmes and curriculum projects (Ivowi, 1998). To teach a new curriculum at all levels of education, the teachers or instructors currently employed by the Government have to receive further training in teaching the new body of knowledge. Most of the teachers are not qualified to teach the subjects introduced in the new curriculum. In addition, new experts have to be trained locally or abroad while some experts have to be recruited from abroad in such disciplines where no qualified Nigerians are yet available. All these projects depend on the availability of funds and unfortunately, the picture today is that funds are not sufficiently available for the kinds of curriculum innovation activities described above; therefore the National Policy on Education has not been fully implemented.

8. Recommendations and Conclusion

Curriculum renovation that is realistic and child-centred, that is quick in rejuvenating and revitalizing hope and passion for acquisition of broad-based knowledge that is worthwhile in a learner should be the focus of the structure. Methodology that will aid self discovery and problem-solving ability which allows learners the opportunity for creativity should be entrenched in the curriculum. Quality and relevance are the two features that curriculum development in Nigeria now needs. Equally, changes and innovations of a school system of our globalized environment must involve the emergence of elastic curricula models and educational policies which emphasize interdisciplinary courses, open- ended systems, inter-generational and inter-professional relationships, multi-culturalism and sustainability. The need for a paradigm shift from theoretical and paper certification to a practical application of knowledge necessary for future employment and skills development for self employment should be the cardinal objectives of Nigerian education. Curriculum developers should also adopt the interdisciplinary approach to curriculum especially at the primary and junior secondary school levels. Emphasis should be on the changing needs of the society through reliance on the understanding and application of new technologies. Finally, to teach a new curriculum at all levels of education, the teachers or instructors currently employed by the Government have to receive further training in teaching the new body of knowledge. In addition, new experts have to be trained locally or abroad while some experts have to be recruited from abroad in such disciplines where no qualified Nigerians are yet available.


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