Nigeria: Examining the Roles of Traditional Religious Leaders in Early Childhood Education


Sometime in 2016, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja during the open house week held to enlighten the public on the workings of the legislature, appealed to leaders traditional and religious people of Nigeria to be active in the upbringing of children so that they can inculcate in them qualities that would inspire them to shun violence and other vices that could block the development of the country.

Dogara said, “I believe that traditional leaders and religious leaders can help, in the way we raise our children, to raise children in a non-violent way, by teaching our families to express their immediate disapproval when they are witnesses of signs of violence. that it would help ensure that we have a peaceful Nigeria where development can flourish.

It is commonplace that the quality of education received by today’s children has implications for the future of the country. Dogara’s call was therefore normal.

It was not long before the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Mohammad Sa’ad Abubakar, answered the call. The monarch took a giant step in passing the message to the UNICEF office in Nigeria, calling for synergy between the traditional institution and the UN agency. As he welcomed a high-level delegation from UNICEF to his palace in Sokoto, he described his guests as “key players in shaping and making society a beneficial place for all”. The message was quite clear, that the Sultan was ready to support UNICEF to advance education in Sokoto State.

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, echoed the sultan, offering his NGO, Hopes Alive Initiatives, to help the cause of children’s education. “Through my NGO, I will promote the education of children, support healthy living through regular health care, provide expanding feeding programs in primary schools, and move children from the streets to centers designated safer through different welfare programs,” he said. For effect, he added: “Our greatest capital of resources are our children, because they are ready to carry on the many legacies that we leave behind us. We must begin to build and maintain the right foundations for our beloved children and our nation as they are the foundation of our existence. Our greatest capital resource is our children, as they are ready to carry on the many legacies we leave behind. We must begin to build and maintain the right foundations for our beloved children and our nation. They are the foundation of our existence.

The Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, took on another dimension by calling on the federal government to “review national education budgets to highlight its importance”.
The trio of monarchs represented a clean sweep of the tripod of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups, in addition to the massive influence they wielded in their domains. For effect, they are also well educated and familiar with the required exposure to the modern world and can replicate that exposure locally. The leadership they all possess is also essential in early childhood education (ECE) as it would set the tone for a positive learning experience and create an environment where children feel safe, respected and motivated to learn. In addition to setting the tone for the entire ECE curriculum, traditional leaders can also rally government to bring about policy changes that affect young children living in school districts.

Nigeria’s top religious leaders have also responded to Dogara’s call to action on early childhood education. Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Bishop David Oyedepo of Living Faith Ministry, and Pastor Chris Oyakhilome have established ECE-focused schools that encourage and support play-based learning for children. children. The NASFAT group, led by Alhaji Abdullahi Akinbode, has also created schools that pursue similar motives. The efforts of these religious leaders and others in their category are aimed at raising children in the way of God for the overall betterment of society.

Unlike the secular genre, the guiding principle of religious preschools is that children are a precious gift from God and are essentially presented with a play-based curriculum that would allow them to exercise agency in exploring the environment. by maximizing the choices available to them. They have teachers who encourage them to be creative, to socialize with each other and to appreciate each other as dictated by religious injunctions.

Like the Buddhist preschool system, they discourage the stuffing of knowledge into children’s heads in the belief that what children need is intellectual stimulation and that children’s brain functioning is enhanced by absorbing many things from their environment. The program is also designed to enhance children’s virtue and physical well-being.

The roles of traditional and religious leaders give hope that the challenges posed by out-of-school children would be greatly minimized in the near future, despite this, the latest statistics from UNESCO revealed that India, Nigeria and Pakistan have the largest number of out-of-school children. children out of school worldwide, with Nigeria alone credited with 20 million. UNESCO said a new and improved methodology was used to arrive at these figures, as there are 244 million children and young people aged 6 to 18 worldwide who are still out of school. The somewhat degenerative security situation in Nigeria may have led to the current figure, although the figure has also fluctuated from 10.5 million to 15 million for over ten years.

Interestingly, a director of the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja, Ms. Binta Abdulkadir, hit back at the UNESCO figure, calling it inaccurate while claiming that the federal government has succeeded in reducing the number of unschooled children. school through the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA), a World Bank-funded intervention program that aims to increase equitable access for out-of-school children, improve literacy, and strengthen accountability for results at the basic education, which has brought more than four million children to school in about 17 of the country’s 36 states.

Abubakar said that 17 states of the federation, as of July 2022, had received more than 65 billion naira as response funds to tackle the rising number of out-of-school children between 2019 and 2021, comprising the 13 states of northwest and north- the geopolitical zones of the East, as well as the states of Niger, Oyo, Ebonyi and Rivers. She added that about 924,590 of the previous figure of 10.2 million out-of-school children in Nigeria had been enrolled in the BESDA programme.

The aforementioned encouraging situation came to the fore during the recent two-day media dialogue on early childhood education organized by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and of Culture in collaboration with UNICEF in Sokoto, where participants recognized the roles played by traditional and religious leaders in the education of children in Nigeria and stressed the need for them to continue their efforts.


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