The Value of Education in Igbo Land

By Rev Fr Gerald Nwafor

I do not wish to position my stand with the people who see Formal Education to be the use of English to express oneself. Neither do I mean it to be the formal schools made of bricks and walls located at Central School, Idu Na Oba. Not at all do I mean that all the Igbo people should flock to the universities in the states they live.

I do not want to go into the etymological meaning of education which means to teach but we should not turn a blind eye to that root. If you look around the Igbo People of Eastern Nigeria, they have a way of educating their community before the arrival of the British. The farmer (Di ji) will train the sons and daughters on the planting skill so that the whole community would know that they were skilled in farming.

They will have vast hectares of land for farming and a massive barn for the preservation and harvesting of their products from the farm. If they are carvers and sculptors like the Awka People of Igbo land, most of the people from that community would be carvers and sculptors.

The Umudioka People were known for divination and tribal marks (Igbu-ichi). They moved across the whole of Igboland doing what they knew best because their parents passed down the Tradition and talent to the next generation. So, Education has been in existence in the traditional Igbo Community.

It was the same principle of educating the community that eliminated the concept of beggars in the Traditional Igbo Community. A beggar (Onye ayiyo) is not a concept in the original Igbo tradition. Even to date you cannot point to a person in the Igbo tradition and classify him/her as a beggar as you can see in other climes around the Igbo people.

The spirit of education in the Igbo Tradition could easily be seen in the way the Igbo People dominate an occupation or business when it is associated with their town. I should not go far to enlighten my readers about the Alor People and the cotton (Abada) Business. Awkuzu and Ifitedunu people in the Cameroon migration. Aronndizuogu and Akokwa People own the Bridge Head Market on medicines.

And many more educational abilities of the Igbos in teaching and equipping their kinsmen in their occupation. It has been researched and recorded in the Guinness Book of Records that it is only the Igbo People who still maintain and use an apprenticeship as a shareholder in the business by serving the master or the owner for some years and receiving some money from the owner and some mentorship and tutoring from the owner to start his own business which is called (igba-boyi).

The Israelites have the same tradition. You dare not go into the jewelry business where they are around. Hitler fought them but failed woefully.

The proper work of education is to help create a strong middle class which our forefathers created a long time ago before the advent of the colonial masters. Fast forward to the 21st Century and look at the modern system of education.

The whole aim is to help people to get a job and to save the people from being perpetual beggars. Since the first official school was introduced in Igboland in the 1800s and the use of English was introduced as a means of communication, many Igbo People have limited their conception of education and educated people to only the people who went to the colonial schools and speak the language of the colonial masters.

That is a very wrong understanding of education and very myopic in the explanation of what education should be in the Igbo community. How many people in China speak English but are flourishing in their standard of living? Bringing people out of poverty and creating jobs.

The formal education of primary, secondary, and tertiary education is good, but it should not be the hallmark to measure the standard of education and should not only be the means of teaching and educating people. There was a Native Doctor in Nsukka who cures toothache in one instance; why is the government not helping him to train more dentists?

In the contraption called Nigeria today, I encourage the governors to help the local workmen to engage in television tutoring. Those elders in the village can help the new generation to learn how to make wooden chairs without long grammar (Dogo-turenchi). The public should encourage young people to go and learn those things they can without going to formal school.

I learned how to barber: although I am not a barber by profession now, I was the school barber in the university for 8 years. You do not need formal school to learn carpentry, motor mechanics, barbing, upholstery, welding, and many more nonprofessional jobs around you. The value was not far-fetched; after the civil war, we bounced back within a year with 20 pounds but those who defeated us were roaming our streets begging for food and money.

Why was it that we were able to educate our people quickly in business, schools, and vocational jobs? When a group of people are well-educated, job opportunities will increase and the power of the middle class will be strong. In Igboland, our governors should encourage our elders to continue the ancient form of education and support our children to go and learn with a little economic incentive like helping them with iPhones should they need to research on the particular educational class.