FEMALE EDUCATIONAL POLICIES DURING NIGERIA’S COLONIAL ERA
Sometime in September 1959, an advert in a faded edition of the Daily Times announced the following:
Adult Women Technical Evening Classes, 1959: Call for admission can be made by letter or personal interview with the Woman Education Officers-in-charge of the Domestic Science Centres- Dressmaking, Millinery, Cookery, Knitting and Needlework, Machine Embroidery, English and Cookery.
The subjects listed were all topics from the broad subject of domestic science. During the colonial years, education for girls and women in Nigeria was based solely on domesticity. This was hardly surprising, given that the early education policies for girls were driven by a broad domestic science content. Back then, women were considered suitable for matters relating to the home and child rearing and this Victorian ideology formed the underlying base for many British colonial policies. There was a clearly-defined dichotomy between male and female areas of operation in British society and this social construct was to affect the lives of girl and women, the effect of which are still pervasive today.
Colonial governance reflected the gendered ideologies where women were relegated to the private sphere, while men took the decisions and managed public affairs. Imperial civil servants designed and implemented policies to suit these prevailing ‘separate spheres’ of Victorian thought. These gendered ideologies were the underlying basis of the colonial educational policy legislated on by Crown officials for girls and women, and as we shall see, there was an emphasis on home management and marriage training classes.
In 1949, a certain Miss Millicent Douglas gave a lecture titled: ‘Don’t be left behind, Girls.’ The lecture which was given to pupils of the Ideal Girls School, Yaba, Lagos, was covered by the Nigerian Citizen Newspaper of 18th March. According to the Nigerian Citizen newspaper, Miss Douglas opened her lecture by saying:
Nigeria’s true and lasting progress and development depends on you girls, for whatever you know you will be able to impart to your children and the community. The world is moving fast. Do not be left behind. March forward, march with the times and with the women of other progressive portions of the world.
She went on to list the 12 careers which are suitable for girls as:
Nursing, Beauty culture, Domestic Science, Animal Husbandry, Horticulture, Home Economics, Art. Literature, Handicrafts, Architecture and Housewifery. She described Social Science as “study which would be a means of equipping them to deal with the organisation of clubs, hostel, ‘mothering; wayward children, the teaching of hygiene and general cleanliness, also the gradual moulding of the characters of the future citizens of Nigeria.
Miss Douglas added:
I see a time not very distant when an army of women will go forth as Home Demonstration Agents. These women in places like America go from one farmstead to another demonstrating the art of making almost everything that I have mentioned under the various heads of my lecture. In this way the economic and cultural knowledge is brought right to the doors of each farmer’s wife.
However, when she was asked why she omitted the subjects of typing and shorthand from her lecture, Miss Douglas explained that the subjects had been purposely omitted because she felt that they did not need any initiative and in the present state of Nigeria’s advancement, girls should be trained in careers which would bring out the best in them.
This lecture clearly showed the direction of education for girls and women in colonial Nigeria. It was a gendered education policy based on which led to a career in sectors that had an underlying themes of home management, hygiene and domesticity.
In June 1950, the following resolution ‘Women should stay at home’ was made at a conference held in Britain:
Head teachers meeting in Leamington, England, have passed a resolution deploring that so many mothers now go out to full-time work. The conference realised that many women had to work, but felt that some worked merely to get outside the home. Many children hardly saw their mothers, had to get their own breakfasts before going to school, and were left to run wild in the streets.
These views were spoken about quite often and so naturally were built into school curricula as state policy.
To make sure that these subjects were taught all over the country, government centres were set up in the Northern and Southern Provinces, recruiting teachers who had teaching experience in places like Punjab, India and Mauritania and of course, Britain, to staff the centres.
In September 1949, the Nigerian Citizen reported that Domestic Science teachers from Britain were sent to schools in Northern Nigeria to places such as Kebbi, Sokoto, Borno and Bauchi. One of the key appointments of the time, was of Miss C.L. Geary as Northern Region’s first Chief Women Education Officer, to implement the policies and encourage girls to enrol. At the Girls’ Training Centre in Kano, there was a Marriage Training Class and students were taught cookery, housewifery, needlework, knitting, child welfare, hygiene and laundry-work.
A news report with the headline ‘Girls missing their chance, says Emir’ recorded the events at a Prize and Certificate Day, held at the Kano Girls’ Centre in September 1949 as follows:
The Emir of Kano presenting the prizes and certificates at the Girls’ Training Centre, Kano on Saturday evening expressed his grief at hearing that some of the students had decided not to continue the course. It was almost unfortunate, he said, that by leaving, they would miss a great opportunity to make themselves useful members of the community and better wives.
The news report also narrated that certificates were presented to ten girls from the marriage training class, who had passed their examination, and certificates in housecraft were also handed out. It was reported that the marriage training course was becoming increasingly popular and was concerned with women’s work in the home and family. All teaching was conducted in local vernacular with the hope that the classes would have a real effect upon the homes to which girls go from there. Other subjects taught included hand craft- spinning, weaving, raffia work and sewing.
The departure by some of girls from the school as referred to by the Emir of Kano, Abdullahi Bayero, formed the basis of an editorial on the same newspaper in October of the same year:
The words of the Emir of Kano at the prize-giving ceremony of the Girls’ Training Centre, Kano, carry a significant message for the Northern Provinces, one that requires to be taken to heart if, as we believe, the education of women is a prime essential to real and substantial progress. It was stated some weeks ago, that girls who wanted to leave would be allowed to do so. Thirteen of them according to the Principal on Saturday have elected to go. The Emir of Kano expressed his disappointment at the girls’ decision. He rightly took the view in his speech that these girls were allowing an opportunity to pass them by and that it affected more than themselves. Not only were they failing to enhance their own knowledge but they were giving up the chance of being better wives.
At some point, there was a slow-down in the creation of the domestic science centres because there were no teachers for the Minna centre for example; while the centres in Offa, Ilorin and Okene were staffed by uncertified teachers, the officials decided that until trained teachers were found, no new centres would be opened. When eventually activities picked up, it was said in the annual report for 1949, that there were 2,500 women in vocational classes in the Northern region learning subjects with central theme: “How to make better homes and to help their families advance.”
Classes were also extended to adult women in Adamawa, Borno, Bauchi, Sokoto, Katsina and Niger Provinces who were taught amongst other topics the importance of boiling water and the necessity of keeping food clean and covered; the danger of exposed food. Plays on hygiene were staged as part of the learning process.
Apparently, during the 1940s, there had been some disquiet about the pace of education for girls in northern Nigeria and a few of the Emirs recognised this. According to a 1949 newspaper report, dialogue between the Emirs and the Education Department “stressed that until women provincial education officers were at work, progress on securing support among mothers and girls for the idea of women’s education, would be difficult.”
So it was with much joy that the Northern Region’s first Provincial Woman Education Officer, Miss U. M Bozman was appointed and received in the provinces. Coming from Punjab where she had worked for 11 years, she came with plenty of experience and was charged with overseeing Borno and also part of Bauchi. During that same period, it was also announced that Miss F. Way a domestic science teacher will be dispatched to Sokoto, while Miss P. J. Godfrey was scheduled to resume in Birnin Kebbi.
Perhaps one of the most popular of the female officials posted to northern Nigeria at this time was Miss Gladys Plummer who was appointed in 1930 to work as the Deputy Director of Education (Women) in Nigeria. Several news reports highlighted her work in the region to further women’s education. For example, under a headline ‘Talking Points Tour’ a news report provided details of the tour as follows:
Some interesting questions are to be discussed in relation to the furthering of women’s education, they fly to Sokoto and are to be in Birnin Kebbi. The progress of a girl’s school there will be discussed. At Katsina, one question to be looked into will be the possibility of starting work among adult women. The site for a school on Timbuctoo Road, just outside Katsina Town will be examined. The next call will be in Kano and then Miss Plummer returns to Kaduna.
Miss Plummer retired from service in November 1950 and died in November 1975 at the age of 84. In 1977, an edition of The Punch newspaper published a memorial to her service which was authored by a “group of men and women who are friends of Miss Plummer and beneficiaries through her.”
Anyway, as far back in 1949, an unnamed correspondent was concerned that the efforts for women’s education appeared to only scratch the surface. This led the Chief Woman Education Officer, Northern Provinces, Miss C.L. Geary, to write a letter titled ‘Girls’ Education Not Being Neglected’ to the Nigerian Citizen newspaper of August 1949, saying the following:
Sir, I cannot allow your Wamba correspondent’s contention – that more attention is being paid to boys education than to the education of girls in the North – to go unchallenged. Girls have for many years been allowed to attend Middle Schools with boys and this year the first two Provincial Girls’ Schools, educating girls to Standard VI have been opened by Government in Birnin Kebbi and Kontagora. Five more of these schools are planned for the next three years in Maiduguri, Kabba, Yola, Bauchi and Katsina – and plans are already made for girls in the North as soon as the Provincial Girls’ schools begin to produce girls of Secondary standard. In addition to these schools, two Government Training Colleges for women teachers exist in Sokoto and Kano; two others are to be built this year in Bornu and Kabba Provinces. Women’s education is not therefore, being neglected. Many members of the Education Department are very conscious of the need for pressing on with the education of Northern girls , as more and more Northern boys receive a good education, and I do not think your correspondent need fear that we shall overlook a growing desire in the North for intelligent and well-informed wives and mothers.
Truthfully, discussions about girls’ education in Nigeria was never out of the newspapers. One of the key areas of concern was early marriage and its impact on education of girls.
One 1949 headline said: ‘The marriage age barrier must be lifted’ attributing this statement to Miss C. L. Geary, on her comments about girls’ schools. This was of course in reference to the education officers’ complaint about “low marriage age” in northern Nigeria. Commenting on this a year later during the presentation of her Progress Report on female education in Nigeria in 1948 and 1949 at the 19th National Union of Teachers (NUT) Annual Conference, Miss Plummer lamented the difficulties which have to be surmounted in the Northern Provinces. She listed them as remoteness of villages one from another, illiteracy among most of the women, and the very low marriage age, which is between twelve and fourteen years.” Miss Plummer’s progress report was which was published the Nigerian Citizen and Nigerian Tribune newspapers in January 1950, also noted that: “Marriage Training Classes and an increasing number of Junior Primary Schools for small girls were being established.
Domestic Science Centres were also opened in Western and Eastern Regions. In March 1949, several Domestic Science Centres established by the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) in Akure were subjects such as sewing, knitting, mother-craft, laundry and housecraft were taught. This Centre had developed two schemes with five separate courses consisting of classes for married women, another for pastors’ wives.
There was the Miss Gladys Plummer in Abeokuta. It was run under the Western Nigeria Government Technical Education Scheme and offered three-year residential in dress-making, needle work, housecraft and two year-course in teacher training with special emphasis on domestic science courses in Home Economics and allied occupations. There was also a new Domestic Science Centre in Lagos, and land had been acquired for other centres to be built in Apapa and Yaba. Educational projects were also introduced to women in Arochukwu and Uyo in the Eastern Region.
However the colonial education department also did work alongside missionaries to establish schools for girls. These included Catholic secondary schools in Ibadan, Onitsha and Uyo, the CMS Girls School in Lagos and the United Protestant Girls’ Secondary School in Calabar, a Baptist girls’ secondary school in Agbor and others in Elelenwa, Enugu and Ede and several others.
Difficulties in securing land for educational purposes were also encountered. According to Miss Plummer “as soon as arrangements for obtaining vacant and sizeable land were initiated, innumerable claimants appeared on the scene.” Gradually these schools were expanded in terms of buildings, and curricula beyond the domestic science policy to include arts, crafts and music. As already noted, Adult Women’s Education which offered a second chance of sorts was also encouraged in both the North and southern regions of Nigeria, as opportunities to gain skills in literacy and vocational classes. Concluding her report, Miss Plummer “appealed to headmasters to take interest in domestic science and a lot of adequate time for it on time tables.”
This policy endured and in post-Independence Nigeria, it was not unusual to read reports about courses in domestic science. For example, the Social Development Training Centre in Abeokuta, the first of the three proposed for Western Region to train local women with a view to improving family living of standards, as well as the earning capacities of women. Lectures which will last from three and a half months will include subjects such a home-making, home improvement, food and nutrition, dressmaking, human relations, citizenship and leadership and mother-craft.
The colonial policies left a legacy which Nigeria’s regional governments followed to the letter with the theme of domesticity for girls’ education carried into public policy. For instance, during the presentation of the Education Policy to the Western House of Assembly in July 1952, the Minister for Education Chief S.O. Awokoya, listed Women’s Education, as one of eight institutional proposals which Government intends to implement as funds permit:
The fifth proposal is in respect of women’s education. A number of domestic science centres will be opened to promote women’s education and ‘further’ education for women. Scholarships will also be awarded to young women to go overseas and specialise in domestic science.
In May 1955, while seconding the motion for the first university in Eastern Region, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was Premier at the time said:
……We recommend that priority should now be given to providing trades and technical training to women and girls in the fields of needlecraft, catering institutional management and secretarial arts.
Thus, the three regional governments at the time, were of the opinion that courses in domestic science content were best suited for girls and women to give opportunities to be “better wives.”
This is the story of how a Victorian ideology from British society, formed the underlying basis for early education opportunities for girls and women in Nigeria. But today, Nigeria has come very long way off from offering marriage training, domestic science and mother craft classes to female students.
Female Educational Policies during Nigeria’s Colonial Era is Part 3 of the Crater Blog Series HerStory created by Tayo Agunbiade. She narrates history through the lens of gender analysis. It is based on true-life socio-political new reports researched from the national archives.
About Tayo Agunbiade
Tayo Agunbiade is a Media Consultant with 30 years + of experience in Media and Communications covering
Reporter, Researcher, Writer and Editor/ Legislative Advocacy; An Alumnus of the Lagos Business School (School of Media Communication), holds a 1984 Bachelor of Arts Degree in History, University of Lagos (2:2) and a 1996 Bachelor of Science Degree in New Technology and Women Development Studies, University of East London,Barking (2:1).
She currently works as an Editorial/Research Consultant, Speech Writer, Book Content Developer, Ghost-writer, Broadcaster, Legislative Researcher/ Drafter of Bills & Motions, Gender Data Analyst (collection and collation of raw data to compile gender statistics for public presentation); Publisher, ‘Gender Perspectives’ Newsletter.