In secular usage, religious education is the teaching of a particular religion (although in England the term religious instruction would refer to the teaching of a particular religion, with religious education referring to teaching about religions in general) and its varied aspects —its beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and personal roles. In Western and secular culture, religious education implies a type of education which largely separate from academia, and which (generally) regards religious belief as a fundamental tenet and operating modality, as well as a prerequisite condition of attendance. Since people within a given country often hold varying religious and non-religious beliefs, government-sponsored religious education can be a source of conflict. Countries vary widely in whether religious education is allowed in government-run schools (often called “public schools”). Those that allow it also vary in the type of education provided.
People oppose religious education in public schools on various grounds. One is that it constitutes a state sponsorship or establishment of whatever religious beliefs are taught. Others argue that if a particular religion is taught in school, children who do not belong to that religion will either feel pressure to conform or be excluded from their peers. Proponents argue that religious beliefs have historically socialized people’s behavior and morality. They feel that teaching religion in school is important to encourage children to be responsible, spiritually sound adults.
Whereas moral education can be define as the guidance and teaching of good behavior and values. Moral education is taught to young children in schools, providing them with a sense of politeness and lawfulness.
National curricula for religious education do not spring from nowhere. They evolve over time as a reflection of the needs, perceptions and historical development for the societies concerned. Nigeria is a country with a population believed to be over 120 million, of various ethnic groups. Religion often coincides with the ethnic group, but not always. Basically most Hausa-Fulanis in the north are Muslims, and most Ibos in the south-west are Christians. However, Yorubas in the south-west are both Muslims and Christians with Muslims slightly in the majority and there is a fair amount of inter-marriage. Exact census figures are hard to come by, but it would be safe to say that Muslims are over 50% of the population, the remainder being Christians and followers of African traditional religions.
Islam first entered West Africa through trans-Saharan Trade in the 9th/10th century. It spread among the rulers and the urban population and then gradually into the rural areas. Scholars established Qur’anic schools and for many centuries up to the colonial period, Islamic schooling was the formal educational system in Northern Nigeria. The north was solidly Muslim apart from pockets of African traditional religion in the remote or mountainous areas. With better transport and communications during the colonial period. Islam also spread faster in the south, particularly into Yoruba land down to Lagos and the sea.
The pattern of education in the south and the north has been different. Christian missionaries were allowed by the British colonial power to set up mission schools in the south from the early days, and Government schools also were generally Christian-oriented. Any Muslim student in these schools would be forced to study Bible Knowledge and in most cases attend church. Conversion was frequently a condition for admission. No teachers were provided for Islamic Studies. Muslim parents had a difficult choice – to allow their children to get a modern education at the risk of losing their faith, or to keep their faith and to lose the opportunity to rise high in Government or the modern administrative system. This gave rise to the establishment of private Islamic schools for Muslims in the southwest. However, their medium of instruction was usually Arabic, so their products were equally unable to join the mainstream of higher education unless they went to Arab countries for further studies. For these reasons the Christian missionaries and their students in the southwest went far ahead of the Muslims in western education, and tended to look down on the Muslims as backward. There was, and in some cases, still is, serious abuse of their educational and religious rights and marginalization of Muslims in national development.
In the north, the situation was different. The British here came face to face with the Northern Emirates – the legacy of the Sokoto Caliphate established by the great religious reformer Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. After subduing the northern region by military conquest the British established good relations with the Emirs and their people, and adopted Indirect Rule through the Emirs. Change in education came slowly with the gradual establishment of a few modern Government schools and Teachers Colleges for boys and later for girls. In order to make these schools acceptable to the people, Islamic Studies were taught with a fairly
Traditional syllabus. The teachers were almost always the product of the traditional Qur’an schools and the syllabus emphasized memorization of the Qur’an and Hadith, Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), the articles of faith and basic moral education.
For a long time Christian missionaries in the north confined their educational and evangelical activities in the remote, rural and predominantly pagan areas to avoid confrontation with the Emirs. The British even set up the old Sharia Law School in Kano for the training of Shari’ah Court Judges and Islamic teachers as early as 1933. Some of its graduates were subsequently given scholarships to study Arabic, Islamic Studies and Islamic Law at the University of London in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Nevertheless the following can be seen as reasons for the advance so of the teaching of religious and moral education in Nigerian schools
1. The need and belief to instill discipline and self control on the individual
2. The need to train a better adult for national development.
3. The need to inculcate religious tolerance among the various worshippers and sects in the country.
4. The need and urgency to harmonize school curricula and make education universal in the country.
5. The need to preach and imbibe by the teachings of both the prophet Mohammed (SAW) and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.