Nigeria has indigenous forms of education, Qu'ranic schools and European-style educational institutions. The indigenous form of education involves participation in community life to train young people in farming and other occupations.

Qu'ranic education is carried out in religious schools called Madrassah. Children learn sections of the Qu'ran (the holy book of Islam) from a local alfa, or religious teacher. Qu'ranic education also includes learning to read and write in Arabic. Although some students go on to specialize in Arabic studies, most children who participate in Qu'ranic education proceed to European-style schools.

European-style education was brought to Nigeria by missionaries in the 19th century. Universal primary education was introduced in the 1970s. Education is compulsory for students between six and eleven. Primary education and secondary education last for six years each. The language of instruction in primary school is either English or one of the local languages. Teaching at the secondary and postsecondary levels is always in English. Many of the secondary schools are boarding schools. About 76% of Nigeria's children attend primary school, but only about 23% attend secondary school.
 Did you know?
Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria is one of the largest universities in Africa.

The 1970s saw the expansion of secondary and postsecondary education. During the oil boom of the 1970s, education was free and uniforms, personal supplies, books and food were supplied to students. Economic problems since the late 1980s have had a devastating impact on the educational system. There is now a shortage of schools and teachers in many areas. The adult literacy rate in Nigeria is 54%.

Nigeria's university system expanded during the 1970s. There were six institutions of higher learning in the 1960s, now there are almost 40. The quality of the educational facilities at institutions of higher learning has fallen in recent years.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s many universities in Nigeria were closed for long periods as the military governments attempted to control the students' anger at the economic and political situation in the country. Though the government has indicated an interest in upgrading the educational system, this has not yet happened. Wealthy families who can afford to do so usually send their children to universities in other countries.