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Educating 9.5m almajirai: How far can FG go?

By Amaka Abayomi, AbdulSalam Muhammad, Abdullah el-Kurebe & Favour Nnabugwu

One of the objectives of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) is to ensure the acquisition of appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, manipulative, communicative and life skills as well as the ethical, moral and civic values needed for laying a solid foundation for life-long learning.

Resolute in achieving this objective and Education for All, EFA, by 2015, the Federal Government launched the Almajiri model school in Sokoto State, which would be replicated in other northern states of the country aimed at broadening the horizon of over 9.5 million almajirai on spiritual and moral values.

The term ‘almajiri’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘Almuhajirun’ which means someone who leaves his home in search of knowledge in Islamic religion. In Nigeria, the word has been used interchangeably to mean street urchins or one who abandons Quranic schools to beg for alms all the time.

President Goodluck Jonathan at the inauguration of the first Almajiri Model Boarding School in Gagi, Sokoto State, said his administration was aware that knowledge remains the pedestal on which a nation’s social cohesion and economic development depend, hence the need to cater for the educational needs of the Almajiris.

“It is alarming to know that there are 9.5million almajiri children in northern Nigeria. The almajiri system which started in the 11th century under the Kanem Borno Emirs leadership was aimed at training future scholars for the propagation of Islam.

“Unfortunately, it has become a platform for breeding vulnerable male children who live under some greedy Islamic scholars whose agenda are basically to financially exploit them while they fend for themselves through alms begging. Worse still, it has become a ground for radicalising children for misguided missions in recent times.”

Pointing out that its objective was drawn from the National Policy on Education and included the inculcation of national consciousness and national unity among the participants, the Minister of Education, Prof Ruquayyat Rufa’I, said the thrust of the policy are the acquisition of appropriate mental, social and physical skills, abilities and competences, as well as equipment for the individual to live in his society and to contribute to its development among others issues.

According to her, “Almajiri system is designed to build in young minds, sound doctrines of Islam as specified in the Holy Quran. Essentially, it was meant to teach children basic spiritual, moral and social values in order to enhance their sense of responsibility. Already, N5bn has been earmarked for this project.

“Its objective was principally drawn from the National Policy on Education and included the inculcation of national consciousness and national unity among participants, acquisition of appropriate skills, abilities and competences, as well as equipment for the individual to live in his society and to contribute to its development among others issues.”

The schools are equipped with six blocks of three classrooms each, 16 units of computers, science lab, vocational workshop, library, dormitory, dinning and recitation halls, Mallam’s quarters and a clinic. Under the programme, government plans to build a total of 400 schools in the 19 northern states, about 100 of which are expected to be delivered before the end of June this year.

...Cross section of Almajiri students

Already, 35 of such model schools have been constructed, and states with large populations of almajirai will have both the boarding and day schools.

Commendations, knocks
Meanwhile, more commendations than knocks have continued to trail the policy, though some have expressed fears that the policy would go the way of the nomadic education policy initiated in 1989.

Established in 1989, the Nomadic education programme was to cater to the educational needs of nomads in the northern region. The programme, which has three major objectives of raising the living standard of the rural community; harnessing the potentials of the Fulani; and bridging the literacy gap between them and the rest of the society, recorded no meaningful development.

As education minister, Prof. Jubril Aminu facilitated the establishment of the Nigerian National Commission for Nomadic Education (NNCNE) to cater for an estimated  nine million nomads. By the 1995/96 academic session, 890 nomadic schools existed in 296 LGAs of 25 states. Of that number, states ran 608, LGs ran 130, and local communities 152. Of an estimated 3.1 million nomadic school age children, only 88,871 could be catered for.

It is on record that less than 10 per cent of Fulani men and two per cent of their women are formally literate because the nomadic education scheme was hampered by faulty procedure, inadequate finance, incessant migration of students, obsolete data,  and religious taboos.

Commending the federal government for taking calculated steps in ensuring equal access to education in the north, Policy Advisor, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All, CSACEFA, Mr. Wale Samuel, said the initiative is a policy aimed at using public funding of education to achieve the much needed equity in the society.

“There remains a huge gap between the rich and the poor and such education is useful in bridging this gap on the long run. However, we hope the initiative will be sustained and not suffer from ‘policy somersault’ which is the hallmark of policies and initiatives in Nigeria.”

The Sultan, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, observed that the school system would provide succour and relief to millions who had been left out of the conventional school system as Nigeria cannot afford to allow the emergence of unequal societies and the adverse social consequences associated with it.

“We must endeavour to provide fair opportunities to every child and equip our school age population to lead productive lives and contribute their quota to national development. We must encourage self help and facilitate the establishment and sustenance of community schools by restoring the culture of endowment to support educational and religious institutions.”

Imams in some mosques in Gagi, Mallams Bello Shehu, Umar Naibi and Nasiru Mamuda, described the school as a welcome development, but lamented that the immediate community of Gagi was not adequately considered in enrolling the almajiris there.

“Government should have considered the almajiris in Gagi as well as recruited instructors from here, too. Government should also consider the attitude of the teachers that are being recruited to teach the almajiris,” Shehu said in the Hausa language.

“We are not sure of the credibility of the teachers that are being employed to teach the almajiris. The capability to impart knowledge is one thing and good characters of the teachers is another, but we are ready to cooperate if we are sure of the teachers’ characters.”

Calling on government to ensure adequate public enlightenment and restructuring of the Al-Mmajiri school system so as to ensure its success, former Governor of Kano State, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, tasked government to embark on public awareness on the scheme as some people are still skeptical about the policy and its impact.

“The north needs qualitative and a holistic educational system for us to overcome the economic and security challenges facing us. There is the need for government to empower and carry the Al-majiri schools teachers (Ulamas) along in the design and teaching of the school curriculum. There is no need for government to build big schools equipped with chairs and tables before the scheme takes off. What is important is to empower the Ulamas and create the right environment for teaching and learning.”


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