President Goodluck Jonathan registering an Almajiri child after the inauguration of the first Federal Government-owned Almajiri Model Boarding School, Gagi in Sokoto metropolis.
There is hope in the horizon for an estimated nine million Almajiri out of school children, most of whom were previously enrolled in Quaranic schools, as both the Federal and State governments recently signed an Affirmation of Support, endorsing the government’s strategic plan to provide them with education of good quality.
Vice President, Mohammed Sambo, recently played host to important key stakeholders, which included the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, and Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, some of his colleagues, Commissioners for Education and scores of northern emirs, at the State House banquet hall. Several suggestions on how to strengthen the initiative emerged at the meeting.
Action on the Almajiri’s plight began when the Federal Government set up the Madrasah Education Committee in 2010. Education Minister, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai later inaugurated the National Almajiri Education Implementation Committee (NAEIC) in October of the same year. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) were mandated to design the strategies and provide funding to address the various challenges associated with the initiative.
The National Framework was swiftly launched on December 11, 2010 in Gantsa, Jigawa State, where the Vice President also laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Model Almajiri boarding school. And on April 10, this year, President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned the model Almajiri boarding school at Gagi, Sokoto State.
However, since TETFund will no longer fund projects in the basic education sub sector as a result of an amendment in its enabling law, the 36 model Almajiri schools it had so far constructed in 18 states will now be handed over to UBEC.
But the commission, according to its Executive Secretary, Dr Mohammed Modibo, is also constructing 66 models I, II and III Almajiri schools of its own in 22 states. Of these, 51 Model I schools are being built across the country and would accommodate 50 students each. Facilities to be provided include a Recitation hall, one block of two classrooms, an office, a toilet, a hostel block with toilet and laundry, one block of VIP toilets, hand pump borehole, a gate house and perimeter fencing.
Mohammed also observed that 13 Model II projects, with each having the capacity to accommodate 300 students, will be constructed all over the country, with each also having a recitation hall, an administration block, two laboratories, two workshops, classrooms, offices and toilet, hostel block with toilets and laundry, a block of VIP toilet and the Amir’s residence.
During contributions at that meeting, Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed voiced concerns about the sustainability of the initiative and more importantly, the need to find a permanent solution to the Almajiri phenomenon. He called for action to deal with the root causes of the Almajiri culture, just as he suggested the provision of vocational training for Almajiri adults.
To Amaechi, nothing short of a state of emergency in the education sector across the northern states was needed, which, he also argued, would address poverty and ignorance of the mind once and for all.
Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar, who asked for understanding among Nigerians, said the initiative should not be interpreted as solution to a religion problem. He said: “Islam does not encourage begging. Those children who go begging are doing so because their parents are poor. The Almajiri problem is a social problem. If we ascribe it to Islam, we will be missing the point, so that tomorrow, somebody will not come and ask for a solution to a ‘Christian’ problem.”
However, UBEC has also vigorously pursued its target of delivering basic education in the country by 2015, in line with the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although there are several challenges. Mohammed told The Intellectual that the commission, in collaboration with the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), has produced and distributed one set of the new basic education curriculum to every public primary and junior secondary school in the country. From 2005 to date, 19, 849 classrooms were constructed while 9, 056 others were renovated. Some 863, 255 furniture items were supplied, 14, 871 toilets were built and 366 boreholes were sunk.
Besides, 2, 376 science kits were procured and distributed to some junior secondary schools nationwide. And as part of its mandate of ensuring the delivery of quality education in all public basic schools in Nigeria, the commission, in collaboration with the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs), pooled resources together, trained 894, 836 teachers and education managers in the core subjects areas, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Guidance and Counselling between 2005 and 2008.
From 2009, when the capacity building for teachers was centralized, UBEC trained 175, 767 teachers, 153, 920 in 2010 and 185, 000 in 2011. Again, over 105, 000 participants have enlisted for the Federal Teachers’ Scheme since it began in 2006, to address the problems associated with teacher shortage in the basic education sub – sector. The commission has also disbursed over N28.4 billion support funds in aid of the UBE Community-Initiated Self-Help projects.
Recently, UBEC also flagged off the distribution of instructional materials for primary and junior secondary schools for the North West region in Katsina state, with the Minister of State for Education, Barrister Nyesom Wike assuring that the Federal Government would continue to provide instructional materials and upgrade critical infrastructure in all the states across the country.