BY MAHMUD NASIR JAFAR
A few days ago, a social media user asked a question in response to a news article about whether Sokoto State had a system in place to curb the threat of the much abused Almajiri culture, and it has immediately piqued my interest. But before I respond with the facts on the ground, a more knowledgeable expert on the issue, Mr. Abdulrahman Leme, dispelled doubts and provided insight into an intervention launched by Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
Over the past six years, Leme said, Sokoto State has developed a policy to transform the Almajiri system and has led to the adoption of the Indonesian-type Islamic school system known as the Pondok Pesantren system. Madrasah. As a consultant for a UNDP-funded project on reforming the Almajiri practice and institution, Mr. Leme traveled across the North, including Sokoto State, to join existing policies on restructuring. of the Almajiri system. Thus, he cited the Indonesian model built on the integration of Islamic and secular study programs and, most significantly, compulsory vocational training to prepare young students for an entrepreneurial life and autonomy.
The reason why Sokoto’s choice of this practical intervention impressed me is the approach taken by other states. When COVID-19 measures became strict across Nigeria last year, as public spaces and states closed, northern states embarked on the ‘expulsion’ of Almajirai – migrant students from Islamic schools informal and registered – to their home states.
The state of Sokoto opposed this cruel recourse which even led to a political stalemate between the states of Kano and Kaduna. What was intended to manage the spread of the coronavirus has become a vector for the spread of infection and toxicity of politicians by elected officials to preserve the dignity of citizens.
While the governors of Kano and Kaduna states were locked in a war of words that led the two states to close their “borders” to prevent displacement, Governor Tambuwal’s plan for the Almajiai was designed to be implemented. complete work. Since the lockdown, the administration led by Tambuwal has redoubled its efforts to implement the Pondok model and offer the North a lasting solution to the intergenerational dilemma that is the Almajiri system.
But Tambuwal’s intervention started much earlier. In 2016, while acknowledging the educational disadvantages of Sokoto State, the governor declared a state of emergency on education. The government set up a committee aptly called the State Emergency Committee on Education and tasked it with conducting a needs assessment in all public schools in the state and understanding the complexities of problems that have plagued education in the state. The conclusions of this committee necessitated the necessity of the Pondok model.
This declaration of a state of emergency was timely and necessary because of the calamity it evoked for the state. Around that time, Nigeria had been ranked the top country with the most out-of-school children in the world, with the northwest accounting for 69% of the nearly 13 million children. In Sokoto, the situation was critical when Tambuwal took power in 2015. Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, around 1.3 million children of primary school age are not in school. in Sokoto State. The first intervention that Governor Tambuwal initiated to combat this dysfunction was a bill aimed at criminalizing the refusal of parents to send their children or pupils to school. It was a radical and sincere gesture to encourage schooling.
The Pondok system, unlike the previous Almajiri model, incorporates a Western system and technical and vocational learning into the curriculum, which is facilitated as it is designed to build on existing local institutions and around structures that people find it familiar. The goal is to support lifelong academic and vocational learning for one million vulnerable or at-risk children across the state by 2030.
The success of this Pondok-type system deployment in Sokoto State, referred to as Almajiri Nizamiyyah in official policy documents, hinges on some of the similarities it shared with the previous Almajiri system, although the latter must be retouched. In addition to projecting Islamic education and values, both systems are culturally established, supported by society’s lifelong attachment, adaptable to change, owned by various organizations, regulated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and largely funded by the Awqaf.
So far, this old Almajiri school system has been known to subject vulnerable children to extreme poverty, which fuels their choice to beg in the streets and house to house in order to survive. Ultimately, the supposed students are left at the mercy of illnesses, illnesses untreated and without employable skills or recognized qualifications to enter the workforce, usually ending up as notorious delinquents or thugs. The Almajiri Nizamiyyah model is distinguished by the emphasis placed on the vocational or entrepreneurial training of students.
As the seat of the caliphate and host of Nigeria’s highest Islamic authority, Sokoto State functions as a model for other states, and this particular solution to the bastardization of the Almajiri system is a late reform that should be replicated by other states at a crossroads in efforts to reform the Almajiri system. The truth is that the difficult discussions about the complete abolition of the Almajiri system are unrealistic and meaningless suggestions that various generations of policymakers have failed to materialize. It is impossible to abolish a system that already houses millions of children. You can’t just erase them. The solution is rather to restructure; to find a way to make this already existing system work. And that’s where the Pondok-type system comes in.
The dilemma is even worse now that Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups wage war on Western education and thwart mass education campaigns.
Mahmud Nasir Jafar, Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Gwarimpa, Abuja.