This Day (Lagos)

27 July 2011

Nigeria: Obstacles to Vulnerable Children's Education

The Nigeria Northern Education Initiative (NEI) recently organised a workshop for journalists in Bauchi State on strategic reporting of basic education and issues related to the education of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC).

The three-day training workshop, which held at the Yankari Holiday Resort and Games Viewing Centre, Bauchi, was organised with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with the state Ministry of Information.

The workshop, which attracted journalists from the print and electronic media organisations, was geared towards improving the knowledge of media practitioners on issues concerning orphans, vulnerable children and basic education in the state.

The aims were to increase journalists' skills to effectively report these issues, inform them on the NEI project, and solicit their support in achieving the project's goals; as well as empower journalists to raise the level of public discourse on basic education, the plight of OVC, raise awareness among communities about NEI's best practices, innovative solutions and success stories.

The most striking issue was the alarming statistics as revealed by the National Education Demographic Survey (NEDS) 2011, which indicated that over 50 percent of children between ages six-16 in the state have never attended primary school, just as it revealed that the state government's investment of N1, 219 on primary education per child is the lowest in the entire north eastern region of the country.

The survey also showed that only 20.7 percent of the children that attend primary school in the state actually spend at least five hours per day there. Another survey conducted by the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) in 2008, showed that only 13 percent of females in the state are literate, as against the 52 percent literacy rate among men.

Though actual data of the number of orphans and vulnerable children were not available, it is obvious that OVCs constitute most children not attending primary school in the state. This assumption could be seen in the number of children roaming the streets who are either physically challenged, orphans, almajirai, girl hawkers and children of the poor, especially those in rural areas.

Though all efforts to speak with a Tsangaya Mallam proved abortive at the time of filing this report, a close source, Mallam Abdulrashid Sambo confirmed that some of the mallams did not support the idea of harmonising the Tsangaya system with modern education because they believe that even the conventional schools are just churning out students who cannot read or write.

"At least, the almajiris from Tsangaya schools can boast of writing and reading in Ajami and Arabic. Even teachers in conventional schools are not being motivated by the government and maybe, these are some of the reasons for the poor performance by students of conventional schools."

Contrary to the general belief that it is only one Tsangaya mallam that impacts Quranic knowledge to the multitudes of almajiri in a particular place, Sambo said, "the Tsangaya mallam is the overall coordinator of any Tsangaya, he has senior students who have five to six junior ones under their tutelage. Let me also correct one impression that so many of us have regarding the average almajiri. There are almajiris from the Tsangaya and also those, whose parents had abandoned their responsibility to look after them or in some cases, the children of destitute or physically challenged parents who cannot shoulder their responsibility. In most cases, it is the latter groups that you see on our streets that constitute public nuisance and some times, become a ready-made tool in the hands of unscrupulous elements in the society, who use them to cause violence."

But whatever the group of the almajirai, the fact remains that they are vulnerable and definitely need the attention of the state government and all stakeholders in the education sector.

A 21-year old man from Kano State, who is still in the Tsangaya system in Bauchi, Mohammad Ladan, shed more light on the system, saying the Tsangaya differs from one mallam to another.

In his own case, Ladan said he and his colleagues were lucky because their mallam is a liberal person who has embraces the 'modern' Tsangaya. "I finished my primary school before my father handed me over to a mallam, who is an indigene of Katsina State. I started my studies at the age 12, immediately after my primary education", he said.

Asked what their daily activity is, ladan, who spoke in Hausa said, "there are about 70 of us in the Tsangaya at the heart of Bauchi metropolis. We are accommodated in the house of our mallam. The house has enough rooms with an average of five senior almajirai and 10 junior ones to a room. Though, our juniors go out to beg for food sometimes, most of the times we are being feed in the house of our mallam."

On how their mallam gets the means to cater for the large number of almajirai under his care, Ladan hastily said, "our mallam is into farming, transport and estate business and we sometimes assist on the farm. That is why I told you that our mallam does not operate the old Tsangaya system. Our living quarters are clean. In fact, some of our senior almajirai are in Higher Islamic Institute, where there is some degree of modern education in their curriculum. Some of us also attend night adult education classes and we use fans and generator when there is power failure."

However, the greatest challenge remains that most Tsangaya schools are not as organised as Ladan's.

The situation in most of the Tsangaya Schools can best be described as pathetic, the almajirai always appear hungry, dirty, most times infested with one disease or the other with scabies all over their bodies. They are often bare footed and most of them are denied the right to basic modern education.

Ibrahim Yunusa is a 15-old-year primary three drop-out from Sade in Darazo Local Government Area of the state. He exposed THISDAY to some of the harsh realities of life at the Tsangaya. According to him, there are children as young as eight years old in his Tsangaya at Zango, a surburb within Bauchi metropolis.

"There are about 30 of us in two rooms to share and we do farm work for our Mallam during the farming season. The smaller ones amongst us most have to do 'bara' (beg for food) to have what to eat or sometimes engage in menial jobs in households in return for food that serves as remuneration for service rendered."

Ibrahim expressed doubt that his mallam would succumb to the mainstreaming of the Tsangaya system. He also admitted that majority his colleagues Almajirai were from rural areas in the state with the exception of a few from other states in the north.

A parent, who is also a product of the Tsangaya system, Alhaji Umar Sa'ad said he was proud to be associated with the system. He said his experience as an almajiri made a significant impact in his life as an adult. "My experience in the Tsangaya has taught me to persevere in whatever situation I find myself." Sa'ad said the system did not in any way impede his quest for modern education because of his father's constant monitoring of the Tsangaya.

Asked if he could take his child to Tsangaya, he promptly said, "Yes I can, but will apply the same method that my father applied to me."

He believed that the apathy for the current Tsangaya system might not be unconnected with the way some children are being indoctrinated in certain beliefs that are contrary to the tenet of Islamic religion.

Perhaps these frightening statistics in the state's basic education prompted USAID to fund a four-year comprehensive intervention in basic education through the NEI.

The goal of the intervention is to strengthen the state and local government systems and to support OVC to lay the foundation for delivering quality basic education in the state.

This goal, according to NEI Senior Programme Officer (Communication), Rabi Ekele would, among other things, seek to strengthen the state and local government capacity to deliver basic education services by addressing key issues in education management, sustainability and oversight.

She added that it would also address the issue of access of OVC to basic education and other services like health information, counseling and referrals in NEI states.

It is noteworthy that the only beneficiaries of the intervention are Bauchi and Sokoto States

A Senior OVC Advisor with NEI in Bauchi, Mallam Muktar Gaya said in the less than two years, NEI had identified over 15,000 OVC that needed immediate support in both states.

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