Rep Aishatu Jibrin Dukku is the House of Representatives member representing Dukku/Nafada federal constituency. In this interview, she speaks on the move by the legislature to reform the Almajiri education system and address the menace of out-of-school children.
The House of Representatives spent a whole day debating the issue of out-of-school children in Nigeria. How will you describe the debate?
I can see many people speaking from the position of ignorance; people condemning the Almajiri system of education; we have different phenomena. In the South East, we have the issue of the 'boy child' that is not going to school. We have the issue of the internally displaced children; they may be with their parents in the IDP camps or orphans. So, these issues were all muddled up. Our concern specifically, was on the out-of-school children whose population is 10.2 million out of which 10 million are in the northern part of Nigeria. So, this calls for concern.
Why I said people were speaking from the point of ignorance because people believe that the Almajiri, is a 'child beggar.' It is a system of education that you can call informal or non-formal and that has been in existence before the advent of Western education.
The Almajiri was coined from an Arabic word "al-muhajirun" and in this context, the almajiri is just a boy that seeks Islamic knowledge and he is given to a malam (teacher) or an "alaramma" by his father. The parents know where they have taken their children to but their number has increased and that is alarming. Again, after a certain number of years, they finish what they are supposed to do and they go into something else; some are trained to become teachers.
It is a well-organised system which was subsequently reformed. When I was the minister of Education under late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua of blessed memory, UNESCO felt we may not achieve the (Education For All) EFA goals. Eleven countries that are over populated were seen as those that would not be able to meet the EFA goals. The goals were that "we achieve basic education, girl child education, gender parity and equality by the year 2015. But by 2009, there was evidence that we will not achieve the EFA goals. So, the late president set up a committee that went round to evaluate the problem.
UNESCO took us round and we saw that these countries that could not achieve the goals were countries that were practising one form of Almajiri education or the other as Tsangaya, Madrassah or under other names depending on the country. But after the death of President Yar'adua, the policy was completely changed. We saw during Jonathan's administration, construction of schools that were tagged Almajiri schools. These Almajiri schools were nothing different. They were just built. Some of them were even in the bush where no parent will take his child to. Also, no parent will give his child to a teacher that is not known to him.
So, from day one, the system started failing because the policies that we came up with were not adhered to and the parents didn't have any confidence in the so-called new Almajiri schools. That is why we have continued to have increased number of almajiri children on our streets. Billions of Naira were spent on the programme.
If we really want to take the almajiri to conventional school, we should not throw away the Almajiri system of education because it provides skills - one of the goals of primary education. The system gives them basic literacy - they can read and write. They can read the Holy Qur'an whereas our children in conventional education cannot even read. A primary six boy cannot read.
What I am trying to suggest, and I have suggested on the floor of the House, is that we should appraise the Almajiri system. We can then come up with an encompassing policy that will integrate both the Almajiri child and their teachers into the basic education system. It can be done. Indonesia had 30 million out-of-school children, now 99% are in school.
We went to Indonesia and we saw that they only took three subjects out of western education - Mathematics, English and Science - and inculcated them into the Madrassah system of education and that was it. Somebody even suggested on the floor that amendments be made and that we should copy what Indonesia has done.
I have a different opinion. We should appraise the system used by Indonesia and see how it suits us so that we learn the best practice from it, and see how we can improve and implement it. So, for me, I am not against the Almajiri system of education because it has provided what the basic education system has failed to. Two, I am not of the opinion, that these children should be taken away from their malams and alarammas because they were given to these alarammas by their parents. Even in western schools, as a school principal, I want a father to come and ask me to take care of this girl because that is better psychologically. The parent and the child will have confidence in me as the school head.
The alarammas and the malams should be integrated into the basic system so that, they have confidence in what the government is doing. Otherwise, no matter what, if it is going to take us 100 years, these parents will never believe in what you want to do. So, you have to carry the parents along, then you have to come up with a reorientation system. If you want to reform the Almajiri system, we have to come up with a system whereby you tell the parents the ills of taking their children out of their environments; from a known environment to an unknown environment, especially with the insecurity situation in the country now.
We should also make sure that the basic schools we want to put the children into are very attractive. Some of our schools now have about 200 pupils sitting on the floor in a class; the almajiris will rather prefer to go back to their informal Tsangaya schools, sit down on the floor and read because their teachers give attention for them. You can't tell me, a teacher will have the attention of 200 pupils sitting in a classroom; it is not possible.
In those days, schools were more attractive than our homes and we were anxious to go back to school when the holiday is over. But these days, the schools are nothing to write home about. So these are my humble suggestions.
How did late President Yar'adua address the menace of out-of-school kids?
There is a report on the issue by Professor Galadanchi that is domiciled at the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) which is, of course, the right agency to take care of that. A new name started coming up, that it has to be given a national outlook. But this is a problem. Ten million out-of-school children is a big problem and these children are in the North. So, if you call it Almajiri programme, there is nothing wrong. However the name was changed because some people said there are also children in the Southeast out-of-school and there are girls that are not in school, but the three issues are not the same.
The boy-child issue is different, the girl-child issue is different and the Almajiri issue is different. So, the system has to go back to Professor Galadanchi's report and try and implement word-for-word what that committee proffered. It is there at the UBEC and I want Nigerians to look at it and see how we can implement it and remove these young children from the streets. The Almajiri has been neglected to become miscreants by being at undesirable places where they learn bad habits and become agents of antisocial behaviour.