The Almajiri Initiative, a new school system that seeks the integration of the Tsangaya (itinerant school) or Qur’anic School System and that of western education (Boko) just launched by the Federal Government in partnership with the states and local councils is a good new development even if, as I suspect, it is happening just accidentally. The shortcoming identified with the Tsangaya School System is that it encourages rote learning of the Holy Scripture and did not kit its beneficiaries with skills to earn livelihood as adults.
The accidental aspect of new policy is that it may have sprung up as a slogan, a jargon or gimmick to spin votes for politicians. But even if it were so, patriotic institutions and citizens can hijack it, that is assuming government is not well-meaning, to turn it into a tool for a desirable social change. That should bring about the empowerment of children, their fathers and mothers and the larger community using education.
The policy initiative which was recently launched amidst fanfare by the government in Gagi, a village in Sokoto State, is to ensure the setting up of 400 such schools this year. TV pictures of the well-built school, furnished classrooms, facilities and the transformed outlook of your regular rag-tag, barefooted Almajiri all came together to tell the story of a first-ever effort to carry along the socially underprivileged children. The President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in inaugurating the scheme, said there were 10million of such children roaming the streets of mostly Northern cities. How can a society develop without guaranteeing right to education to all its children?
The refusal of Muslims to embrace the Western school system has its roots in the malfunctions of colonial rule when schools came here, not merely as agents of education and socialization but of conversion of Muslims to Christian faith. On account of this, Muslims, especially those found in the North who make up Nigeria’s largest community -or something close to that- did not enroll their children in schools. The sad aspect of it is that this deficit in faith in the Boko system remained largely unaddressed for the more than 100 years of the existence of this country. Based on this faulty foundation, this country has borne the burden of an uneducated mass of humanity, Some might say for too long. This accounts for why many things had gone wrong, and are bound to go wrong with our system. The fact that a policy is coming at this time presupposes that there is consciousness on the part of those that rule us that we cannot continue to pretent that all is well. The pioneers/ground-breakers of this progressive system of education are worthy of commendation.
Seeing our vast population, in the current parlance, human capital, we need to invest more in education if this country is to make a meaningful attempt at achieving national development. Things have been going wrongly for us due mainly to lack of education.
The democratic process requires enlightened masses who cannot be manipulated by vested interests in the political system. Armed with education and secure future, the Almajiri will resist the pressure to be recruited as thugs by politicians. They (masses) will know and press for their rights, which the political class must satisfy, or suffer the consequences of disobedience to the electorate when they vote.
As one writer asserted, without access to universal education, democracy becomes dumbocracy – the rule of the ignorant, for the ignorant and by the ignorant – a scenario which Nigeria has come dangerously close to enacting.
We all know that the new Almajiri Initiative is a challenge both in terms of money and more so, acceptability to the segment of the population it is targeted at. There will, for instance be resistance by the beneficiaries of the out-going order. For every decadent system, there are beneficiaries who will defend it to the last. But the thing that will even be more potentially damaging to the new scheme is the attitude of the government to education and to almost everything. We know the government of the day as one that only announces schemes and leaves them at that- no follow-up, no follow-through.
In a normal situation, this policy on Almajiri is a noble act to help our poor and underprivileged sections of the population to grow into a better youth of tomorrow. Let us hope that the policy works well, and that it doesn’t end in a great deal of chest thumping and hot air.
According to the late British Philosopher and Mathematician, Bertrand Russell, “those who think education is expensive should try ignorance”! Therefore, no investment is too much for the education of socially and economically vulnerable groups like the Almajiris.