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Almajiri Model School: Would it cater for the itinerant?

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Penultimate Monday, President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned the first Almajiri Integrated Model School in Sokoto with the aim of formalizing the education system of the itinerant students in Qur‘anic schools. However, given the infrastructural facilities and modern equipment put in place in the school many people tend to ask whether the real Almajiri would continue to benefit from the programme. Our reporter in Sokoto, Sadeeq Aliyu takes a look into the future of the school.

The idea of Almajiri Integrated or Tsangaya school was first muted by Sokoto state government two years ago under the administration of Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko to contain the teeming populous Qur’anic schools that harbour multitudes of itinerant students mostly drawn from localities. The two functioning Almajiri schools have so far fared well, with students acquiring Western education alongside the usual Qur‘anic education in a formal set up.
They are accommodated in classrooms and hostels with uniforms to portray the formality of Western education on one hand and in particular periods of their studies they go under trees with their slates for Qur‘anic education as obtained in informal schools. The bulk of the students were drawn from localities, apparently from poor families where it is difficult to sponsor their children to school.
As the education is free, including feeding and accommodation, there was good number of pupils not only from rural areas but also from within the town whose parents can not afford to take them to conventional primary school; and it became an opportunity for them to enroll their wards. A staff of one of the school explained that many of pupils were not Almajirai in the real sense of the word, but were enrolled into the school because the curriculum was blended with Western education such that it has a bit surpassed what is taught in conventional primary schools.  Not long after, the Federal Government ventured into the programme but solely to fulfill one of its campaign promises as President Goodluck Jonathan echoed during the commissioning ceremony of the first model school in Sokoto.
But the Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Professor Mahmood Yakub  said the idea of establishing the schools across some geo-political zones of the country was to cater for nine million Almajiris roaming the streets. Sadly enough however, the bulk of these Almajirai (if you like), come from the North-West which accounts for 50 percent of the total number due to resistance to Western education by parents.  He said this practice had long existed before the colonial administration and the Federal Government felt the need to find solution to the problem, hence the establishment of Almajiri Model Primary Schools to go side by side with Western education schools to enable children acquire literacy and numeracy. But despite Federal Government‘s effort in championing the cause of the programme, Professor Yakub said the Federal Government cannot provide this type of education alone without the assistance of states and local governments just as it only provides funding for construction, furnishing and equipping the schools; designing curriculum and providing text books and capacity building for teachers.  The states on the other hand provide land and construct the schools, recruit pupils and provide feeding and uniform to them and maintain the schools. To make learning more easy for the pupils, the curriculum provides that language of wider communication in the areas where the schools are located should be language of communication for the first three years in school. Governor Wamakko remarked that the approach his government adopted provided an acceptable model that allows parents to enroll their children into the schools which he said was different from the traditional Qur’anic school system in terms of improved curriculum contents, teaching methods, structure, management, staffing, pupils and staff welfare. While giving his fatherly counsel, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar reminded that in several states there are more pupils in the traditional Almajiri education sector than those attending conventional schools. “We should also not forget the high population growth that we have to contend with; we must ensure that we plan appropriately for the upcoming generations and endow them with educational opportunities than their predecessors.”
Shortly before and after the commissioning of the Federal Government assisted school by President Jonathan, the question that remains on the lips of many people was would the real Almajiris be the true beneficiaries of the school? Built at the cost of over N240 million, the school comprised of language and science laboratories, ICT dormitories and workshop for technical subjects where students would be taught vocational courses. The school is well structured such that even some of the existing conventional schools cannot match its standard in terms of infrastructural facilities and equipment. It is on this basis that people are entertaining fear that this Almajiri Model School may be highjacked by parents of non Almajiri pupils who may be interested in enrolling their wards to acquire knowledge with the modern equipment such as computers put in place.
However, the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Fund, Professor Yakub said it is the responsibility of journalists to checkmate the activities of the school to ensure that target beneficiaries are enrolled into the school. He also argued that elite parents would not want their children to spend the first three years in school learning with vernacular language as enshrined in the curriculum of the school.
Be that as it may, the high cost of private schools which the elites and the haves take their children to, could be the reason why they may be tempted to cash on that opportunity to usurp the Almajiri school, given the fact that all needed learning facilities are made available in the school. Besides, in the event where the targeted Almajirai particularly in the rural areas are not forth coming due to the age long resistance to western education, pupils in the conventional schools may take over; and in the end the itinerant Almajiri would continue roaming the streets as usual. Unless there would be rigorous sensitization in all the nooks and crannies the programme may likely be waylaid by selfish interests.

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