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Reintegrating almajiri into schools

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 NIGERIA has progressively moved on the upward rungs of mass literacy ladder over the years.

  Several educational policies of government have geared toward achieving high educational standard across big population in her clime –call it mass literacy program, the bottom line is that it sets to capture mass educated Nigerians.

  With free education in the South West and North decades into Independence, the dream of advanced development through education was conceived.

  More than just dream, government began priming her citizens in line with the goal by building schools to augment the few available ones at the time which were mostly run by religious bodies; mainly Christian and Islamic faith extracts.

  With free education policy in the West and a number of schools available, many citizens were put on the path of benefitting from the western education system.

  The South East soon took after the South West in free education policy such that in matter of moments, there existed strong competitiveness in core sectors of education development in the regions.

  One remarkable outcome of this venture is its ability to bring in more Nigerians into pursuit of western education and bridge the gap of human resource loss occasioned by mass illiteracy in the country’s development.

  Statistically, Nigeria had only three Universities as at  Independence. Expectedly, the number of federal universities began to grow gradually such that the first decade after Independence, about eight universities had already been established. The amazing side is the exponential rise in the number of universities in the land before the turn into the millennium. today, the figure stands at 43. federal universities, 52 state owned universities and 79 privately owned universities not to talk of foreign affiliates domiciled in Nigeria according to Nigerian University Commission’s  website report.

  While the university education system continued its upward surge in the clime, other institutions of higher learning like the polytechnics and colleges of education sprang across the climes.

  Interestingly, despite this amazing number of higher educational institutions in the country, they have not proven to have the capacity to absorb the growing number of Nigerians that seek admission in the system of late.

  Coincidentally, rigorous exercises had been introduced in the system making admission into the country’s universities and other tertiary institutions a high hurdle, yet the number that qualify for admission in a single academic period often soars far higher than the facilities can cope with.

  Ironically, while admission candidates’ numbers continue to grow especially in the South, a corresponding number of out of school children continue to grow in the North. These are significant sets of people neither groomed to desire education nor appreciate anything western education represents. They only take fancy in begging for alms and living out of fringes they are handed by charitable privileged individuals in the society. They are simply referred to as almajiri. They are never concerned with any good plans today for their better future; believing strongly that whatever their future presents is the will of Allah (their creator).

  Consequently, these almajiri have shunned contact with western education and civilisation. Their trainings and skills are far too low to suit the contemporary demands of contributing positively to economic development of the state and society at large.

  The fact that these people survived infancy having lived their lives in extreme harsh conditions without parental care shows resilience and capacity to adapt to conditions not every being can survive in. However, their upbringing is not such that society can benefit much from, as such encouraged laxity and unproductiveness.

  Fallout from coronvirus pandemic exposes the overwhelming burden of this group to government and people (well meaning) of the North.

  In recent time, the movements of these almajiri from their home states to other states in the North and across South have raised serious concerns. This has resulted in their rejections in many states they have attempted to smuggle themselves into; even within the Northern neighbourhoods. Simply put, these almajiri are conceived as security and health risks, as well as economic burdens to any host state that may welcome them.

This is not what many states currently beleaguered by the pandemic would wish to engage in. Viewing them from this prism and pondering the sudden migration tendency of this group to other parts of the country at a time general movement is not advised by authorities across the world raises more posers on the sinister motive behind this act- most curiously, when this group is not known to have the capacity to sponsor themselves on such voyages. Even as faceless as their sponsors currently look, why they chose to defy federal government’s lockdown directives to engage in this unholy act add to the volume of mysteries surrounding the development.

  But could this nadir have been averted? Sure! It has been proven that these almajiri are out of school elements and lack touch with ethical values the school system inculcates.

It behooves that if these people are kept in the school system and given better training; they will embrace life from a more refined perspective and definitely would not engage in despicable lifestyle. Then, why are these people in their large numbers in the north?

It is obvious that those who ought to groom them deliberately turned them away from having any contact with learning anything western education offers. Now, the same group that denied the almajiri dividends of western values are shipping them into climes with a blend of traditional and western lifestyles.

  The question is, has the North seen almajiri system as counterproductive to their climes? If yes, solution to their problem lies with them. This means that the almajiri must be channeled into conventional school system that would make them relevant in contemporary society.

  All states in Nigeria including the Northern states, receive allocations on education from the Ministry of Education (in line with national budget) for the purpose of developing education in their various climes. When those who these funds are supposed to cater for are found roaming the streets begging for alms, it questions utilisation of that appropriated fund and accountability must be demanded from the custodians of the fund by responsible government.

  Recent reports indicating a revisit of communiqué from Panel of Inquiries (on education in the north), set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan to look into backward educational growth in the North for implementation of compulsory child education in the area is a pointer that the almajiri system has failed woefully.

The Northern leaders should be modest in accepting this and taking responsibility of finding the solution by themselves than subtly shifting their burdens to others.

  Jonathan’s administration is credited with building 150 almajiri schools in the North.

  With the affirmation of Presidential Task Force on COVIID-19 through the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba,  during a briefing on Thursday, last week, on revisiting vital educational instruments that could help sustain growth in the system; the need for the 150 almajiri schools established by the former administration in the North to be activated has become crucial; an indication that what should command priority deserves not be compromised with politics. Suffice it to say that due diligence is sine-qua-none in matters affecting national development.

  Whatever prompted the shipping of almajiri to other states away from their home states has only revealed the failure of a system and dire need to redesign a more efficient one. The Northern leaders have much to do in this course, given that the structures are there and incentives too but orientation remains the bane of any meaningful progress.

  More so, the South needs to be appreciated and given more support for their commitment in the sector despite challenges. It flies in the face of reasons to stall  their progress with unfair stringent conditions given to their academic pursuit while their counterparts continue to get robust incentives for not doing enough in keying into contemporary educational standard.

Perhaps, this disproportionate conditions school candidates from the different regions are subjected to, and preferential treatment enjoyed by those who agree to go to school in the region may have contributed to the refusal of the northern children to grow beyond infancy in western education.  Much as they should be encouraged, liberalisation of extant policies should be adopted.

 It will continue to sow discriminatory seed in the hearts of prospective Nigerian youths against themselves when one who scored above 250 points in JAMB cut-off mark and the same in post UTME screening sits at home, having been denied admission in the South while their counterparts in the North who could garner 200 on both tests are expressly offered admission. How would the pampered lot sit up?

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