THE PROPOSED SCHOOLS FOR STREET KIDS
IN what looks like another wild goose chase, the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, recently in Jigawa State, while launching the National Education Policy, disclosed that not less than 100 integrated model schools for kid beggars (Almajiris) would be established across the country before September 2011. The aim, he said, is to meet up with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The Vice President was laying the foundation of the Almajiri Model School in Gantsa, Buji Council of Jigawa State when he made the statement.? The question to ask from the outset is, given the confusion and lack of coherent policy direction in the education sector, how would the idea of establishing separate schools for street kids help in furthering national educational goals?
The other day, it was nomadic education for the Fulani; and today, it is schools for street kids, and yet the formal education system is there - neglected and begging for attention! There is no clear-cut policy framework on what the country wants to achieve educationally and how to go about it. The country can hardly achieve the MDG target on education by 2015 because on a regular basis, one ad hoc measure is thrown up, tried and dropped only for government to initiate another one as a new minister comes on board. There is no continuity of effort within the system.
On what policy framework is the idea of schools for street kids based? Who would fund it? Obviously, the states would be unwilling to embark on an entirely new education drive that would cost money when they are not able to adequately fund the schools under their care. If, on the other hand it is the federal government, what business has the federal government got to do with primary education that is the exclusive preserve of local councils?
It is obvious from all indications that the whole concept is wrong headed. It can only bring more confusion into the beleaguered education sector. There is nothing that the proposal is going to add to raise the dwindling fortunes of the education sector. Like every other ad hoc measure that government toys with from time to time, this latest attempt can only serve to benefit the promoters of the idea and their cronies who would be awarded bogus contracts to build the ill-conceived schools. Thereafter, nothing again would be heard of the programme. This, of course, is not the first time that government is trading with such futile idea.
For instance, what has happened to all the introductory technology laboratories and workshops that were built all over the country in the wake of the implementation of the now controversial 6-3-3-4 education system? Those blocks were built and abandoned without the necessary equipment installed. But the contractors smiled home with billions while the intended beneficiaries - our children gained nothing and the system was the ultimate loser.
As far back as 1986, the same federal government came up with the idea of a nomadic education programme to provide basic education to the pastoral Fulani. Huge funds were voted to implement the programme. More than two decades later, what is the status of the nomadic education programme? Is it working? Is it functional? As at today, the nomadic education policy has been grossly affected by among other things defective policy, poor funding, faulty school placement and frequent migration of students. Despite the huge funds spent over the years, the programme has done little to boost literacy among the target group.
The truth is that government at all levels is paying lip service to education. Funding is the critical issue. Government is not yet ready to adequately fund education in the country. That is the root of the crisis. Added to that is poor infrastructure, as well as inadequate and poorly motivated teaching staff.
If government is sincerely committed and ready to get street children into school, it cannot do so by building separate schools for them as if they are abnormal. Still, it is not advisable to discriminate against children in difficult circumstances. The ideal thing is to expose them to a normal school situation among other children. So, why plan to build separate schools for street kids? Besides, the street kids are not the only group of children that are out of school. Like the nomadic children, there are also nomadic fishermen children in the riverine areas who have no access to education. Altogether, the United Nations estimates that 11 million Nigerian children are out of school and this is expected to double by 2016. This makes Nigeria one of the worst places for a child to be.
As it were, the street kids school plan is not well thought out. The children should be integrated into the normal school system where they can interact with other children for effective development. How to get these children into schools is where the challenge lies. Government needs to sensitise the children and their parents. And because they would have to be forced to adopt a new lifestyle, their education should be made free and mandatory and the schools should be adequately funded.