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By NBF News
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A few days ago, President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned the first model Almajiri boarding primary school in Sokoto State. Known as the Tsangaya Model Boarding School, the school is the first to be entirely dedicated to the education of the Almajiri. The president said at the occasion that the idea was aimed at providing equal access to basic education for the Almajiri.

He equally stated that the model school which integrates Islamic and conventional education would provide a conducive atmosphere for the Almajiri to become productive and contribute their quota to national development.

The statistics recently rolled out by the Federal Ministry of Education, which the president relied upon at the occasion, indicate that about 9.5 million children are currently outside the conventional school system with the North-West geo-political zone accounting for about five million.

Under the scheme, 35 Almajiri model schools are to be built by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). All the states of the north except Plateau and Edo State in the South are going to be beneficiaries of the project. For a part of the country where conventional education has not been properly embraced, the concept of Almajiri education which may serve as an alternative, however unviable, may not be a bad idea. It is better for the Almajiri who have not embraced western education to go for the Islamic model rather than have no education at all. To this extent, the idea behind the establishment of Almajiri model schools is well received.

But we object to the involvement of the Federal Government in the scheme.

The curriculum of the school is designed for the teaching of Islamic and Arabic education, the sharia and the Koran, among others. The curriculum touches only tangentially on conventional subjects such as the English Language. In other words, the Almajiri model schools are schools for Islamic education. This being the case, we consider it improper for the Federal Government to get involved in such a project that has religious connotations and undertones considering the fact that Section 10 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, forbids the Government of the Federation or a state from getting embroiled in religious matters.

Besides, President Jonathan did not help the cause of the Almajiri schools when he said that they are designed to provide equal access to education for the Almajiri. This suggests that an unequal access to education has been existing between the Almajiri and other Nigerian children. Is this really the case? We note that successive Nigerian governments had always designed educational schemes that are targeted at the children, irrespective of their ethnic origin, religious background or geographical affinity. There was, for instance, the Universal Primary Education (UPE) of old and the present Universal Basic Education (UBE). These programmes were designed for all Nigerian children. We do not therefore understand how the issue of unequal access comes up. If any particular part of the country decided to put itself in a position of disadvantage for whatever reason, the rest of the country should not and cannot be held responsible for that.

Again, if several millions of Nigerian children, particularly from the north, are outside the conventional school system, it may well be that the system is not attractive to them. What should be done therefore is to seek ways of enlisting their interest in conventional education. This should be the responsibility of affected state governments. To seek to institute a school for Islamic studies as an alternative as the Federal government is currently doing goes off the mark. It will not address the problem of lack of interest in conventional education. It will rather bring about segmentation in education which may have untold consequences.

What, for instance, if the 18 States of the Federation which are not beneficiaries of this scheme also begin to ask for an educational scheme that will accommodate their own children outside the conventional ones?

We also do not understand why the Almajiri schools are being built with funds from TETFUND. Are the Almajiri primary schools part of tertiary education in Nigeria? The diversion of funds meant for tertiary education into this scheme suggests that government did not do its homework properly. The Federal Government should reconsider its involvement in this project. It is better left in the hands of states that have need for them.