By Simeon Nwakaudu
For the average Nigerian, the ear-splitting noise in the political landscape could be quite confusing. The reason for the noise is quite obvious. To deviate attention from the quiet revolution taking place in several sectors of our national life.
After several postponements due to official engagements, the Jonathan administration on Saturday, November 2, 2013 threw into the nation’s education system, 64 newly completed and furnished Almajiri Model Schools, initiated and constructed by the administration. This is out of a list of 89 being constructed by the administration through the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC.
The remaining 25 have been completed and are being furnished. They will soon be duly completed before the end of the year and handed over to the host states. Indeed, since assuming the reins of leadership, President Goodluck Jonathan has fully initiated 124 Almajiri Models Schools across the country, especially in the north. Last year, the President personally commissioned the first set of 35 Almajiri Model Schools constructed by Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund. The symbolic commissioning exercise in Sokoto was done by the President to cover that phase.
These 64 schools that are now on stream are those built on behalf of the administration by UBEC. Vice President Namadi Sambo took charge of the event on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The 64 schools are located at: Adamawa, Borno, Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Oyo, Osun, Lagos, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Rivers, Kogi, Niger, Katsina, Taraba and Nasarawa States.
As stated earlier, this is part of a comprehensive drive to completely tackle the out-of-school children challenge that is negatively affecting the nation’s overall development. At present, based on existing data from UNESCO, Nigeria has 10.5million out-of-school children. Of this number, over 9million are Almajiris.
Therefore, the decision to comprehensively tackle this unwholesome social challenge was deliberate and geared towards emancipating the down-trodden in parts of the north and other parts of the country where they may have migrated to. The consequences of the ubiquitous presence of the Almajiris across the north and in other parts of the country are felt by all Nigerians, directly or indirectly.
At the base of this decision to educate the Almajiris is the conscious effort to empower them with the required knowledge base and entrepreneurial skills to survive in a knowledge driven economy. For the administration, there is no room for lip service. Every single promise made must be fulfilled. The President personally promised the northern poor during his campaign runs that he would change their fortunes by ensuring that they have access to quality education. He has done this resoundingly well through the Almajiri Education Programme.
No previous administration at the Federal level established a holistic framework to tackle the Almajiri challenge of the Northern region. It appeared they simply thought that the problem would go away. Rather than evaporate, the challenge continued to grow more complex. What President Jonathan has done is to tackle the challenge head-long for the benefit of Nigerians.
Beyond the construction and furnishing of these schools, the Jonathan administration has developed specialised curricula in eleven subjects that will be taught in these schools to enhance quick assimilation for the boys. The curricula which flow with the mainstream basic education curriculum were based on the culture and needs of the Almajiris.
The administration has also produced textbooks and teacher manuals to ensure a seamless learning environment that will be beneficial to the northern region and the entire nation in the long run.
Many have raised fears about the sustainability of this programme. Given our national experience their fears are understandable. However, the Supervising Minister, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike who anchored the programme and supervised the execution of the programme ensured that the directive of the President on continued engagement with stakeholders at all levels was effectively carried out.
Another important step towards sustaining and expanding the gains of this outstanding contribution to national development was the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between the Federal Government and State Governments on the running of these schools. This all-important MOU was signed on 11th May, 2012 after a consultative meeting convened by Vice President Namadi Sambo.
The MOU covers the running of the schools, maintenance of infrastructure, enrolment drive, employment of qualified teaching and non teaching staff, provision of uniforms and writing materials and the provision of day-to-day running expenses of the schools. The MOU also provides for the protection of facilities at the schools, impact assessment after pre-determined periods of operation and submission of quarterly reports by State Universal Basic Education Boards, SUBEBS, to UBEC. The last major component of the MOU is ensuring that sustainable provision for the feeding of the Almajiris in the schools is always on ground.
Also as a means of sustaining this revolution, the Jonathan administration has developed and produced a National Framework for the Development and Integration of the Almajiri Education into basic education. This framework is to serve as a guide to states, local governments and non governmental organizations to key into this project aimed at providing quality education to these less privileged Nigerians. State Implementation Committees have been established in all states of the Federation to ensure that these kids are catered for educationally, wherever they may be.
It is necessary to point out that the Jonathan administration has put in place three models of Almajiri Schools in different parts of the country.
Model One integration of traditional Tsangaya/Qur’anic School into the formal education system within its original location. In this case, additional classrooms are built and new essential facilities provided. For Model Two, the Federal Government constructed the schools with modern boarding facilities to serve a group of Tsangaya/Qur’anic schools within a given location. The Model Three is the integration of basic education in established Islamiyyah and Ma’ahad schools. This involves the provision of infrastructure and other facilities based on the needs of specific schools.
For years, these kids were denied their fundamental human right to education by those who now use them as weapons of insecurity. What President Jonathan has brought to the table is a fundamental shift to the ways things are done. He has expanded the frontiers of the empowerment of the less privileged in our communities. It is no longer enough to give that Almajiri a plate of food at a local restaurant and pretend that you have been nice to him. Encourage him to enrol in one of the new Almajiri schools.
Most importantly, all Nigerians, irrespective of their background must begin to demand that the states key into this revolution by constructing more Almajiri schools. Like the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike has said repeatedly, basic education is the constitutional responsibility of the states and local governments. The Federal Government is only intervening because of the rot in the system.
For the Jonathan administration, it will continue with the programme by next year. Additional 300 Almajiri schools have been slated for construction in line with the survey conducted. While some misguided politicians continue to divert attention from the work going on as members of the vocal minority, the majority are enjoying the benefits of numerous government projects that have impacted their lives positively.
Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education.