“Our society desires that physical education will assist the individual to develop cooperation, respect for others, health knowledge, democratic behaviour, sound character and economic efficiency,” Ukacha Aminu, a 14-year-old Junior Secondary School pupil reads.
Aminu was applauded by his classmates, who could not read what was written on the white board in front of the classroom. It was a windy morning. Time was 10:15am at the Almajiri Integrated Model School in Shuni area of Sokoto State. Amidst academic activities, three pupils were truanting around when they ought to be in class; three other boys were also seen playing in the dry gutter opposite the school mosque.
These children are pupils understandably picked from slums so as to stop begging and foraging on the streets of Sokoto. However, findings have shown that they are not far from, who they used to be on streets even while in school.
‘We sneak out of the classroom to beg on street’
In what seems like an addiction to begging, many of the vulnerable children still find their ways to the streets to beg for food without being noticed by their teachers – Aminu Aliyu, one of the wandering kids in the school, said. Like many boarding schools, the Almajiri school at Shuni is properly fenced and has a metal gate. As at the time of visitation, it was observed that the pupils’ movements were not well checked by the security man stationed at the gate.
“I go out to beg when I’m hungry,” Aliyu said.
When asked why he went out to beg despite being catered for by the school, he evasively added that “because I’m Almajiri”.
Corroborating, Umar Garba, a senior student of the school explained how some of the students go out to beg for food on the streets. He however, dissociated himself from such act, noting that though the school was established to accommodate only vulnerable students, some of them do have parents, who cater to and provide for them in school. Among the pupils, he continues, are those, who would always find their ways to beg on the streets.
“Some of us sneak out of the classroom to beg on the street,” he says in Hausa dialect. “But I don’t go because my parents give me food money.
“Those who don’t have extra money to buy food sometimes go begging from people in far places from the school. But our teachers must not know – if they know, they will beat them,” he added.
Clearly, there is lack of painstaking watch over the pupils – and the Almajiri school located at Shuni area of Sokoto is not alone in this act. At 10:00 am when our correspondent visited the Almajiri school in Gagi – an area in Sokoto South – the security man was nowhere to be found and no one knew his whereabouts. The school gates were left at the mercy of the students, who went in and out as they wanted.
Sad still, some of the pupils disclosed that they find their ways to beg sometimes because they are not well-fed. Meanwhile, Abdulqadir Bello, a teacher in the school confessed that the vulnerable children lack good food and the school cannot satisfy them because “they waste what the school gives them”.
Obviously, most of the children enrolled in Sokoto Almajiri schools live in penury – a condition tantamount to that of their left-to-suffer counterparts on the streets. The reason for this is not far-fetched: parents of these children are among the low-born fragment of the society.
Sokoto’s out-of-school kids
Like it or not, there are a number of out-of-school kids on the streets of Sokoto, who are not likely to get adequate education – despite the free education system in the state.
In 2017, governor of the state, Aminu Tambuwal, announced free education for children of beggars and other underprivileged members of the society, urging Sokoto natives to support government to create a better environment and future for children in the state.
In 2018, an evaluation of access to Universal Basic Education in Sokoto was conducted at the Department of Social Sciences Education, Faculty of Education in University of Ilorin, Kwara State. According to the evaluation, Sokoto State had been striving on the provision of UBE to its school age children over these years. Nonetheless, there is less academic focus on the evaluation of school age children access to UBE in the state.
In a report, UNICEF said, “Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school.
“Only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.
“In the North of the country, the picture is even bleaker with a net attendance rate of 53 per cent. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.
“In North-East and North-West states, 29 per cent and 35 per cent of Muslim children respectively receive Qur’anic education, which does not include basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.
“The government considers children attending such schools to be officially out-of-school.”
However, beyond the ugliness in their world on the streets, another kind of awful treatment is being injected in the few itinerant children, who have found themselves in the school.
A tale of decay
The outward appearance of the school is quite appealing – tall, elegant trees donning a beautiful garden. But a journey through the premises of the Almajiri Integrated Model School, Shuni – a N70m worth school – revealed a sorry story about the place of learning.
Venturing out of his office to receive the reporter, Ibrahim Sheu, principal of the school, spoke confidently in a manner that suggested that everything was alright in the school.
“So this is the temporary kitchen,” he says, curtly, pointing at the rotten-aluminum-made kitchen. “We are still expecting the state government to construct permanent kitchen and dining hall for them,” he adds.
“We also need sporting facilities, football play grounds, volley ball and all,” he stated.
However, in the classroom of the Senior Secondary School 1, pupils had just concluded their first subject, Physics, and probably expecting the next teacher. As soon as the reporter arrived, the looping ceiling of the classroom greeted his face; the cracking, dilapidating walls painted a scary picture in the mind; the pillars holding the four walls of the class were deteriorating, apparently putting the lives of students in danger. The appalling structure of this classroom was a similitude of what many of the school’s classrooms were made of, as at the time of visitation. The facilities built to facilitate the academic conveniences of the pupils were decaying.
Health centre without drugs, facilities
Nasiru Ibrahim plays many roles as one of the staff of the Almajiri school in Shuni. He teaches Mathematics; heads the computer department and also given the responsibility to be the health master of the school. The school’s health centre, which is affiliated to the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, is an embodiment of poor clinical facilities; not even first aid materials are said to be available. The spacious room has no basic clinical equipment and drugs, so, Ibrahim uses it for another purpose: attending to his students, who would come to meet him for one help or the other.
The young teacher saddled with the responsibility of attending to any sick pupil, has little or no knowledge about what he does.
“I learnt some health tips from Physical Health Education during my secondary school days,” he says, justifying his experience of healthcare. “I studied Mathematics at the university. During my NCE, I studied Biology.
“There are many things that we are lacking here. The clinic is lacking antibiotic and anti-malarial drugs, and the materials for dressing wounds like cotton wool, spirit, are not available.”
Apparently, the children enrolled in the school are denied their basic rights of having good healthcare – just as the out-of-school itinerant children on the streets of Sokoto have no access to proper health care.
Masters of negligence
Away from Shuni to Almajiri Model School located in Gagi area of Sokoto State, teachers seemed not to be passionate about their profession – they are pranksters of integrity in exercising their duties – and the school authorities cover up their tepid attitudes while many of the teachers resume work late and leave before the closing hours. At 11:12am when this reporter visited the school, teachers were seen competing to scribble their names on the attendance note at the deputy headmaster’s office, while some others were chit-chatting under a tree when they were expected to be with pupils in classrooms.
Findings revealed that ghost working and negligence of duty have overwhelmed the administrative system of the school. The vulnerable kids sent to school from the streets receive nothing but archives of tepid attitudes towards teaching.
For instance, there are six N-Power volunteer teachers deployed to the school of vulnerable children located in Gagi. These teachers were employed to aid teaching and learning but out of the six volunteers, only three seem to be coming to work; other have refused to fulfill their duties as teachers in the school.
However, Huseini Muhammad, Headmaster of the school, was quite evasive when asked what he had done to the N-Power teachers, who had failed to carry out their assignments.
He said, “We are less concerned about that, after all, they work with the federal government and their salaries are being paid into their bank accounts every month.
“If they were originally our teachers, we would know how to deal with them. But they are not, so we're less concerned.”
There are lots of rots
While rainfall might be a blessing to other pupils of Sokoto State, what it means for kids of the Almajiri school in Gagi is terrible inconvenience, especially at night.
The roof of the hostel are leaky and the toilet filthy; the little kids would spend their nights on bunks without matrasses and tattered mat. Venturing into the toilet could be very disgusting; the unpleasant latrines are dominated by rodents and cockroaches roaming freely.
The language lab and dining hall were both locked as checks revealed they had been left unused for some time. The computer room, which is supposed to be a room for learning about Information and Communication Technology, also seem unpatronised.
Similarly, at the Almajiri Integrated School in Wammakko area of the state, roaming kids engulf the street of the school at 11:00am. Among the school-age children seen to have been truanting the streets of Wamakko was a pupil of the Almajiri school. The fragile-looking boy, who had gone to fend for food, placed his bowl properly on his head and matched towards the entrance of the school.
In the school, the pariah children seemed to be in similar conditions with the ones in the schools previously mentioned – they were sired in pains of learning and cruelty of living. Although, the headmaster declined interaction with the children, there were indications of decay in teachings and learning in the school.
Sokoto SUPEB reacts
Kabiru Aliyu, a top official of the Sokoto State Universal Basic Education, expressed concerns over the dilapidation of most of the Almajiri schools in Sokoto.
He said, “There is a new programme called Western Education Service, whereby we're going to bring back not just Almajiri school but also other out-of-school children.
“Sokoto is the first state in the Northern part of Nigeria to start the integration of western and Islamic education, that's why we have the Arabic board.”
When questions on the rot in the schools were pushed to Aliyu, he said, “Most of the time, these are things that don't come to the government's notice, and that's why we're planning to have an independent monitoring, from CSO’s and NGO’s, to independently monitor and hint the government on some of the things happening and how things should be addressed.
“There is corruption everywhere, we find a principal who is supposed to tidy up the hostel and give the children the best but fails to make them different of being in the school.”
WHY ALMAJIRI SCHOOL SYSTEM FAILS
For Dr Abubakar Alkali, an English Language lecturer at the Department of Modern European Languages and Linguistics, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, the integrated Almajiri school system is as effective as expected for a number of reasons.
Apart from infrastructural decadence, negligence of duties and lack of maintenance bedeviling the Almajiri school system, the culture, traditions and belief of the people of Sokoto State are also huge hindrances to the success of the school in the state, he asserts.
He said, “Information is very important in everything; before the government would establish such a school in Sokoto here, they were supposed to inform the local people in the village and tell them about the importance of education.
“That’s why you see that the numbers of out-of-school children are increasing despite the establishment of these schools.
“The problem of most of the parents of the Almajiris is not that they cannot feed their children; the problem is really not poverty, it is their belief.
“Have you ever thought of why there are no female children among these child wanderers?
“It is because they don’t allow them to do it. But they believe the male counterparts must do it to learn Islamiyya (Islamic education).
“Unless government focuses on educating the people, the Almajiri schools system would be frustrated.”
This report was supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism Regulatory Programme.