The Sokoto State Government in a move to halt street begging is reforming its 10,000 Qur’anic/Islamiyya schools. It is doing this by introducing the Indonesian Pondok system of Islamic education. Pondok is a system in which children — while receiving an Islamic education — will be trained and retrained so they will acquire enough skills enabling them to earn an income and stand on their own. The Indonesian model is positive energy with potential to address the menace of Nigeria’s millions of out-of-school children, as enunciated by World Bank, UNICEF and other development bodies. To bring the reform to life and to guarantee its continuity, the government is getting the buy in of parents, district heads, school proprietors and key stakeholders.
It is a cold dusty morning and the only sound in the room is that made by sewing machines. Welding, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical works are some of the activities engaged in by the mass of pupils. They proudly show what their hands have produced, while some indicate the tools which they use.
In another room, a female pupil easily moves the flexible base of the sewing machine with her feet. In a corner, some other pupils are learning how to knit, with the needles moving gently within their fingers. These developments are taking place at the Malam Lawali Qur’anic School, located in Bankanu village, Kware Local Government Area of Sokoto State. The school sits at the end of a long winding road which courses through the village. It is a farming community; and millet, maize, rice and onions are widely cultivated. Nearby, large Baobab trees stand in a field.
Classes in sewing, knitting, plumbing and electrical work may not have been possible in Qur’anic/Islamiyya schools in Sokoto some five years ago. The Sokoto State government’s current effort at reforming the Qur’anic schools by patterning them after the Indonesian Pondok model, is the immediate background to and inspirer of these changes. This is the first time the Indonesian model is being tried in Nigeria. Reforming the Qur’anic schools is an old theme in the country. It has sometimes been a very emotive topic which has defied the reforms of various governments whether military or civilian.
A document provided by the Arabic and Islamic Education Board Sokoto gives a background to begging and non-begging Qur’anic schools. It states “At the initial stage, all Qur’anic schools were non-begging because the government at the centre took the responsibility of providing all the necessary basic things the students required to learn in those schools, and were under the control of Islamic rulers. But with the collapse of Sokoto caliphate, the schools were discarded and removed from government assistance. Therefore, begging Almajiri schools are types of boarding schools where their students beg for all basic requirements in learning.” This is the issue which the Sokoto State government is seeking to reform with the introduction of the Pondok system.
One of the key elements of the Pondok model is that it will bring a halt to begging because of its inbuilt emphasis on skills acquisition. The simple point here is that the pupils will acquire a variety of skills at the schools, and this will fetch them an income when they find work. A part of the income will go to the school. There will be no need to beg under this new pathway.
Pondok is a system that will train and retrain the children so that they will acquire enough skills to enable them stand on their own. One of the issues which militated against reforming the schools earlier, include non-involvement of relevant stakeholders in policy making and implementation. Next is inadequate orientation and sensitization of proprietors, parents and relevant stakeholders, as well as the negative perception of western education by some parents. The old boys associations of the various Qur’anic schools are also important in the current reform effort.
Old boys, very useful
Lawali Maishanu is the proprietor of the Bankanu school which was established in 2011, and has a population of 250 pupils. According to him, “When we received the news of the new system, we were pleased and invited the old boys who had acquired vocational skills elsewhere to come and assist. By vocational skills, we mean knitting, tailoring, shoe making, and electrical work. Even before the introduction of the new system, the old boys had been contributing by teaching in the school, especially in the areas of English language, mathematics and Hausa.”
Maishanu said the school has a community-based management committee comprising of parents and the school management. The committee contributes money to buy items for the vocational skills subjects, including thread and needles for sewing and knitting. Monies earned by the students are divided into parts. One part is used to buy items for the school. Another bit is given to the students directly. He says that the new Pondok system began at the school in April 2021.
Maishanu speaks of some of the challenges facing the school “The number of classes is inadequate. We need more working materials, including sewing machines.”
On begging, he says that since august last year, the students stopped going out to beg. “Since the introduction of the Pondok system, the students have stopped begging. The entrepreneurial activities within and around the school are helping to feed the students, and to take care of basic needs. Students also help in the local farms and they are paid for that. Ours is a farming community. Change is occurring slowly within the schools.”
Reform is key
Governor Aminu Tambuwal at a stakeholders’ summit in 2021 on the modernization of Qur’anic schools, takes a position “the Sokoto State government will not ban the Almajirci system of education in the state. Rather, the system will be reformed to inculcate the moral virtues and ethical values of Almajiri to make it become educationally developed and self-reliant, thereby stopping the roaming children on the streets from begging. The Almajiri reform would be in line with the Indonesian Pondok model of Islamic education.”
‘It will not fail’
“One of our problems in this country and particularly in the North, is that we marshal good ideas but fail to implement them to the latter. But, in this case, God willing, this initiative shall not fail,” mentions the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad speaking at the same event. An online report indicates that the Sultan has said that he and numerous others are products of the Almajiri system, but that nothing linked their quest for Arabic and Islamic knowledge with begging.
On begging, he is quoted to have said “Parents must be sensitised against allowing their children to resort to begging, a practice that Islam abhors in totality.”
Dr. Usra Haratap is Indonesia’s Ambassador to Nigeria. He visited Sokoto last year and met the Sultan of Sokoto as well as Governor Aminu Tambuwal and other stakeholders. During the visit, he stressed his country’s interest in the reformation of the Almajiri system of education in Sokoto.
Hajiya Maryam Uwais is the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Intervention. She is the Founder of the At Risk Children Project. The programme aims at reforming vulnerable Children and Youth Almajiri and hawkers. In this context, the Sokoto State Government has signed a memorandum of Understanding with the project.
Capacity to transform lives
“The Pondok system is a religious school in Indonesia, but one which alternates between Islamic studies and western education. It incorporates entrepreneurship, as well as moulding the character of the children, and inspiring patriotism in them. In Indonesia they have transformed the Pondok system into a very befitting educational system that will touch and transform the lives of the students,” reveals Dr. Umar Altine, Executive Secretary, Arabic and Islamic Education Board Sokoto – the body charged with the task of steering the reforms of the Qur’anic schools in the state.
He adds that the Pondok system has been practised in Indonesia for three hundred (300) years, and that some of them have been converted to universities.
Altine mentions that a mobilisation effort has been carried out in the state to make people understand that the new system of Qur’anic education can be implemented in Sokoto.
In the meantime, to give legal backing to the reform process, the law establishing the state Arabic and Islamic Education Board is under review by the state Ministry of Justice. This is with a view to expanding the mandate of the board to accommodate the domestication and adaptation of the Indonesian Pondok system into the Almajiri Nizzamiyya model. Everything is being considered in the ambition of making the new system take root and work in the state.
Banning creates more problems
According to Dr. Altine “The northern governors once had a meeting and called for an end to the system. However, here in Sokoto, the governor looked at the system and decided that banning it will not solve the problem, and he decided to transform it. It was felt that the pupils should be given a holistic education so they can be useful members of the society. It’s better than banning the system. If you ban it, you are creating more problems than solving. So, the governor began to think of adopting a foreign model.”
“When we got to Indonesia, we saw that we could reform ours, just as they had reformed theirs. If you go to Indonesia, you will see that no child is on the streets begging. All of them are in school. The Pondok system of education has four components. These include western education, Islamic education, skills acquisition and character development. This is what we will be doing here in Sokoto.”
Buy in of district heads
Abubakar Alhaji, Coordinator, Qur’anic Schools and Islamiyya Modernisation Unit, Arabic and Islamic Education Board, sheds light on the advocacy visits carried out by the AIEB. “When we started the programme in 2020, we went round all the 87 districts in the state, on a sensitisation, mobilisation and advocacy meeting with proprietors, community leaders, and religious leaders.” He mentions that the response was positive, with none of the district heads rejecting the idea. They all promised to abide by the rules that will guide the system.
Alumni, key backbone
The alumni of the various Qur’anic schools are key components of the reform process. Alhaji states “The alumni are one of the backbones of the system. In all the districts we visited, we talked to them about the importance of the old students. Even now, we have started working with them, especially within the state capital.” He explained that members of the alumni associations play various roles in the schools.
“Some of them are the teachers. Some take the responsibility of paying for and supplying the working materials for the schools. In terms of entrepreneurship, they play a key role there. Some construct and play a role in the physical expansion of the schools.” Many of the Qur’anic schools in Sokoto have alumni who are well placed in society. They include medical doctors, scholars, Imams, professors and more.
No begging in Indonesia
“It’s a revolutionary system. When they visited Indonesia, no single Almajiri was seen begging on the streets. They found out that the traditional institutions have incorporated skills acquisition, with the traditional school. Through this method, the school gets revenue and they can fund the existing system through this method. They are also able to provide meals for their students, buy instructional materials, as well as give them uniforms,” explains Ibrahim Katuru, Deputy Executive Secretary, AIEB.
Begging will end
Katuru reasons that “When fully implemented, it will bring begging to an end. It will stop these children from begging, because the skills acquisition introduced in the schools, such as carpentry, welding, plumbing, will provide a source of income for the pupils and the schools. All the skills learnt will provide a source of funds to the schools.”
‘It’s a better system’
Dr. Altine adds “As a fall out of our advocacy visit, some of the schools have commenced the Pondok system on their own without receiving a kobo from government. This is because they are convinced that it is a better system. The proprietors like the idea. Our plan is that government will come in at the level of capacity building. It will assist with structures and with materials. Government is making regulations so that the curriculum of all schools will be harmonised, in the sense that all the schools in the state will use the same curriculum.”
On the schools in Indonesia, he recalls as captured in a 2021 interview “We have noted that the system in Indonesia is either owned by individuals or community-regulated and assisted by the federal ministry of Religious Affairs through its department in the states.”
The Turakin Fakka Islamiyya school has 1,025 pupils and is located within the Gidan Dare part of the state capital. It was opened in 2010. Alhaji Abubakar Wada built the school and donated it to the community. Unlike the Bankahu school, vocational skills classes are held outside the school.
According to Dalhatu Jiga, the proprietor of the school, “We are collaborating with people who have the materials required for the vocational skills aspect of our work. We send students to workshops and tailoring centres where the pupils receive the necessary guidance and teaching.”
Jiga draws attention to some challenges facing his school “The school lacks income which can be used to provide materials for learning and skills acquisition. We have boarding students, but there is no way to feed them. Sometimes, we receive meals from neighbouring communities, but it’s inadequate. We need to halt admissions because the population is swelling. We don’t have enough classes, and there are insufficient toilets.”
The proprietor adds that in line with the new trend, female students at his school now make pomade and air fresheners which are used in various ways. The old students also help in regulating the school activities.
His words “Old students have formed an association to assist in providing allowances to teachers, settle medical bills, and provide a little for feeding the students. This is very helpful.”
‘Begging is a setback’
On the menace of begging, Jiga says “begging is a setback which tarnishes the image of Islam as well as that of the pupils.” The word Almajiri itself has also come to refer to a ‘young person who begs on the streets and does not attend regular school.’ However, another school of thought sheds light on the word arguing “People, no matter their age, in as much as they are seeking for Islamic knowledge, they are Almajiri. This is the contextual meaning.” In this wise, a man of forty or older, in as much as he is seeking Islamic knowledge, could be referred to as an Almajiri. There is nothing negative in the original definition of the word.
Dr. Altine is positive “We are hopeful that our dream of reforming, modernising and mainstreaming of all Almajiris, vulnerable children and girl hawkers into the formal education system, will be a reality even earlier than the projected 2030 date.”
The official inauguration of the programme is scheduled to come up in January 2022.