How it Started
Etymologically Almajiri was derived from the Arabic word ‘Almuhajir’ which means an emigrant. In this context, it represents a person who migrates in search of Islamic Knowledge.
The Almajiri Education System was founded as a comprehensive system of education for learning Islamic principles, values, jurisprudence, and the memorization of the Holy Qur’an. The system was given birth in what the Hausa termed ‘Tsangaya’ in the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the 11th century. Islam as a religious institution encourages charity in whatever form it takes.
The system was substantially funded from the state treasury house (in Arabic ‘bait al-mal’) under the control of emirs ‘amir(s)’. Having come from faraway places, the students always find a home away from home as it is the culture of Islam and the teaching of Prophet Muhammad PBUH to support those on a quest for knowledge.
The society and the individual are always interwoven and this was evident in the offering of humanitarian services like food and shelter to the Almajiris, which they returned through services like laundry, cobbling, gardening, farming, fishing, etc. This cuts across geographies in Hausa land.
The system was designed to make the students self-reliant and service providers, many of them also acquired vocational and occupational skills in between their Islamic lessons and were involved in farming, fishing, well construction, masonry, production, trade, tailoring, small business. One amazing thing about the system is it produced judges in Sharia Legal System.
Thus, they formed the largest percentage of the economy of the society before the introduction of the western system of education. The most notable example being Alhassan Dantata, who built a dynasty through trade, he was the richest person in West Africa.
The system also developed the Ajami system of reading and writing with the Arabic Alphabet. And consequently, produced teachers, and advisors. The system provided a detailed framework for the colonial administration and equipped them with skilled staff that spanned for a very long period of time. It maintains an unrivaled ability in the Muslim world to reproduce the Qur’an directly from memory without looking at any copy. This peculiarity served different civilizations.
The beginning of the current state of the system started when the British invaded Northern Nigeria and took control of the state treasury and the educational system. They were regrettably reclassified as mere religious schools and thus replaced with western education.
All the public officers produced by the system were then considered illiterates or uneducated in the new status quo, which sent them crashing out of the system. Till this day, the damage done by the British seems permanent as the Almajiris are now malnourished children moving from house to house, looking for food and learning neither Islamic values nor trade.
The Present Time
Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world with 6.5% of the entire population, amounting to (13.2 million) between the ages of 5–14 (UNICEF). The highest number of these out of school children are in the northeastern part of Nigeria, the decade-old activities of the deadly sect called Boko Haram coupled with traditional beliefs have greatly influenced this unwanted development.
Despite the positive contributions of the then almajiri system, the majority of the out of school victims are the Almajiris whose school is not even considered as a school.
Thus, the system is currently unregulated, unsupported, sending kids as young as 5 years old to other states and neighbouring nations to seek Islamic knowledge. Unlike before, the beneficiaries of the current almajiri system do not receive any formal education, they roam on the streets, looking dirty, extremely malnourished, without shoes, rashes all over their body, begging for food from house to house, looking for hard or soft jobs for food or money which is not supposed to be so.
The covid-19 pandemic brought about abolishment of the present almajiri system by some governors, while some are trying to seize the opportunity to restructure and fix the entire system to fit the present-day demand. Kano State Government have sent almost all the almajiris back to their home states, Plateau State Government and it’s sister state, Nasarawa, are on the process of sending back home too. The good news is that basic education in Nigeria is absolutely free and compulsory (primary to junior secondary school), Kaduna State Government and Yobe State Government are currently making arrangements to engage with various stakeholders in taking a new dimension in containing the victims of the collapsed almajiri system.
Making the world a better place is the responsibility of all, not a one-man job. Below points might be of help in shaping the current Almajiri system in Nigeria:
1. Community-based organisations need to mobilise parents, traditional rulers, and other stakeholders to take ownership of reform processes, form a pressure group to call government to account when things are not going in the right direction.
2. Scale-up the initial framework of almajiri school system. This would require the effort of grassroot leaders i.e. traditional rulers, emirs to checkmate almajiri schools in their community.
3. Integrate vocational, technical, engineering, and digital skills training in the system to fit the present-day demand.
4. Federal, state, local governments, non-governmental, charity, and community-based organisations to partner in making the system work.
One or combination of the below approaches can help in reviving the system.
Business Continuity Approach: Business continuity plan or business continuity and resiliency plan is the process of creating systems of prevention and recovery to deal with potential threats to a company. Any event that could negatively impact operations is included in the plan, such as supply chain interruption, loss of or damage to critical infrastructure. This approach could be effective if carefully adapted. A reasonable number of government-owned primary schools in Nigeria close around 12:00 pm, they either run junior secondary school programme in the morning or they don’t at all; those schools are equipped with facilities needed ranging from furniture to structure. In this proposed framework (education continuity plan), the primary schools would be used to kickstart the teaching and learning of the Almajiri-based system.
N-power Teach is one of the Nigeria’s social investment programmes that trained and engaged Nigerian graduates to assist in teaching so as to help in improving the standard of education at the grass root level. National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is a scheme set up by the Nigerian government to involve Nigerian graduates in nation-building and the development of the country. Ministry of education, n-power teach and NYSC is the proposed bodies that would aid in teaching the students in the proposed plan. I presented this approach at the Young African Leaders Initiative Nigeria Network Summit — General Assembly 2019.
Mentor-Mentee Approach: Mentoring is a connection between two individuals with the objective of self-awareness and professional development. The “mentor” is typically an accomplished person who shares information, experience, and counsel with a less experienced individual, or “mentee.” A mentoring is the is a chance to create relational abilities, grow perspectives, and think about better approaches for moving toward circumstances, both the mentor and the mentee are expected to grow and learn in the process.
Community-based organisations, traditional rulers council, and local education authorities are to partner in engaging graduates meaningfully in mentoring the students, to be relevant in the 21st century, one doesn’t need to attend college or university, all one needs is the basic knowledge of how things work. Peer a graduate.
Thank you Gimba for your help.
Abdullahi Muh’d Abdul-Fatah | IT and Research Manager, YOYGEDA | Director Programmes, CoY-PCR | YALI-RLC Fellow | TRCN