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Common entrance enrollment and north’s poor appetite for learning

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Things seem to continue to fall apart in northern Nigeria’s education system. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, lamented that the region had the lowest number of registration in the just -concluded national common entrance. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, writes that beyond lamentation stakeholders must take pragmatic steps to reverse the situation

A couple of days ago, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, lamented that the least number of enrolment for the National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE) came from the North. The reasons for that may be multifarious; it is instructive to consider the example of six-year-old Memuna Indimi.

She has a dent on her face, a depression that looks like a birth defection. She was not born that way. It was a scar left on her face because her parents dared to send her to school to receive western education in Nigeria.

Young Indimi is a pretty but gaunt girl. With her dreamy eyes, she had longed to go to school like a few other girls who had the opportunity to.

It took her only a couple of weeks to drop out of school because of the violence she suffered in the hands of unscrupulous adults who felt girls should never go to school.

If anything, she was fortunate to be left with a scar; some in her situation had been killed.

Today, many kids like her litter so-called Quranic schools that scar the map of northern Nigeria.

There are more than seven million children in the North today who are in the Almajiri system, says the National Council for the Welfare of Destitute (NCWD). That figure is three times the population of The Gambia.

They are lopped off at thousands of Quranic schools that dot cities in many parts of northern Nigeria where they learn five days in a week and attend classes four times in a day. They are also expected to earn a living by begging and sometimes provide for their teachers’ upkeep too.

On Fridays, they are let loose on the city where they beg for alms to feed, or run errands.

To be more specific, the education minister had stated, through the ministry’s spokesperson, Mrs. Priscillia Ihuoma, that only 28 candidates from Zamfara State registered for the 2018 national common entrance examination.

For good reason, the minister admitted that the federal government is disturbed by the low number of candidates, especially from the North, sitting for the exam.

He had to plead with northern state governors to ensure that qualified school-age children register for the common entrance examination.

Adamu said the report of a stakeholders’ meeting that was held recently showed that Taraba, Kebbi, and Zamfara states had the least number of candidates who registered for the examination. While Taraba had 95 candidates, Kebbi had 50.

The statement had said, “Ahead of the 2018 national common entrance examination for admission of candidates into the 104 federal government colleges on April 14, the minister has expressed worry over low registration for the examination so far.

According to him, the report of a meeting of major stakeholders in the education sector said candidates registered in 2018 stood at 71,294 as against 80,421 that wrote the examination in 2017.

“The report further shows three states with the highest number of pupils registered so far are: Lagos with 24,465 candidates, the federal capital territory, Abuja, with 7,699 and Rivers State with 4,810 candidates respectively.

On the other hand, three states with extreme low registration are Zamfara with only 28 candidates, Kebbi, 50 and Taraba, 95 candidates respectively.”

Adamu warned that only through formal education that the children will be set free from ignorance thus making them qualified to contribute to the development of their areas and the country as a whole.

For more than eight years, the conflict in the Northeast and the resulting humanitarian crisis is devastating the lives of millions of children, women and their families. With children under 15 years of age accounting for about 45 per cent of the country’s population, the burden on education and other sectors has become overwhelming.

Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged between six and 11 do not attend any primary school in the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls.

Despite a significant increase in net enrolment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

Increased enrolment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students.

It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of the lack of classrooms.

The number of schools, facilities and teachers available for basic education remain inadequate for the eligible number of children and youths. This is more so in urban areas where there is population pressure.

Under these conditions, teaching and learning cannot be effective; hence the outcomes are usually below expectation.

Another challenge is the issue of girls’ education. In the north, the gender gap remains particularly wide and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from one girl to two boys to one to three in some states.

Nowadays, many children cannot attend school because of the fear of Boko Haram.

Even when children enrol in schools, many do not complete the primary cycle.  According to current data, 30 per cent of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54 per cent transit to Junior Secondary Schools.

Reasons for this low completion rate include child labour, economic hardship, early marriage for girls, and lately, Boko Haram insurgency.

Despite political commitment to reverse years of neglect in the country’s education sector, investment in basic education is still low compared to other Sub-Saharan countries.

Against this backdrop, the context in which the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, had called for the conversion of mosques and almajiri outlets to schools should sound like the words of a sage.

The former Central Bank of Nigeria governor had on February 7 at the joint convocation of 2,000 teachers held at the Kano Government House regretted that the North has been lagging behind educationally.

Sanusi challenged northern governors to build a giant remedial college to accommodate all northern candidates, who fail to secure admission into conventional universities and for the use of mosques as schools.

To convince his audience that his ideas were not impractical, Sanusi cited the example of Morocco where this model of education was obtainable. He argued that this remedial institution would improve literacy rates in northern Nigeria, which currently plays catch up to the southern part of the country.

However, the debate about the much-touted educational backwardness of northern Nigeria is often starved of the benefit of a background.

Prior to the infiltration of foreign cultures both Western and Islamic, indigenous Nigerians had functional education systems.

There existed well-organised ancient city-states across the various parts of what is today known as Nigeria.

For instance, there were the Nok people with their unique culture in the present Plateau area of northern Nigeria; the ancient city-states of Oyo, Benin and Kanuri empires; the Bonny and Itsekiri kingdoms, the Nupes and Egbas, among others.

Each of these unique societies had their outlook on life, their worldviews based on their various environments, which influenced the foundations of their education.

According to the book, ‘Historical Foundations of Education in Nigeria’, written by Dr. Adedayo Abdulkareem and published in 1990, Islamic religion and education came to Nigeria through the ancient Kanem Borno Empire which covers the present Borno, Bauchi and several states in the North.

By the end of 12th century AD, renowned Muslim scholars and teachers from Timbuktu in Mali were found in the empire advancing the education. From this point, the education spread to Kano, and Katsina.

The Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio in 1804 led to the widespread of Islam and education in the North, and to some extent the South of Nigeria. Islamic education covers other areas of study in economics social sciences, medicine, pure science, arts and law.

Prior to the arrival of the British colonialists, the Almajiri system was founded to perpetuate Islamic education. Pupils lived with their parents, the schools were within their vicinity, institutional funding was provided and even an inspector reported to the Emir on progress.

“The British invaded the region and killed most of the Emirs and deposed some. The Emirs lost control of their territories and accepted their new roles, as mere traditional rulers.

They also lost fundamental control of the Almajiri System,” Professor Idris Abdulkadir, former Executive Secretary of National University Commission (NUC) said.

Scholars argue that the North never believed that education was bad, only the Western kind, which they believe will corrode their values roil their stomachs.

Therefore, administrators in the region bowed to pressure from religious groups and did little to push Western education.

The consequence is the current system where there are more out-of-school kids in the North than anywhere else in Nigeria; with millions of young northerners who lack skills that can make them self-sufficient today.

Then entered extremism; the seeming failure of the Almajiri system has led many to believe that the method has morphed into a fertile ground for recruiting extremists.

A large population of illiterate and unemployed northern youths bruising under the weight of a corrupt political system is said to be among the conditions that gave birth to Boko Haram in 2002 in Maiduguri, Borno State, by 32-year-old Mohammed Yusuf.

Yusuf, a preacher gave scathing sermons against the government, which resonated with the people who hold a searing grudge against the establishment and Western education.

When he was killed by security forces in 2009, hardliners in his organisation led by Abubakar Shekau, led a bloody insurgency whose embers still burn to this day.

This, however, is in sharp contrast with the southern parts of Nigeria where though it seemed a church is springing up at every block, yet does not experience any sort of extremism.

Sanusi made references to Morocco where mosque-school arrangement have yielded results in the past and it is yielding results at present.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognises the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco, as the oldest degree-granting university in the world with its founding in 859 CE.

Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in the 975 CE, offered a variety of academic degrees, including postgraduate degrees, and is often considered the first full-fledged university.

Unlike conflict-prone northern Nigeria, the use of religious centres for places of learning in Morocco and other places have not led to conflicts or destruction. Some believe the problem is far deeper.


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