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Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria and the challenge of quality assurance after exit of founders

By Saheed Ahmad Rufai
11 August 2017   |   2:19 am
The history of the Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria is replete with information on personal efforts made by individual Muslims which culminated in the establishment of such schools in various parts of the country.

Although the efforts of these Arabic scholars were preceded by various initiatives of providing Arabic Islamic education by various Islamic organizations such as the Ansar-ud-Deen, Nawair-ud-Deen, Jamaát Islamiyyah, Anwar-ul-Islam, and even before them all, the Ahmadiyyah

The history of the Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria is replete with information on personal efforts made by individual Muslims which culminated in the establishment of such schools in various parts of the country. That explains why such individually owned Arabic schools prevailed more than the community owned. Most of such notable Arabic schools in Nigeria are identified with some leading Islamic scholars and personalities in the country. For instance, the Al-Ma’had Arabic school which later metamorphosed into the Shariah College of Kano was founded in 1934 through the individual effort of Shaykh Nasir Kabara. Similarly, The Arabic School, Ibadan founded in 1945 and rebranded as Kharashi Memorial Arabic School, after the death of its founder on May 12th 1965 Ibadan, was a product of efforts by Shaykh Kharashi Muhammad Thanni and Alhaji Isa Mogaji. In a similar token, the effort that led to the founding of the Arabic School known as Al-Ma’had al-Azhari of Ilorin, since 1947 is associated with Shaykh Kamalu-d-din Al-Adabiyy. Also, the founding in Abeokuta in 1950 of Markaz-ut-Ta’limil-Arabiyy which relocated Lagos in 1952, was attributed to Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Iluriyy in the same manner that Al-Mahadal-Arabiyy founded in Ibadan, in 1957, was a product of individual effort by Shaykh Murtadha Adbdus-Salam. Shaykh Abdul-Majeed Ahmad founded Shams al-Islam Arabic school, Ibadan in 1959, and both Shaykh Shaykh Mustapha Zuglool later joined the league by founding Darud-Da’wah in 1971.

Although the efforts of these Arabic scholars were preceded by various initiatives of providing Arabic Islamic education by various Islamic organizations such as the Ansar-ud-Deen, Nawair-ud-Deen, Jamaát Islamiyyah, Anwar-ul-Islam, and even before them all, the Ahmadiyyah. It should be noted that when the Ansar-ud-Deen Society was founded in Ibadan in 1937, the organization played remarkable role in providing Arabic education. These Islamic organizations may be regarded as part of the second generation of Arabic education providers while the first generation may comprise such traditional Arabic scholars as Mustafa Mahir of Borno, Wazeer Gattat, Adam Nama’ji of Kano, Ibrahim Ahmad and Muhammad Imam of Bauchi, Taju al-Adab of Ilorin, Harun Alaga of Ibadan, Ahmad Ikokoro of Ilorin, Ahmad Awelenje of Shaki, Ahmad Rufai Oke-Are of Ibadan and few others whose Arabic teaching activities predated the Modern private Arabic schools. Some of these were solid scholars who taught outside formal settings in the form of chairs, tables, syllabi, school uniforms, classrooms, academic calendars and any trapping of formal schooling.

It should be equally noted that the portrayal of Modern private Arabic schools as offered in the foregoing is truer of Arabic schools in the Southern than the Northern parts of the country where there is a proliferation of such schools in their arguably more advanced and probably better organized forms, as they operate under the supervision of the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies. Notwithstanding, the prevalence of individual ownerships across the country there also are few which were established through joint action or community efforts.

For instance, Prof. Lai Olurode found that two of the 21 Arabic schools studied in Epe, admitted of some substantial community participation. He added that “these were mainly the results of youths’ activism’ because in an attempt to give a competitive start to their children, Muslim youths have come together in Epe, Iwo and Ilorin to influence the direction of Arabic education.” In Ilorin, however, individual ownership was prevalent community participation in the founding of Arabic schools “flourished through the involvement of parents’ among other stakeholders who could be invited to the board to serve as advisers”. Although individual ownership was prevalent in Iwo and other Yoruba-speaking townships, too, it is interesting to note that it was gathered from Olurode’s interviews that “most sole proprietors of such schools had resisted past attempts by communities to be involved”. In Lagos where most Arabic schools are owned by individuals, the al-Jamat-ul-Islamiyyah of Nigeria operates what could be regarded as a good example of community-owned Arabic school, as “classes are tuition-free and teachers are paid by the Jama’ah.” Aliu Akoshile who grew up in Lagos Island where the Arabic school in question was founded in the 1960s recalled that the national mosque of the organization was commissioned by the Prime
Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and that the Arabic school was one of the major ones attended by children in the neighbourhood.

In most parts of Nigeria, the ownership of Arabic schools is normally passed from one generation to the other. That explains why some of the first and second generations of such schools are currently in the hands of second and third generations of owners as is the case with Az-Zumratul-Adabiyyah, in Ilorin, Markaz-ut-Ta’lim in Lagos, Al-Ma’hadul-Arabiyy in Ibadan, and most recently, Darud-Da’wah, also in Lagos.

The transfer of the ownership of a Arabic school after the demise of its original owner is normally regulated by inheritance features which, usher in a new leader of the Islamic work of the deceased. The survival of the Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria is not unconnected with the perception of most owners of such schools that such an endeavour is meritorious and spiritually fulfilling. In other words, the thinking that founding and running a Arabic school is a source of barakah (blessings from Allah) is central to the survival of the Arabic school in Nigeria system.

Another factor contributing to its survival are schools fees paid by students or their parents as most teachers take such fees as their means of livelihood. Yet another factor in the survival of the Modern private Arabic schools is the Walimah otherwise tagged haflah (graduation) ceremonies, which most proprietors of such schools exploit for money-making. However, Olurode found that some of the Modern Arabic school in Nigeria are enjoying funding support from external sources, although he maintained that there was no disclosure about the specific form of external funding. He opines that such external funding as might have been enjoyed by such schools “was known to include staff development, book, donation and personnel support”.

The curriculum of Arabic school in Nigeria is predominantly textbook-based rather than subject-based. The implication of this is that there is no uniform curriculum in use in the system. Adedeji emphasized the need for uniformity in the curricula which, according to him, are deficient in many respect. Rather than a uniform curriculum, different schools use different Arabic texts and each of the schools claims superiority over the other.

According to Olurode , when asked to trace the origin of their subject combination, some of the proprietors and teachers of such schools mentioned “Saudi Arabia, some Kuwait, Egypt and Iran while others made reference to some highly respected local clerics in Ilorin, Ibadan, Iwo and Lagos”.

However, the influence of both Shaykh Nasir Kabara of Kano, Shaykh Tahir of Bauchi, and Shaykh Ahmad Marafa Dan Baba of Sokoto, was prominent in the learning experiences of Arabic schools in Northern Nigeria while that of Shaykh Kamal-ud-din Al-Adabiyy, Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Iluriyyi, and Shaykh Murtadha Abdus-Salam was obvious in the Southwest. Elementary earning in most of the Arabic schools in Nigeria revolves around al-Qa’idat al-Baghdadiyyah used for the teaching of the rudiments of both the Qur’an and Arabic at the lower level of Arabic education. Students who perform well at this stage advance to the intermediate level of Arabic learning. The learning of Fiqh is based on such Arabic texts as Al-‘Ashmawiyyah, Al-Akhdariyyah, Matn-Al-Qurtubiyy, Risalat-Abi Zayd Al-Qayrawaniyy and few others. Other text-based subjects that are offered by virtually all the Arabic schools in Nigeria include the following Nahw (Arabic Grammar), Sarf (Arabic Morphology), Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Tafsir (Qur’an Exegesis), Hadith (Prophetic Traditions), Tarikh (History), Balaghah (Rhetoric), Mantiq (Logic), Adab (Literature), Khattu (Writing) and Insha’ (Arabic Essay Writing).

The curricula of Modern Arabic schools under discussion are textbook-centred. That explains why much has not been achieved in terms of educational goals. This is because; text-book-based learning does not require any statement of objectives or identification of goals in the form of skills. According to Allen, although the textbook-based curriculum has produced Arabic scholars with incredible linguistic skills as well as exceptional ability to understand, simplify and demystify the contents of highly technical Arabic text, the deficiency of the method lies in the fact that students often do not find it easy to use the language outside academic settings. Every subject in the Modern private Arabic schools has its own textbook. Accordingly, students in the Modern private Arabic schools in Southwestern Nigeria are exposed to a spectrum of textbooks the contents of which determines both the learning experiences and teaching activities in the classroom. There is no gain saying that such a method does not provide for insightful learning let alone stimulate critical and creative thinking in students, which is why products of the Modern private Arabic schools are grossly deficient in these skills.

There is no clear-cut requirement or qualification for teaching in the Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria. Given that Arabic schools, as noted earlier, are mostly founded and owned by individuals, it has been observed that most of them venture into founding such schools whenever they deem it necessary. However, it has been observed that most of such proprietors are former students or disciples of some notable Islamic scholars and clerics and that they founded their own schools after their completion of their own education at the feet of their teachers. The degrees of the mastery of Arabic and Islamic studies by such teachers vary as some of them demonstrate high standards in learning, in character whereas others are substandard and almost morally deflated and intellectually bankrupt.

It is worthwhile to recall that Trimingham has indentified a despicable weakness in the quality of Arabic school teachers in Nigeria where he opines that “a characteristic weakness of Islamic education is its individualism”. Anyone who can recite the Qur’an and write Arabic characters is qualified”. Notwithstanding that “there has been tremendous improvement in the system,” it is saddening that “ability to read the Qur’an and write Arabic” regardless of any in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, is “the required qualification of an Arabic school teacher.” It is pertinent to allude to Prof. Babs Fafunwa who maintains a somewhat similar standpoint. The qualifications of Qur’anic school teachers differ from person to person and from place to place. Sometimes they are highly learned ‘ulama, well versed in Islamic Studies, but this is rare. Then, there are those whose only qualification is that they can recite the Qur’an and write Arabic characters. Indeed, the above stated opinion is shared by Prof. Rahman Doi who says that the teachers in Arabic schools do not have appropriate or professional training and required qualifications. That probably explains why Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, himself a product of this system, opined that Arabic school teachers teach subjects, like Geography for instance which, unfortunately, they hardly understand.

Commenting on Fafunwa’s opinion, Dr. Luqman Adedeji maintains that “there are some teachers in the schools who are not adequately trained and that a significant number of the products of the schools, after graduation, are sent to Arab land for further studies, after which they come back to form part of the teaching staff in their various schools”. He instances the fact that some Arab scholars are sent from Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia e.t.c., as expatriates and that they play major role in the development of Arabic schools in Nigeria. Although, most teachers in the Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria, had only formal primary school education in addition to their Arabic and Islamic education, the country is currently witnessing the emergence of a new generation of Arabic school teachers most of whom “could lay claim to university diplomas, first degrees and in some cases as well as masters degrees”. This preparation of Arabic school teachers is now the vogue in Ilorin, Ibadan Iwo and their environs which are the most reputable centres of Arabic school education in Southwestern Nigeria, as well as various parts of the Northern Nigeria where this type of education is in higher demand.

Most graduates of Arabic school in Nigeria find it tough to pursue further education at institutions of higher learning. Their challenge in this regard is not unconnected with the dichotomy between the Modern private Arabic schools and the Nigerian Official System of Education. For instance, the Modern private Arabic schools provides for the study for religious sciences with a local language (i.e. Yoruba, Housa, Igbo, or any other Nigerian language) as the medium of instruction whereas, the English language is the medium of instruction in Nigeria’s institutions of learning. Similarly, there is no provision for the study of English Language, Mathematics and science subjects, in the Modern private Arabic schools, whereas some of such subjects are part of the core curriculum at the tertiary level of education, especially the university in Nigeria. In a similar token, examinations into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions are conducted by examination bodies whose primary concern is to evaluate the degree of attainment in the student’s of educational objectives stipulated for various subjects, in the terminal examination of secondary school students, whereas graduates of the Arabic school are not exposed to such experiences as will enable them withstand the challenge of such examinations. Notwithstanding, few of such graduates work hard enough through private coaching and other means to secure admission into one tertiary setting. That explains why most of them choose to pursue diploma programmes in Arabic and Islamic studies, with a view to applying for further education in Arabic and Islamic studies in universities running such programme, yet the fact of the matter is that the Nigerian university i.e. system finds graduates of the Modern private Arabic schools generally inadmissible.

A situation where an individual pursues his education in one language and thereafter seeks admission into a higher institution of learning where the medium of instruction is a language neither mastered nor understood by him, calls for great concern. This infact is particularly true of the Arabic school setting and the university system in Nigeria. Such an unsystematic method of bridging an educational gap has not proved successful anywhere in the world. For instance, Ashraf and Bilgrami, (1985:44) posit that “nothing has done greater harm to Muslim Education in Pakistan than the bill passed by the British Government allowing students, after passing the Alim, Fadil or Vernacular Examination of their various boards, to take the high school examination in the English Language only in order to obtain their high school certificate”. S.A. Ashraf and H.H. Bilgrami further note that though this appeared to be a concession to Arabic school students, “it took away the very life of Islamic education,… made them concentrate more, while in Arabic schools, on the English language at the cost of their studies in Tafsir, Hadith, Figh and other Islamic sciences”. The Pakistani experience in this regard is not dissimilar from the Nigerian experience with regard to graduates of Arabic school seeking admission into the university. The implication of this is that while preparing themselves for such examinations as prescribed for university admission, most products of the Modern private Arabic schools lose the real essence of Arabic education as they unknowingly purge themselves thereof in a bid to match the level of readiness of their counterparts from Western oriented schools. In the Nigerian context, a lot of disservice has been done to Muslim education in several universities where arrangements are put in place for the absorption of products of the Arabic school system. This has proved largely counterproductive, even though the products of the arrangements are now ubiquitous!

The unsuccessful nature of this academic undertaking is not unconnected with the fact that the Arabic schools, especially in Southern Nigeria, were not designed as feeder institutions for such universities as attempting such irregular absorption which is essentially intended to serve as a source of internally generated revenue rather than a genuine means of further development and empowerment. In the academic parlance of curriculum making, both curricular and pedagogical linkages are normally enshrined between a feeder institution and a university or college, in order to achieve curriculum objectives as enunciated in the philosophy. Such curricular and pedagogical linkages are normally articulated through the agency of curriculum conceptual and design principles that are meant for translation into educational blueprints. This is the job of professional curricularists and pedagogues and a university can not decide overnight to mount a diploma programme in Arabic and Islamic studies for products of Arabic, Islamic schools, in the spirit of marketization of education but under the guise of manpower development for Muslim settings! For those who see the emergence of few professors from among the products of such a special arrangement, I venture to pronounce, rather professionally, that the arrangement has done more havoc than good to the Muslims.

The challenge with Nigerian Muslims is that they fondly but erroneously bring together for such a technical academic engagement any scholar with a Ph.D, any notable university lecturer, any eloquent preacher, any revered imam, any public Muslim intellectual, any da’wah worker, any Muslim activist, with any Muslim professional, any Muslim women leader, any Muslim broadcaster, any Muslim freedom fighter, and any other interested Muslim personality or politician! That explains why none of such remedial or alternative routes to university education provided for products of the Arabic settings in Nigerian has been excellent in the quality of output especially in Southwestern Nigeria. As regards the northern parts of the country where Modern Arabic learning seems to be consolidating fast, Dr. Nasir Baba picks holes in the system where he observed that although the curriculum involved “offers exposure to a classical Arabic and Islamic education, it provides only limited space for a secular content and the use of English as an instructional or communicative medium”. He further rationalized that where networking or linkages with public higher education are paramount, the use of Arabic as an instructional medium in such Arabic schools “restricts contacts with the broad curricula on offer by Nigeria’s higher institutions of learning”. Dr. Baba further argues that despite the provision of Arabic students in such schools with formal qualifications that allow access to higher education –as is the case in most Northern and several Southwestern Nigerian universities-, products of Arabic schools hardly enroll for courses other than Arabic and Islamic studies.

The present writer wonders how effective can be the recently introduced Arabic Medium programme of the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) which is targeted at empowering the products of the Arabic schools to obtain government-approved professional teacher education for the purpose of teaching Arabic and Islamic studies. Dr. Baba sees this as a replacement of English with Arabic as a medium of instruction for the teaching of core professional teacher education courses that constitutes part of the NCE programme offered by Colleges of Education (COEs) in Nigeria. “This is in addition to their study of Arabic and Islamic studies as teaching subjects using the same medium of instruction. General Studies and General English (collectively called GSE courses) are the only components of the NCE Arabic-medium programme that are taught in English, Baba remarked, noting that this deficiency occasioned by the failure of the Arabic schools to embrace a curriculum capable of engaging academically with “the national curricula or instructional medium, particularly at secondary and post-secondary school levels, had been largely instrumental to the non-integration of products of the Modern private Arabic schools in national discourse and action in political, economic or social spheres.”

Given that no system of education can rise above the standards of the teacher who himself is the live wire of the system, there is need for professional development of teachers for the Modern private Arabic schools of Nigeria. While this is being put in place for such development of teachers, the educational blueprint i.e. the curriculum around which revolve all the activities going on in the school settings, too, need to be reviewed and reconstructed for improvement. In incorporating innovations and other necessary ingredients into the curriculum, it should be considered that students in the Arabic system, like their counterparts in the Western-oriented system, are being prepared to contribute to nation building and should therefore possess all the requisite knowledge, skills, and values that will enable them function well in that role.

The implication of this is that such a curriculum as will be developed should keep cognizance of the philosophies of tertiary education in Nigeria. It may be noted here that curriculum diffusion and curriculum innovation are specialised tasks for hard curricularists and there is a dearth of such professionals in Nigeria, let alone the Nigerian Muslim settings. Prof. Abdul-Ganiyy Oladosu of the University of Ilorin and Dr. Nasir Baba of Usmanu Danfodioyo University, arguably more than any Nigeria scholar in the field of education, have demonstrated a good grasp of the nature and the curricular implications of Arabic schooling in Nigeria.

Yet, there shall be no challenge at the level of implementation as the teachers who will ultimately do the implementation are being upgraded in learning and pedagogical skills. There also will be need to restructure the learning environment to make for effective teaching and meaningful learning. It is not enough to introduce the teaching of English, Mathematics and science subjects into the curriculum, as instructional facilities have significant role to play in aiding the attainment of educational objectives. Also, the Modern private Arabic education system in Nigeria should be restructured into a feeder system or institution to various institutions of higher learning in the countries. To engage the services of qualified and competent teachers, there is need for appreciable remunerations which may be generated by charging students some affordable fees and probably embracing some income-generating ventures.

There may also be need to jettison the idea of restricting their choice of teachers to the products of their own schools. Afterall, the University of Lagos employs its lecturers from among products of various universities in the country and beyond. That is the practice in other universities too. So there is cross-fertilization of ideas and exchange of perspectives. But, why can an Adabi teach at a Markazi school? Why can a Ma’hadi be employed by a Dari school? This is part of what makes for an enabling environment for continued brainwash or indoctrination which flourishes almost unchallenged in the form of academic slavery and intellectual savagery, in most of the private Arabic schools.

Once the curriculum is reconstructed and few English-based subjects introduced, the teachers retrained and new ones employed and prepared for the implementation of the new curriculum, instructional materials provided to facilitate learning, the environment made conducive for effective teaching and internalization on the part of the students, and appropriate learning experiences are provided in keeping with the challenges and realities of today and products registerable for national examinations and admissible into Nigerian universities through the conventional routes, then the Modern private Arabic schools in Nigeria may be seen as warming up to complete with the Western oriented system in the area education. There is space constraints in this article but I shall be available to practically offer even free-of-charge specific details of what to do at every stage of the proposed curricular and pedagogical overhaul.
-Saheed Ahmad Rufai, Ph.D Curriculum and Pedagogy, is Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University, Nigeria.