Official government figures in the Muslim-dominated states of northern Nigeria show there are more students in Koranic schools, where only Arabic and Islamic religious knowledge are taught, than there are in government-owned primary schools.
The newly elected governor of Kano State in northern Nigeria, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, says he will modernize the Koranic schools by introducing the teaching of other subjects, such as English, physics and geography. But many Koranic schoolteachers say they will resist modernization because it is a ploy to westernize the system.
The volatile nature of some Muslim-dominated states in northern Nigeria is sometimes attributed to the activities of the “Almajiris.” These are students of Koranic schools, where only Arabic and Islamic education are taught.
In Nigeria, the schools are owned by Koranic teachers and are usually poorly funded. Most of the pupils are males between the ages of 10 and 25, recruited from villages. Classes are held under trees, and afterward the children are often seen in groups, roaming the streets, begging for food and money.
Speaking in his native Hausa language, one of the students said they mostly sleep in the market square or unfinished buildings because the Koranic teachers cannot afford to feed, house or clothe them. He says they would be happy to have the government take over their schools and modernize them. Ibrahim Shekarau is the newly elected governor of Kano State. He says in order to curtail the excesses of children of school age roaming the streets in the north, he will ensure that all the children, including the Almajiri, are given basic Western Education.
He says, "Government will come into this section in full and see, is not just the question of assistance or assisting these schools, they are supposed to be properly and well catered for like any other school system. These are schools that are suppose to be catered for in terms of their teaching staff, in terms of the welfare of their teachers and in terms of the students and their welfare. Our statistics has shown that, not only in Kano but also in most part of the Northern part of the country, there are more students enrolled in the Koranic schools than in our normal Western System of Educational Primary and Secondary School. Therefore, neglecting them is neglecting hundreds of thousands of children that are supposed to be catered for. What we intend to do is to embrace in totality these Koranic Schools. Get them screened, get them properly registered, their teachers are supported, their teaching materials supported, the welfare of the children catered for, just as we do in our own government schools. In this way, we would be able to curtail the poverty that sends these children on to the streets."
Besides addressing the issue of poverty, Mr. Shekarau also says only when the youths are well educated will their criminal activities end. He noted that people in the area are sometimes reluctant to send their children to government-funded schools because they face the same financial problems that confront the Koranic schools. On the other hand, privately–owned schools are also very expensive and most families cannot afford them. The governor says he will ensure that the state government offers high quality education.
He says, "As an Educationist, I know two factors are fundamental to any educational growth and development. That is, one, provision of sufficient, qualified, experienced and well enumerated teachers whose welfare is very well catered for. Two, the provision of sufficient instructional materials. These will be the two items that we shall rigorously pursue in our program. Until we are satisfactorily done with, in terms of teachers’ supply and instructional materials, we will in the meantime, not spend our resources infrastructural provision. So, these are the two issues we shall face and God willing we will revamp the educational standard when we get these two items adequately address."
Mr. Shekarau did not say how the state government will come up with the funds to provide the services he referred to. But he says he will involve other educationists from the area in raising the standard of Western and Islamic Education in Kano State.
One of the Koranic teachers opposed to the idea of introducing western education in their schools is Nasir Gwammaja. He has about 127 Almajiris in his care. Mr. Gwammaja says he and his colleagues will resist any such attempt by the Government.
But many Islamic scholars, especially those with backgrounds in western education, welcome the idea as a way of diversifying the State’s educational system. They say it may help eliminate some of the riots that have bedeviled the North in the past. Much of the unrest has stemmed from misconceptions by some Almajiris that non-Muslims are enemies of Islam.