|Maiunguwa Shuaibu, teaching at an integrated Koranic school in north-eastern Nigeria. According to Mr. Shuaibu, enrolment has spiked since the traditional Koranic school integrated English, maths, science and social sciences.|
By Patrick Moser
Millions of children in northern Nigeria are not receiving a formal education. One way UNICEF is addressing the issue is to help traditional Koranic schools like Maiunguwa Shuaibu’s include basic subjects such as English and maths into their curricula.
NINGI, Nigeria, 15 January 2015 – Dozens of children in their early teens sit in the shade of a large ficus tree on woven mats, chanting and clapping.
Their teacher sways to the rhythm as they repeat the words they have learned in today’s English class.
A few metres away, younger children shout out the letters of the alphabet. The youngest, who is barely 2 years old, has fallen asleep, curled up on the ground.
There may be no chairs, desks or walls at this school on the rural outskirts of Ningi, in north-eastern Nigeria, but owner and teacher Maiunguwa Shuaibu conducts his lessons with great enthusiasm, under the ficus tree.
Strong allies in education
Mr. Shuaibu, 45, speaks passionately about the importance of education.
“Western education is becoming popular. Before, people could not read or write. Now, even in the market, they can read, they can write.”
Mr. Shuaibu originally ran a traditional Koranic school, where children would learn to memorize and recite the Koran. But, since 2010, the pupils have also been learning English, mathematics, science and social sciences.
The popularity of Koranic schools in northern Nigeria, particularly in rural and poor communities, makes them a strong potential ally in efforts to expand access to basic education for disadvantaged children.
That is why UNICEF is supporting the government in promoting a broader curriculum in traditional Koranic schools.
Mr. Shuaibu is a strong supporter. Enrolment has almost quadrupled since his school started teaching core subjects, in addition to the Koran. There are now 186 students.
The Malam, as Koranic teachers are known here, takes particular pride in having 83 girls among his students.
Integration helps enrol girls
The integration of Koranic schools has been successful in attracting girls to school in Muslim communities where there is resistance to Western education.
|Shaawanatu, with other students at the integrated Koranic school. Shaawanatu wishes to become a medical doctor so that she can support her fellow women.|
Shaawanatu Idris, 13, says she loves going to school. “It’s my much preferred time,” she says, shooing a flock of chickens in the yard of her family’s mud and wattle home, behind Mr. Shuaibu’s open-air school.
“I want to be a medical doctor. I want to support my fellow women, especially during delivery. Most times during delivery, women are being supported by men, and that is not part of our tradition.”
Shaawanatu only started school three years ago. Before that, she would hawk mangoes to supplement the household’s meagre income. Poverty remains a major roadblock on the way to universal education in Nigeria.
Shaawanatu’s father says the days when her daughter was selling mangoes were “a waste of time”.
“I didn’t have good information at the time on how school can improve a person,” says Mohammed Idris, adding that what convinced him was seeing that “other children who went to school were very supportive of their families”.
Mr. Idris says that those of his 23 children who are of school age will definitely follow in Shaawanatu’s footsteps.
People like Mr. Idris and Mr. Shuaibu have crucial roles to play in promoting education among their community.
Not there yet
But there is clearly still a lot of work to be done.
There are more than six million girls out of school in Nigeria, residing mostly in the north, out of a total of 10.5 million children out of school in the country.
And schools like the one Mr. Idris runs lack almost everything – toilet facilities, well-trained teachers, and the walls and ceilings that would enable them to remain open in the rainy season.
Mr. Idris is actively lobbying for the additional support his school badly needs. For now, he says, he tries the best he can to teach the children. And the pupils seem to be enjoying the English class as they read in unison from the blackboard: “Zainab is sleeping and has a dream. She dreams she is the queen of Nigeria.”