The authorities should think out-of-the-box and enrol many children in school

At a public forum last week, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, raised both an alarm and a call to action which the authorities in Nigeria must heed. “What we see is a cycle of illiterate parents giving birth to illiterate children who will also produce illiterate children and the cycle continues. That cycle of inter-generational illiteracy must be broken,” he said. In April this year, the Federal Ministry of Education revealed that a national personnel audit of both public and private schools in the country discovered that there were 10.2 million out-of-school children nationwide.

That majority of these children are in the north is not in doubt and was confirmed by the report. Yet without good education, the future of children is already mortgaged with the attendant danger of making them susceptible to anti-social vices. Indeed, ample evidence exists that the social miscreants and religious bigots, including the Boko Haram insurgents that have been wreaking havocs in North-east of the country today, are largely recruited from the army of uneducated people who grew up without any hope for their future. Most of the girls who are married off at tender age are also predominantly from rural areas, and mostly with no education.

Early in 2017, the Emir of Kano, Mohammad Sanusi 11, advised northern governors to use mosques to offer primary education instead of constructing new classrooms in the midst of scarce resources. Sadly, nobody paid any attention to him. According to the emir, since there were many mosques in the northern part of the country, they could function as primary schools during the day time and in between afternoon and evening for obligatory prayers. This would slash considerably the amount spent on school infrastructure while more attention and funds would be devoted to the training of teachers and welfare. “When you convert these mosques to institutions of learning in your domain,” said Sanusi, also a former governor of Central Bank, “you simply bring education to the door steps of citizens at less cost.”

In endorsing Sanusi’s proposition, Alhaji Ismaila Modibbo Umaru, Secretary of the Muslim Council of Nigeria in Adamawa State said as long as the mosques were well kept and their sanctity as holy places observed, the idea was good to pursue. “During the time of the Prophet, mosques were centres of learning and scholarship, so our mosques can be used as classes so long as their sanctity will be respected as places of worship,” he said. Dr. Mansur Ibrahim, also an Islamic scholar in Sokoto, said parents who could not afford to send their children to even public schools, would send them to schools “managed by our mosques.”

In the history of Islam, teaching children in mosques is nothing new. Mosques were centres of learning and scholarship. The first ever school linked to a mosque was reportedly at Medina in 653 and by 900 “nearly every mosque had an elementary school for the education of both boys and girls.” Renowned Islamic universities like Al-Azhar and many of its contemporaries were former mosques. Sanusi indeed credited his suggestion to his trip to Fez, Morocco, where he visited a mosque performing its routine function as a place of worship, and a university.

In many of the rural communities, children study under trees. In the urban centres that have the luxury of being provided with classrooms, many of them are dilapidated with leaking roofs, cracked walls and without windows. In many cases, children sit on the floor as there are no reading tables and chairs for them. If we must spread literacy in the north where the number of out-of-school children has been on a steady rise, there is an urgent need for the governors to explore the Sanusi option.