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New UNESCO report shows Nigeria fails to provide inclusive education for internal migrants

Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu


The new 2019 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO,entitled Building bridges not walls, highlights countries’ achievements and shortcomings in ensuring the right of migrant and refugee children to benefit from quality education, a right that serves the interests of both learners and the communities they live in. Released on International Children’s Day and launched at a regional event in Nairobi co-hosted by the Government of Kenya, it shows the need for improvement in education for migrant children in Nigeria who have ended up in informal settlements, for nomadic communities, and for those who are internally displaced.

Informal settlements

Rural to urban migration has had major implications for population redistribution in Nigeria and makes urban development planning, including for education, challenging. In Nigeria, a 2010 survey revealed that 23% of the population had changed area of residence for at least 6 months within the previous 10 years, with about 60% of internal migrants living in urban areas. In 7 out of 36 states, including Abia and Lagos, migrants constituted more than two-fifths of the population

The Report projects the number of children living in slums in Nigeria will increase by 67% by 2030, a total of 13 million children, which could fill over 400, 000 classrooms. Yet it warns that there are fewer than 2 urban planners for every 100,000 people in Nigeria, which should be increased to help move towards sustainable urban development

Nomadic communities

Internal migration of nomads in northern Nigeria has seen the federal and state governments introduce several initiatives over the years, such as mobile schools and collapsible classrooms, canoes and boats for migrant fishing communities, and improved infrastructure and technology aids. However, the main challenge remains tackling the socio-economic challenges that sustain the almajiri system.

The almajiri are migrant ‘pupils of Islamic knowledge’ who migrate from their rural homes to urban areas in northern Nigeria and follow an itinerant religious teacher who delivers qur’anic education. In the almajiri system, a teacher can be responsible for up to 100 students, predominantly poor boys who often end up on the street begging for alms. Nomadic pastoralists, in particular, favour the almajiri qur’anic more relevant to the needs of their society.

A federal task force identified the integration of qur’anic education into basic education programmes as key to revitalizing almajiri education. Between 2010 and 2013, the government invested in 117 model almajiri schools in 26 out of 36 states. However, integration may not be achieved if parents have concerns about the quality of formal secular schools. This is a common problem across western Africa. It requires efforts to increase the demand and gain the trust of students, parents and teachers who prefer the existing non-formal education system.

In Kano state, an intervention that targeted 700 traditional teachers, focused on collaborating with them to select those teachers who would teach non-religious subjects. In addition, to engage the community, the intervention also offered school meals, farm inputs and cash transfers at a small scale. About 70% of the original cohort passed the junior secondary transition exam

Internally displaced people

In north-eastern Nigeria, as of late 2017, there were 1.6 million IDPs, including an estimated 700,000 school-age children, as a result of violent attacks on civilians by Boko Haram, which began in 2009. Boko Haram has destroyed nearly 1,000 schools and displaced 19,000 teachers. Reports indicated it had killed almost 2,300 teachers by 2017.

The latest education needs assessment found that out of 260 school sites, 28% had been damaged by bullets, shells or shrapnel, 20% had been deliberately set on fire, 32% had been looted and 29% had armed groups or military in close proximity. Ongoing safety concerns, coupled with teacher salaries that do not cover even basic expenses and delays in payment, perpetuate a shortage of qualified teachers. Most of those who remain work on a voluntary basis.

UNESCO says in view of increasing diversity, ‘’the report analyses how education can build inclusive societies and help people move beyond tolerance and learn to live together. Education provided equally builds bridges; unequal provision raises walls between migrants and refugees and their host communities.

‘’Two new global compacts on migrants and refugees recognize education’s role and set objectives aligned with the global commitment to leave no one behind. This report is a vital toolkit for these compacts. It covers policy issues that address seasonal migrants, rural school consolidation, intercultural curricula, refugee inclusion in national education systems and elimination of segregation, qualifications recognition, targeting of school funding, more effective humanitarian education aid and teacher preparedness for diverse classrooms in emergency, protracted and “new normal” contexts.’’