Nigeria school attendance down after attacks

So far this year 14 schools have been burnt down in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, northern...

State police headquaters burnt by members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect in Damaturu in northeastern Nigeria. Picture: AFP

So far this year 14 schools have been burnt down in Maiduguri, the

capital of Borno State, northern Nigeria, forcing over 7,000 children

out of formal education and pushing down enrolment rates in an already

ill-educated region.

In a video posted on YouTube in February, Boko Haram, the Islamic jihadist group based in Nigeria,

called on their followers to destroy schools providing Western

education.

School enrolment is already lower in Borno - 28 percent - than in any

other state in Nigeria, according to the Nigeria Education Data Survey

  1. The recent attacks are making it even harder for teachers and aid

groups to persuade parents to let their children stay on at school.

"We are appealing to parents to keep their children in school and not to

be intimidated," Musa Inuwa, the Commissioner for Education in Borno

State, told IRIN. State officials are assuring parents that it is still

safe to send their children to school, and Inuwa has begun visiting

schools more frequently to give motivational talks to pupils and staff.

Eric Guttschuss, Researcher on Nigeria for the watchdog organization, Human Rights Watch,

told IRIN: "It's not just the students at the targeted schools that end

up being affected. Targeting of schools can lead children in

neighbouring schools to stay home or drop out completely for fear of

further attacks."

School patrols

The authorities have responded to the crisis by pledging to rebuild all

state schools that have been burned or bombed. Five private schools were

also destroyed and a teacher at the Success Stars Secondary School, who

did not want to be named for fear of reprisals by Boko Haram, said his

school deserved state funds for rebuilding. "Many of our students

enrolled with us because the state schools are full - but where is the

state now?"

Staff attendance has also dwindled, said Suleiman Aliyu, headmaster of

the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation, a private school offering both

Islamic and Western education, which opened to cater for the growing

number of orphans in the state. "It happens almost every week that a

teacher calls in to say they are staying at home because there is

shooting in their area," he told IRIN. So far, the school has not been

targeted by Boko Haram, but the headmaster fears that "it's only a

matter of time".

The Joint Military Task Force deployed to Borno State to enforce

Operation Restore Order in 2011 has stepped up patrols around state

schools.

Out to beg

Most of the schools targeted by suspected Boko Haram members provide

Western as well as Islamic education, sending a message to parents that

they must choose only Islamic education for their children.

Although Islamic schools have a long tradition in the region, they are

not regulated by the authorities and graduates have no formal

qualifications. The system is known locally as Almajari, and boys as

young as six are sent to live with a religious teacher, or Mallam, who

teaches them how to interpret and recite the Koran for a period of up to

10 years. The system also permits Mallams to send the children in their

care out to beg on the streets.

"Young people should be employable. Having only Islamic education will

not make you employable, which is why we need to encourage parents to

choose Western education for their children," says Inuwa.

Some Maiduguri residents say Boko Haram has been infiltrated by criminals, and it is they who are behind the school attacks.

Aisha Alkali Wakil, a lawyer who defends Boko Haram suspects, openly

admits that Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, was "a personal

friend" before he died in police custody in July 2009. "He wasn't

against Western education, and nor are his followers. What he was

against is the influence of Westerners on our cultureā€¦The leaders all

have Western education, and their children too are all in Western

education," she told IRIN.

However, most people feel that it is Boko Haram who must bear

responsibility for the attacks on schools. "We know there are people who

feel aggrieved," said Inuwa, "but everybody knows burning schools will

not solve anything."