NIGERIA: Educating the nomads

KADUNA, 31 August 2010 (IRIN) – The children of most Nigerian nomads fall through the education net – the focus is to teach them the family trade, and their wandering lifestyle means they seldom attend school – but as the nomadic way of life becomes increasingly unsustainable, educators and state authorities are finding innovative ways to remedy this.

Umar Idriss faces a dilemma: to continue rearing cattle with his family, or to attend university

Umar Idriss faces a dilemma: to continue rearing cattle with his family, or to attend university

Photo: Rosie Collyer/IRIN

Nigerian nomads fall into three groups: cattle-herders, fishermen and farmers, but shrinking grazing reserves, blocked grazing paths, and rising tension between nomadic and farming communities is causing pastoralists to abandon their traditional skills.

Growing numbers of nomads have been moving to towns and cities, where they take whatever jobs they can find, said Saleh Momale, director of Pastoralist Resolve, an NGO that mediates in conflicts between nomads and farmers.

Difficult transition

Making the transition is not always easy. “When Fulanis are suddenly forced to become sedentary, which is increasingly the case in Nigeria, the young men often adapt very badly to the sudden change,” Momale told IRIN. Many young nomads living in cities, having had little or no access to education, turn to crime.

In mid-2008 police and local authorities expelled some 2,000 Fulani herders from southern Plateau State, forcing them to resettle in Bauchi State. Newly sedentary Fulani children registered at local schools and enrolment rates shot up.

How well transition works depends on receptive state authorities, said Momale. In Bauchi this went relatively smoothly because the governor allocated US$500,000 to pastoralist education, so relations between pastoralists and sedentary communities have been much stronger there than elsewhere.

Adapted teaching methods

The National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), based in Kaduna town, in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state, works to adapt teaching methods and materials for nomadic communities. Course materials are translated into languages spoken by nomadic groups; nomadic teachers are selected to accompany and teach children on the move; schools are established along nomadic grazing paths – there are now some 2,200 such schools across the country.

Instruction is usually in Fulfulde – the language of the Fulani – but for the one million members of Nigeria’s migrant fishing communities, who speak more than 30 languages between them, instructors are considering Pidgin English.

Many pastoralist families prefer to teach their boys the family trade, rather than send them to school
Many pastoralist families prefer to teach their boys the family trade, rather than send them to school

Photo: Rosie Collyer/IRIN

Course materials are also adapted – for instance by substituting Fulani names for text book characters so children can relate to them, but Aliyu Erdo, director of programme development at NCNE, said educators nevertheless had to prepare children for the national exams.

Children can go from one school to the next, attending each for a few months at a time as the group moves from place to place. NCNE is keen to help pastoralists preserve their nomadic lifestyle and is piloting a project to teach via radio.

The project will target six states – Kaduna, Kano, Nassarwa, Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe – starting with first-year primary school children and eventually covering all six years. NCNE is about to hire professional voiceover artists to record the first 90 lessons.

Radio project

Project leaders are also using the airwaves to attract children. “The programmes talk of the need for nomadic children to go to school, and draw attention to the civic responsibilities of nomads, and what their responsibilities are within society,” said Erdo.

It is especially important to nomadic pastoralist families to keep their boys near them so they can be taught to rear cattle, but this has meant that most dropped out when they reached secondary school, said Erdo. “Many of the primary schools actually have more girls than boys, as their families consider herding cattle to be more important,” she told IRIN.

Student Umar Idriss attended a network of nomadic primary schools set up along a route used by his Fulani cattle-herder community, and then attended a secondary school in Kaduna, where he boarded with boys from different backgrounds.

He now faces a dilemma: whether to return to the nomadic life, or attend university. “My father wants me to look after our family’s cattle,” Idriss told IRIN in fluent English, “but I would like to go to university and study veterinary science.”


Source – IRIN