The Tsangaya school system in Nigeria, particularly in Northern Nigeria, is an age-old Islamic educational system. Tsangaya schools is believed to be a process, or rather a spiritual journey, for knowledge acquisition by the Almajiri children (Almajirai) under the guidance of the teacher or spiritual guide of foster father called “Mallam or Alaramma”. It plays a crucial role in providing religious and basic education to thousands of Almajiri children.
In Northern Nigeria, Tsangaya schools have remained relevant due to various factors. Firstly, they have provided an alternative educational opportunity for children who may not have access to formal schooling or face barriers to education, such as poverty, distance, or cultural considerations. Tsangaya schools offer a flexible learning environment, accommodating students regardless of their socioeconomic status, and enabling them to pursue their religious education. Furthermore, Tsangaya schools have acted as social institutions, playing a crucial role in preserving and promoting Islamic values, culture, and heritage in the Northern Nigerian society.
Tsangaya schools have faced various challenges over time, including limited resources, poor infrastructure, inadequate government support, and social stigmatisation. In recent years, efforts have been made by the government, non-governmental organisations, and other stakeholders to improve the conditions of Tsangaya schools, enhance their curriculum, and integrate them into the formal education system, with the aim of providing a well-rounded education to students while preserving their Islamic heritage.
Despite the great emphasis placed by Islam on good hygiene practice, one significant concern that has been observed is the absence of proper hygiene education within these Tsangaya schools, as most children in these schools have been found to live an unhygienic lifestyle, as I discuss in my first story ‘The Almajiri children in Kano City, Nigeria: A hidden sanitation issue’. In this follow-up story, I focus on a key recommendation from the first story – the need for comprehensive hygiene education in Tsangaya schools.
Barriers to implementing hygiene education
Hygiene education encompasses practices like handwashing, personal cleanliness, and sanitation. Without proper knowledge and understanding of hygiene practices, the students may be more susceptible to various preventable yet potentially life-threating diseases, including diarrheal illnesses, respiratory infections, and parasitic infections. Knowledge about hygiene practices promotes healthy habits that can extend beyond their time in schools, benefiting them throughout their lives.
There are some common barriers seen to be affecting the implementation of hygiene education in Tsangaya schools in Northern Nigerian context, such as:
- Traditional beliefs and religious practices may influence the acceptance and prioritisation of hygiene education in Tsangaya schools.
- Limited knowledge and understanding of the importance of hygiene education, especially among the Almajiri children can be a significant barrier.
- Currently many Tsangaya teachers do not know how to effectively deliver hygiene education.
- Insufficient infrastructure, such as lack of clean water supply and sanitation facilities in the Tsangaya schools, can hinder the implementation of effective hygiene education.
- Involving parents, guardians, and community leaders in the hygiene education process is vital.
Strategies for implementing hygiene education
I believe that addressing these barriers will require a multi-faceted approach involving coordination among stakeholders, including government bodies, NGOs, schools, communities, and religious leaders. We have already made some progress with some of our action plan (detailed below), with more to be done in other areas.
Action needed: Conduct a thorough needs assessment to understand the specific hygiene challenges faced by Tsangaya schools in the region, involving surveys, interviews, and observations to gather data on existing practices, infrastructure, and hygiene-related health issues.
To date, empirical studies focusing on sanitation and hygiene challenges in Tsangaya schools have been limited. There is a need for in-depth and evidence-based research to evaluate the status of WASH facilities and practices in the Tsangaya Schools system and their overall impacts on the health, education and wellbeing.
Action needed: Engage with local leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students to foster their ownership and collaboration in the development and implementation of hygiene education initiatives. Understanding their perspectives, challenges, and priorities is crucial. There is also a need to organise hygiene awareness campaigns, involving local leaders, and conducting educational sessions for parents and community members. This promotes a holistic approach to hygiene education and creates accountability and support structures.
To achieve this goal, we have identified and planned to collaborate with high-level stakeholders; such as government agencies (particularly the National Commission for Almajiri and Out of School Children Education, UBEC, SUBEB, States Tsangaya Schools Management Boards), development partners, NGOs, CSOs, religious and traditional leaders, private companies, professionals, charitable foundations and philanthropists. We want to work with these actors to design evidence-based interventions strategies (expertise, resources, infrastructure and funding opportunities).
Action needed: Develop a culturally appropriate and age-specific curriculum for hygiene education that is practical, interactive, relatable and effective.
We have already designed a draft of the hygiene education curriculum for the Tsangaya schools system. However, to make it culturally appropriate and age-specific, and aligned with local customs, we plan to partner with grassroots NGOs, religious leaders, and scholars. When adapted it can be piloted in some Tsangaya schools in Kano State. Moreover, to scale up, it could be adopted and incorporated in the already existing Islamiyya, Qur’anic and Tsangaya Education (IQTE) school’s curriculum model developed with support of the UKAid funded program “ESSPIN” and implemented by the governments of Kano, Jigawa and Kaduna States.
Based on personal interviews with some of the Almajiri children, I have learnt that many of them lack hygiene knowledge. Most of them have some access to money from alms or work they do during break time, however, very few attested to buying soap or detergent for personal hygiene. Therefore, for sustainability, hygiene education will include some encouragement to contribute a dedicated certain amount of money to purchasing sanitary materials.
Action needed: Provide thorough training to school teachers and staff on effective hygiene practices.
Next steps to achieve this crucial objective could involve working with existing capacity-building programmes (such as the BESDA-World Bank funded programme) so Tsangaya facilitators and teachers can enhance their skills and knowledge on the new pedagogy of hygiene promotion education. We will also advocate for the schools of hygiene in the region to consider posting their students on teaching practice programmes to Tsangaya schools.
Action needed: Collaborate with local authorities, NGOs, and community members to ensure access to clean water, functioning toilets, and handwashing facilities in Tsangaya schools. Develop a long-term sustainability plan by exploring partnerships with government agencies, NGOs, and private sectors.
We have identified certain groups and individuals to engage with. For example, we will seek to engage with companies that specialise in the production, distribution and sale of sanitary products such as detergents and disinfectants to donate their products to the Tsangaya schools as part of their corporate social responsibility. In addition, some charitable foundations and philanthropists have been identified to support the provision of WASH facilities in Tsangaya schools.
With this strong messaging around hygiene practices already embedded within Islamic teachings, implementing comprehensive hygiene education programs in Tsangaya schools is likely to be well received. Fundamentally, Islam admonished with great emphasis the need for good hygiene practice in both the Qur’an and the Hadith (traditions) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). For instance, in the glorious Qur’an Allah says “for Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean Q2:222”. In another Allah says “And your garments, keep them free from stain (dirt) Q74:4”. In addition, there are authentic Hadith where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reported to have forbidden defecating or urinating at the watering places, on the roadbed and in the shades.
Addressing hygiene education requires a comprehensive participatory approach that combines the efforts of government institutions, education authorities, community leaders, religious leaders, NGOs, and other stakeholders. This would have a transformative effect on health outcomes, education, as well as in promoting overall well-being and sustainable development of the Almajiri children and the Northern Nigerian community at large. By understanding the existing barriers and opportunities, effective strategies and interventions can be co-developed to improve hygiene education and practices among the Almajiri children.
All of this work needs more funding. Towards the end of 2022 and early this year, we submitted proposals but have so far been unsuccessful, perhaps due to strong competition or the global lack of WASH funding. To this note, we seek to forge greater partnerships with development agencies, private sector, and international organisations to leverage additional resources and expertise.
I wish to use this medium to thank the Sanitation Learning Hub (SLH) for funding and publishing my stories via the Practitioner Voice Stories initiative. Moreover, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the SLH team particularly Elaine Mercer, Alice Webb and Naomi Vernon for their time, support and shaping the stories to be at their best. Thank you.
You can contact Sulaiman directly on [email protected]