Why BESDA education scheme in Kano worked in some places, didn’t in others

 By A’isha Ahmad

Yahaya Ibrahim and Muhammad Bilyaminu, both 16-year-old teenagers, are learning the alphabet and numbers both in Hausa and English languages for the first time in their lives, thanks to the World Bank’s sponsored Better Education For All (BESDA). 

“Now I can read letters on the wall when I see them,” he said with a wide grin, but occasionally avoiding eye contact.

“We enjoyed the classes; we liked everything they were teaching us,” they replied.

Though pleased with the newly acquired literacy skill, Ibrahim was sad that basic literacy classes stopped in December 2022. He was looking forward to learning more.

Continuing to tertiary institutions is not a priority for him. He wishes to be able to read better and comprehend faster.

“I hope they will come back and continue,” Ibrahim stated hopefully.


Bilyaminu’s (earlier mentioned) wish is slightly different from Ibrahim’s. He wants more than just reading and writing. He would like to get a higher education.

He is one of the pupils of Tsangayar Malam Dauda at Tarauni Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano state, who are beneficiaries of the basic literacy classes held every Thursday and Friday.

Struggling to put words together, Muhammad was able to read two-letter words like A-T and B-Y.


“We like to sit and learn. The teachers come in every Thursday and Friday,” he smiled, reminiscing on how it felt like exploring a relatively new field.

“We are happy, we try to put words together when we walk past them. But I want to finish the Primary here and learn in a bigger school,” he stated enthusiastically.

He does not know how this will materialise, but it is a dream he shared with this reporter, hoping it would come to pass – sooner rather than later.

Ibrahim, helping display the whiteboard used for learning
Ibrahim, helping display the whiteboard used for learning

The Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA), a World Bank initiative, was introduced to increase equitable access for out-of-school children in Nigeria.

The programne, which was implemented in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Ebonyi, Kano, Oyo, Yobe, Niger and Zamfara states, is meant to improve literacy and strengthen accountability for results in basic education in Nigeria.

Part of the programme’s goal is to provide basic literacy and numeracy education for boys who do not have access to any form of western education.

The World Bank funds for the programme is $ 734.80 million and would run until October 31, 2025.

In 2019, the BESDA programme kicked off with Cohort I, spanning two years; another set of voluntary teachers was chosen for Cohorts II and III, which ended in 2022.

Currently, volunteer teachers patiently await the kickoff of Cohort IV. However, some state governments where the programme is being run have not disclosed when the exam and selection for Cohort IV will begin.

During this period, some Almajiri schools (Tsangayu) were enrolled in the programme to help equip the students with basic literacy and numeracy, which they would otherwise not have.

What is the Almajiri education system?

The Almajiri system of education, mainly practised in the northern part of Nigeria, dates back to the pre-colonial era when early Qur’anic scholars took students from very far distances under their wing for the memorisation of the holy Quran and the learning of Islamic principles, jurisprudence, values and theology.

Parents entrust their children (usually between the ages of seven to 15) to the Alaramma (Quranic teachers) for the memorisation of the holy Quran while maintaining contact with the mallam to provide food and other necessities for the child as he studies.

In the beginning, the boys did not beg as widely seen today. Instead, they went to farms, gathered firewood from the bush as well as did some menial jobs for members of their community, who in turn provided support and care through gifts and Zakat donations.

However, over time, the boys now go through the streets begging for food while a few do menial jobs to feed themselves. So, now, the boys fend for themselves while in the Quranic school.

Right programme, wrong approach

It is not just the students, but also the teachers and other stakeholders who share the same enthusiasm about the programme – it is the right programme, but there is a but.

The mixed education’s continued survival, even without government involvement, may depend on the provision of food and other necessities.

Malama A’isha Muhammad Lawan taught Bilyaminu for a few months.

She also taught about 15 Almajiri boys at Tsangayar Malam Dauda at Tarauni LGA, Kano mostly within the age range of 6-17.

 She said, “I am proud of how fast these boys learn, but because they have to go out and beg for food, detergents, and sometimes bath soap, they leave classes early.”

These challenges, according to Muhammad, could cause the programme to fail later.

Also speaking, the chairman of Alarammas ( Quran memorisers) in Nassarawa LGA,  Malam Ayuba and the proprietor of Tsangayar Malam Ayuba at Kawo, said the programme is “really good” adding “that was why we accepted it in the first place.”

“The teachers are selfless, despite that the government would owe them months allowances of N15,000, they never missed classes,” he noted.

The chairman, who said he started running his Tsangaya School 41 years ago, said, “The students are enjoying the classes, else we would not have allowed it. We want them to continue the classes, this is education, not a joke.”

The elderly Alaramma was excited about how his boys have gained some new knowledge – being able to read and write using the English & Hausa letters, without having to forsake Qur’anic memorisation.

hairman of Alarammas ( Quran memorizers) in Nassarawa LGA, Alaramma Malam Ayuba and the proprietor of Tsangayar Malam Ayub
hairman of Alarammas ( Quran memorizers) in Nassarawa LGA, Alaramma Malam Ayuba and the proprietor of Tsangayar Malam Ayub

He said that in a generation that is fast growing in different aspects, the boys also need to be exposed to Western education, even if it is at the basics.

But even he believes the programme will not last.

“Government is not fulfilling its promises to us, or even paying the voluntary teachers their allowances,” he lamented.

He fumed about how they were tricked with promises for the provision of food for the boys.

“They promised us that they would provide funds to our wives to cook for the boys, this way the boys would not have to go out to beg for food during hours for classes, but they never fulfilled the promise,” he said.

Sadisu Salisu is an expert and researcher in the Northeast on Almajiri education and insurgency, he believes the BESDA system is an excellent initiative that is yielding amazing results in states where it is being implemented.

“In Yobe, I have seen some of the results, when I was in Yobe.”

Parents are willing to enrol their children/wards in Tsangayas (Quranic memorisation schools) with a touch of Western education.

He said this singular act made the BESDA programme trustworthy to the Alarammas and their student’s parents.

A Tsangaya product himself, Salisu said, “One of the innovations or things they did I felt good about was the fact that they drew some of the facilitators/teachers from the Tsangaya and have them teach in the same Tsangaya.”

“The success (In Yobe) hugely depended on the effective implementation and integration, which they tried to do. As I said earlier, they engage the Alarammas. Some of the Alarammas are teaching in the school, some of the Gardis (most senior Almajiri students) are teaching in the school.”

In case a Tsangaya cannot produce teachers with the skills needed, they (instructors) were sourced from the neighbourhood where the Tsangaya is located, he disclosed.

“The Alarammas are asked to nominate someone from their area, someone they trust,” Salisu stated. “This is fundamental in dealing with the Tsangaya people. Now, in some Tsangayas in Yobe, even without government intervention, Tsangaya schools offer Western education up to secondary school level.”

For example, Salisu pointed out that Darul Furqan Tsangaya Model School is a privately run Tsangaya school that now teaches both Qur’anic and western education.

He said the programme is also doing well in Kano but still has a long way to go.

Why we may not fully support the BESDA programme in our Tsangaya – Group

Even though equipping these promising boys with basic literacy and numeracy is doing them good, some parents and Alarammas still do not seem so enthusiastic about it.

Alaramma Misbahu Aliyu Babagoni is the Kano Voice of Alarammas association's secretaryAlaramma Misbahu Aliyu Babagoni is the Kano Voice of Alarammas association's secretary
Alaramma Misbahu Aliyu Babagoni is the Kano Voice of Alarammas association’s secretary

An alaramma,  Misbahu Aliyu Babagoni is the Kano Voice of Alarammas association’s secretary, and he told this reporter that he believes that “the BESDA system is in rivalry with the Qur’anic education.”

“So, the only way to make the Alarammas of the Tsangayas at ease and believe this is done in their best interest is for the rich and mighty to enrol their children in the Tsangaya schools.”

Personally, Goni Misbahu does not support the incorporation of Western education into the Tsangaya system, and it is not practised even at his Tsangaya.

He believes sooner or later, the other Tsangayas will turn against the programme as well unless they are properly reoriented on the matter.

Parents, however, have mixed feelings. Some believe they are doing their children a lot of good by sending them to Tsangaya, and that any attempt to introduce a foreign concept is not readily acceptable.

“We would like our boys to just attend their normal Qur’anic classes, and go to another school for Western education but not in the same building,” one father told this reporter.

For many of them, introducing modern/western education into the Tsangaya is a way of diluting the old system of education, and introducing spiritually harmful content.

Older schools have better coordination of mixed education

Tahfizul Qur’an wa Ilmi at Wailari in Kumbotso LGA of Kano is one of the Almajiri schools that benefited from the BESDA programme from 2020 to early 2023.

Its proprietor, Muhammad Rabi’u Ibrahim, says it was established 24 years ago.

He rose in defence of the scheme, saying that they knew and trusted the teachers sent to them would not bring in an agenda to destabilise the Quranic foundation/values already instilled in the boys.

“The teachers live close to us, so we know one another.”

He says maybe that’s part of the reason they hold classes even when the government has owed them for months and notes how established the school is as a reason for retaining the students even during rainy and harvest periods.

“During harvest periods, the students leave to help their parents on the farms,” he shared.

He added that when the students leave, a handful of them stay behind to continue learning.

How nomadic nature, insecurity foil the programme in some Tsangayas

Although the BESDA programme is working well for some Tsangayas, this is not the same for newly established ones, where the teachers take the boys with them to work for them (on the proprietor’s farm), and some Tsamgayas in insecurity-ridden areas in Katsina and Zamfara states.

Ahmad Ibrahim is the Tsangaya proprietor of Hisbul Raheem in Gusau LGA in Zamfara State. He said there was a government programme to teach their students how to read and write in Hausa, but added that “they stopped because they (government) were unable to pay the instructors their monthly allowances.”

“Then they returned the programme to radio – they were teaching students, giving them instructions through the radio, and they later stopped that too,” he added.

He said insecurity also played a role in discouraging the teachers from going to remote villages.

“The boys from the villages of Magami, Rijiya, and others came to us and they were included in the programme before it stopped,” he said.

He lamented how insecurity has ravaged all local governments in Zamfara, making residents leave for safety, and losing the chance to learn any kind of knowledge.

Birnin Magaji, Kaura Maradun, and Anka local government headquarters used to be safer, but even those places are no longer livable since the government officials have relocated to town, Ibrahim observed.

The story is similar in Katsina State where insecurity has persisted for a while.

An official at the State Universal Basic Education Board who spoke anonymously confirmed how insecurity prevented the implementation of the programme.

He said it is a sensitive issue he could not elaborate on, adding, “This is a state secret.”

Other Tsangaya not plagued by insecurity are disrupted by the nomadic nature of some of the proprietors.

Alaramma Muhammad’s Tsangaya, a Tsangaya in Kumbotso LGA in Kano was closed when we arrived. This reporter earlier arranged a visit.

However, after a phone call, he said he had left with his students to harvest produce on his farm in Zaria, Kaduna State.

“I am sorry we could not meet, we are here working on the farm,” the proprietor,  Muhammad stated.

The nomadic nature of some of the Tsangayas deprives some of the boys of a chance for basic education, either with the government’s support or otherwise.

However, Tsangayas with private investment and documented arrangements with parents prevent them (parents) or teachers from withdrawing students for farming.

Another Tsangaya, Madarasatu Hubbin Nabiyu Littahfizul Qur’an fi Tarbiyatul Zikhrullah at Kwarin Goje, a private school, models mixed education – with the introduction of basic literacy and numeracy to its boys

Being in existence for over 20 years, it introduced the Western education system five years ago, without any government support!

Aside from the introduction of the system to the Almajiri boys, the school also widened its acceptance to include girls.

Malam Ibrahim Zakariyya Mukhtar, the school’s spokesman, says they could not sit by and watch their students being unable to catch up with the rest of the world.

“Seeing how the world is changing, our proprietor Muhammad Makiyi, decided to introduce the Islamiyya aspect and Western education. We call the Allo students (Tsangaya), boarding students.”

He revealed that all teachers in the school are National Certificate of Education (NCE) holders paid by the school, unlike other Tsangaya schools where parents do not pay a kobo.

“If the government had included us in the programme, it would strengthen them.”

He further shared that it is not too late to include them as the IV cohort of the programme is yet to begin. But the proprietor of the school, Muhammad Makiyi is sceptical about the government’s involvement.

“I want them to help, and I do not want their help, it depends,” he said. “We already have a system that works, all the teachers you see are NCE holders and I like how things are going.”

He pointed out the need for the government to support the students with teaching/learning materials and a curriculum (for the literacy and numeracy program).

“We will welcome these. For Western education, we teach it here from Saturday to Wednesday for the rest of the students. For the Almajiri students, sessions are held on Thursdays and Fridays.”

Kano government appreciates the impact of the BESDA program, promises full-time employment

On October 16, 2023,  the Kano State governor, Abba Kabir Yusuf, said he was pleased with the performance of BESDA teachers in the overall programme (including where it is implemented in conventional schools).

He further directed that the about 5,500 teachers enrolled in the programme be screened and offered permanent and pensionable employment to better strengthen the quality of education in the state.

“Let me at this juncture appreciate the role of our BESDA teachers who support uplifting our primary education. It is based on this recognition that we will do everything to assist them,” he said.



    The BESDA programme was a success in many ways, including resetting the minds of parents/guardians and Tsangaya proprietors to accept a form of basic Western into their system.

    According to Mallam Haruna, the immediate past BESDA desk officer in the Kano State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), over 100 Tsangaya recorded success in forms of ensuring literacy and numeracy across the state’s 44 local governments and gaining acceptance from parents/Tsangaya School owners.

    He added that the program was successfully carried out, the students learned, and the government has monitored the whole program from inception.

    This report republished from All News was done with the support of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, under its Promoting Democratic Governance in Nigeria Project.

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