WHERE ISLAMIC STUDIES IS THE ONLY FORM OF LEARNING
By Jeckonia Otieno
A three-door unused classroom block stands on the edge of Balatraha village, some 125 kilometres from Wajir town.
The structure, which was constructed earlier this year by the Tarbaj Constituency Development Fund (CDF), was meant to bring education closer to the children of the nomadic community living in this village.
But it has never been used. It has no teachers and no instructional material.
Here, children learn through the Duksi Islamic Memorisation form of instruction, under a tree. From 5 am, they gather under this tree some 400 metres from the school.
Much of this from of education –one of the oldest known forms of teaching- involves learning Arabic and memorizing the Quran. The chants from the 15 pupils tell of a rigorous exercise that builds up to their religious acumen.
It is the only form of education available here.
Ibrahim Billow, 19, is the instructor. His qualification? He can recite all the 114 chapters of the Quran with its 6,666 verses.
Billow dropped out of school in Class One, but his determination drove him to learn and memorise the Quran.
“We teach the children to memorise the Quran but that alone is not enough. They need to learn skills in a formal system so that they can have a chance in modern life,” says Billow, who uses the most basic teaching aids to do his work.
The instruction materials are not your ordinary books but wooden planks on which verses of the Quran are scribbled using paint made from crushed charcoal mixed with water to form paste. There is only Quran which is shared among the learners.
One notable feature of the Duksi system is the way time is managed. Starting at five in the morning, the children learn up to 7am after which they go back home for breakfast.
They should be back to school in half an hour’s time, to continue with studies until 10am when they take another one hour break.
They then learn for one hour from 11 am, then break for 60-minute lunch. They then learn until 4pm after which they break for supper to return at 6pm to learn around a bonfire until 8pm when they break for the night.
The school runs from Monday to Thursday and leaves Fridays free for worship.
Billow says the minimum enrollment age is five years. The oldest child in the current class is a 10-year old.
The other feature in the system is the cane in which Billow disciplines errant learners.
"We do not use it a lot, just a bit to ensure that there is discipline during class time," he says.
Still, parents in Balatraha fear their chidren are missing out. They want the government to hear their cry, and give their children to formal education.
“It is so ironical that when it comes to education, the government cannot reach us. But on the Huduma Number, election and census, they got here. What an irony?” says Mohammed Osman, a parent.
Humanitarian organization Save the Children says ways are being sought to integrate the Duksi system into the formal education, especially among the nomadic pastoralist communities.
Aden Abdullahi, the organization’s head of Wajir office, said this will offer nomadic children a chance to learn the key aspects of education, especially health and environment.
Wajir County’s Education officials acknowledge there may be need to put up a school there but “there are a lot of factors to consider.”
Hussein Osman, the Wajir Director of Education, said the number of children and the safety standards involved are considered a decision to put up a school is made.
“After we have ascertained all these, we register the school and then ask the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to post teachers,” he said.
This article was first published on the Saturday Standard on 5th October 2019.