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Ian Attfield: An introduction

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education, Nigeria

I joined DFID to work in Nigeria as the Education Adviser in the summer of 2007. Basically I oversee DFID's education projects and programmes in the Northern States, where the human development indicators, such as out of school children and infant mortality rates are poor and some people are still suspicious of Western ideas such as educating girls and vaccinating children.  Although of course we have seen controversy over immunisation policies in the UK too.

Danbatta school
Danbatta school

While relatively new to DFID the work of large donor-financed education programmes is familiar to me, having worked as a long term advisor and consultant on a range of education projects over the last 12 years in Africa and SE/S Asia.

Relocating from Vietnam, with its booming economy and where 'Education For All' had been achieved at primary level, was somewhat of a shock.  Despite much easier communications - many Nigerians speak reasonable English, the state of Nigerian schools bears out the 'crisis in education' talked about widely by many senior government officials.

The school opposite in Danbatta, Kano State, is not untypical with bare walls, no chairs and children packed on the floor, reciting whatever the teacher says with very little learning going on.

You can get a sense of the reality by viewing the video Nigeria School that was made by StraightLine Films for the Capacity for Universal Basic Education (CUBE) project last year.  The clips with a teacher in Kaduna trying to get resources for his schools from the local government office or the roll call at the junior secondary school where many girls are dropping out to get married are particularly striking.

Looking back on my first year spent working in the north of Nigeria, I am still struck by the enormity of the country's problems, despite its oil wealth and absence of major civil wars over the past three decades.  Working in other countries recovering from civil war has given me insight on absolute poverty, but Nigeria seems particularly challenging: a case of 'what might have been' without the extremes of refugee camps but evidence all around of the impact of corruption and unrealized potential.

I am based in Kano, the commercial / manufacturing centre of the North, which has been in major economic decline since the heydays of the 1970s.  Drive through the industrial zone in January when the harmattan winds blow dust storms off the Sahara and you could well imagine you are in a Mad Max movie; a post nuclear apocalypse without Tina Turner. A scene of rusting, empty warehouses, twisted metal structures and street urchins (usually Almajarai boys from itinerant Koranic schools) scavenging waste plastic and cardboard to sell or burn to keep warm.  Only a few signs of transformation are evident: mobile telecom masts and scratch-card sellers, many affected by polio, who trade from hand-cycles under pastel sunshades with warm friendly smiles.

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  1. Comment by Nasir Mohammed Baba posted on

    A dysfunctional education system is probably the greatest threat Nigeria faces in its quest for development. Your description of the situation is very correct and can comfortably be generalized to other parts of the country; but the problem is more severe in the north. I just hope you have developed enough shock absorbers because you are likely to see more devastation as you widen your experiences. However, you will also come across genuine attempts at improving the situation in some states.

  2. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Nasir, I'm amazed at your foresight; just last month I had to order new shocks for my car, after my first year on the roads of Kano.!
    I agree with your view that the problems with basic education in particular are most acute in the Northern States of Nigeria and that is exactly why DFID focuses the bulk of its education programme in work with Northern State: Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna and Kwara through the ESSPIN programme and in Bauchi, Sokoto, Katsina and Niger through the UNICEF managed Girls Education Programme (GEP)
    I feel its important to emphasise the true status of learning in schools at present, but also concur that there are many worthy innovations going on to address the problem. Encouraging Islamic schools that get strong community support is one of those innovations, we are adopting such an appoach in Kano: I note your interest in Islamiyyah schools.
    In future posts I'll highlight a recent trip to Sokoto (via your home state Zamfara) to view progress with GEP.

  3. Comment by Aisha Dahiru posted on

    Hi Ian,
    I really enjoyed your post. Welcome to an experience at the very least. At its best, your life focus alters.
    Nasir is right, your description of the 'crisis' and sense of potential 'might have beens' is quite insightful. I am familiar with your organization's work (especially on GEP) through affiliations with some of our local organizations and you might have noted that prevalent amidst our vast challenges, is perhaps the shortage of a desire for something better. Children are hungry (certainly as much for food as learning) while the adults are merely looking to get by day by day.
    Having said that, many, many are out there doing what little they can, when they can (& still smiling most days). I have been privileged to work with a few in Kaduna. Transformation never occurs overnight history has repeatedly illustrated so yes, whilst you replenish your shock-absorbers, and highlight the monumental (I usually refer to it as colossal) challenges, I hope you find hope in the efforts along the way.

  4. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Hi Aisha,
    Thanks for your kind words and sorry for the delay in responding. You will see a recent posting from me that highlights the work of GEP (Girls Education Project) during a visit to Sokoto state.
    I recently attended briefly a meeting of Civil Society Organisations at Mumbayya House in Kano that really impressed me by the breadth and width of public support for improving the education children receive in Northern States. I hope DFID's programmes can help support these coalitions to bring about change: by direct initiatives and lobbying the government for more action!

  5. Comment by sade fadipe posted on

    Dear Ian,
    I continually try to put myself in the shoes of people like yourself and in the world do do people come to terms with swopping the comforts that come with living in a developed part of the world for the hussles and discomforts that come with living and working in the most undeveloped parts of an underdeveloped country? So its Kudos! for all grassroot and rural projects being supported by DFID.
    Hopefully our government would one day be able to see through the ills of corruption and put the masses first.
    In the meantime I can only imagine the depth of humane fulfillment that must come from witnessing the joy you bring to peoples lives on a daily basis.
    It was also nice to know/read a bit more about you. All the best during your second/third year 'up north'.

    And Yes, i'll keep reading your blogs, as i find them quite interesting. informative, up to date and balanced.


  6. Comment by Garth Allen posted on

    hi Ian. great to have this mix of thoughtful reflection on real situations and people.
    i am interested in the relationship between people and systems, especially EMIS, and whether the costs of setting up the latter- in vogue in Africa- are worth the effort?
    I have been searching the internet for studies of the costs of EMIS, as part of a SADC Educ. Secretariat consultancy- and came across your blog and got stuck! much more interesting! stay well and go well, as we say in south Africa!

  7. Comment by oluchi posted on

    Dear Ian,
    I read everything you said and its all true the problem with Nigeria is acute corruption, how are you going to convince a girl who has seen fellow female girls who where learned and yet can not secure a job for two or three years like me because they dont have godfather or because they lost their father at an early age and at the end you end up becoming a house wife at a mature age when they can marry early and have their children without going through stress of Education. People need to see for themself the benefit of education before you can convince them to go to school, if not all this your stress and effort will be in vain like those before you. What you should focus more on, is helping and educating our government on how to create more jobs
    for its youth.
    I will like to be part of DFID in Nigeria because I want young girls in my village to be proud of me and be motivated to go to school because in my village I am the first girl to go up to university level and you know what that means when every day they see am still jobless, what then will motivate them to go to school!
    I pray God to help us all.

  8. Comment by dr olawumi korede posted on

    southern NGOs do need an upliftment. can we join northern NGOS in Nigeria. The climatic change governing most developing countries remains to be a major problem. It is advocated that DFID is spending 200 million dollars in combating flood and terraines what do we do. Nigerian govet has spent over 100 million at combating its disaster programmes and lagos is currently doing a climatic change programme

  9. Comment by usman abdulkadir posted on

    I am just coming across your post, may be u are not in Nigeria anymore.. I must confess your report was quite true n very objective. Challenged by the situation I set up a community school in my locality, Dadin- kowa, Gombe state in 2009. Four years on, we are in 3rd grade with lot of challenges. Is it possible to access assistance from DID or its sister agencies, pls.