EDUCATION IN CAMEROON
I. History of Cameroonian education
Two separate systems of education were used in Cameroon after independence: East Cameroon’s system was based on the French model and West Cameroon’s on the British model. At the time, the architects of independence perceived the policy as a symbol of national integration between West and East Cameroon. The two systems were merged by 1976, but studies suggest the two systems still didn’t blend.
Shortly after the independence, French was considered the country’s main language, but the rise of English as first commercial language in the world, meant the balance switched to the latter. Christian mission schools have played an important part of the education system, most children cannot afford them and are forced to choose state-run schools. While the country has dedicated institutions to teacher training and technical education, the growing trend is for the wealthiest and best-educated students to leave the country to study and live abroad, creating a brain drain.
The Constitution affirms “the State shall guarantee the child’s right to education. Primary education shall be compulsory”. The government has avoided the human rights language and has referred only to “equality of opportunity for access to education”. When six years of primary schooling are complete education is still compulsory until the age of 14. Primary school education is free (since 2000), but families must pay for uniforms, book fees, and sometimes even anti-malaria prophylaxis for pupils. Tuition and fees at the secondary school level are indeed very high and unfortunately remain unaffordable for many families
|Expected years of schooling (on average)||10.3 yrs|
|Adult literacy rate (people aged 15 and more, both sexes)||70.7%|
|Mean years of schooling (adults)||5.9 yrs|
|Combined gross enrollment in education (both sexes)||60.4|
According to data available for 2011, 47.7 per cent of girls and 56.7 per cent of boys attended primary school. The low school enrolment rate was attributed to cost, with girls’ participation further reduced by early marriage, sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancy, domestic responsibilities, and certain socio-cultural biases. Domestic workers are generally not permitted by their employers to attend school.
A 2004 government study found there is a large gap between the capacity of the schools and the number of potential students. According to the study, preschools served only 16 per cent of the potential student population. Within the school system, the Northern provinces were the most underprivileged, with only 5.7 per cent of all teachers working in the Adamawa North, and Extreme North provinces combined. The study showed elementary schools only had enough seats for 1.8 million students, although 2.9 million attended school.
These findings pushed the Cameroonian government to launch a three-year programme to construct and renovate schools, improve teacher competency, and provide instructional materials, which was apparently renewed in 2010. However problems are still not to be considered resolved. Embezzlement of education funds is considered the main problem in primary education, with half of the state primary schools in the sample reporting problems with their buildings (only 19 per cent of schools have working toilets, 30 per cent have access to a water tap and barely 30 per cent have enough tables and benches for students). Absenteeism of teachers and poor implementation and enforcement of rules and regulations are also contributing factors.
II. Structure of the educational system
The educational system in Cameroon is divided into four stages; primary (six years, compulsory), middle school (five years), secondary/high school (two years), and tertiary (university). The academic year runs from September to June, at which time, end-of-year-examinations are always written. The General Certificate of Education (GCE), both Ordinary and Advanced levels, are the two most qualifying exams in the Anglophone part of Cameroon.
There are two separate secondary schooling systems, depending on whether the French or British colonial models apply. In broad terms though, the secondary phase comprises a lower (middle school) and an upper level (high school). For the majority of young people this distinction remains academic, because their parents are unable to afford secondary school fees at all. Students who graduate from a five-year secondary school program have to sit for the GCE Ordinary Level, and those who graduate from a two year high school program have to sit for the GCE Advanced Level.
So far, the GCE advanced level and the Baccalaureate (the French equivalent of academic attainment) are the two main entrance qualifications into institutions of higher learning. After secondary school, there is the possibility of undertaking “vocational studies” courses aimed at unemployed people under the responsibility of the Ministry of employment.
• Grading scale
- French grading scale
|Scale||Grade description||US Grade||Notes|
|15.00-20.00||Trés bien (very good)||A|
|12.00-12.99||Assez bien (quite good)||B+|
|0.00-9.99||Insuffisant (insufficient)||F||Failure (May be considered a pass if entire year is passed|
- English grading scale
|Scale||Grade description||Division||US Grade|
|A-||Second class||Upper division||A- / B+|
|B||Second class||Lower division||B|
III. Primary and secondary education
In 2002, the gross primary enrolment rate was 108 per cent. Gross enrolment ratios are based on the number of students formally registered in primary school and do not necessarily reflect actual school attendance. In 2001, 84.6 per cent of children from 10 to 14-years-old were attending school. As of 2001, 64 per cent of children who started primary school were likely to reach grade 5.
Fewer girls enrol in primary school in Cameroon than boys, which is generally down to issues such as early marriage, unplanned pregnancy, domestic chores and socio-cultural biases also contributed to low education rates. In 2001, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child identified a number of problems with the education system in Cameroon, including rural/urban and regional disparities in school attendance; limited access to formal and vocational education for children with disabilities; children falling behind in their primary education; a high dropout rate; lack of primary school teachers; and violence and sexual abuse against children in schools.
The adult literacy rate is 67.9 per cent. In the southern areas of the country almost all children of primary-school age are enrolled in classes. In the north however, which has always been the most isolated part of Cameroon, registration is low. Most students in Cameroon do not go beyond the primary grades. There has been an increasing trend of the smartest students leaving the country in recent years to study abroad and settling there: the so-called "brain drain".
In the Cameroon English-speaking education sub-system, pupils leaving primary school enter secondary school after passing the Government Common Entrance Examinations (and obtaining a First School Leaving Certificate) in Class 6 (now) or 7 (formerly). The last two years in secondary school, after GCE O Levels, are referred to as high school. A high school is part of the secondary school but in Cameroon, it is habitual to talk of secondary school for a school which ends at the O Levels and high school for one which offers the complete secondary education program of seven years (or one which simply has lower and upper sixth classes).
Researchers from the PanAf Project Cameroon found that female students now use social internet networks more for pedagogical reasons than the traditional thought of searching for boyfriends. The most used social internet networks included Facebook, Myspace, Hi-5, Aidforum and Commentcamarche
IV. Higher Education
Although Cameroon boasts a sprawling cache of junior academic institutions of excellence, higher institutions are rather insufficient. There are eight state-run universities in Buea, Bamenda, Douala, Yaounde I & II, Dschang, Maroua and Ngaoundere. There is a handful of thriving private universities such as the Bamenda University of Science and Technology (BUST), International University, Bamenda and the Fotso Victor University in the west province.
Originally The University of Buea was the only Anglo-Saxon style university, but with the University of Bamenda opening its doors in 2011 Cameroon now has two English Universities. The rest of Cameroon's six state-managed universities are run on the francophonie model, although in principle, they are considered to be bilingual institutions. Cameroon's universities are strictly managed by the central government, with the pro-chancellors and rectors appointed by presidential decree. The minister of higher education is the chancellor of all Cameroon's state universities.
Compared to neighbouring countries, Cameroon generally enjoys stable academic calendars. In all, Cameroon's higher education has been a success since independence, with thousands of its graduates mostly consumed by the national public service. The government is doing little or nothing to curb the ever increasing trend for hundreds of university graduates leaving the country for greener pastures, which has been a growing fashion since the 1990s, with economic crises playing a huge role. Nonetheless, an emerging number of private higher technical institutions of learning like the American Institute of Cameroon AIC, Nacho university, Fonab Polytechnic, and many others are beginning to reshape the predominantly general style of education that for over three decades has been the turf of most Anglophone students in Cameroon.
Universities in Cameroon include:
• American Institute of Cameroon, Ndop
• Bamenda University of Science & Technology
• International University, Bamenda
• University of Buea
• University of Bamenda
• University of Douala
• University of Dschang
• University of Ngaoundere
• Universite des Montagnes (Highlands University)
• University of Maroua
• University of Bamenda
• University Institute of the Diocese of Buea (two campuses)
• University of Yaounde (two campuses)
• Catholic University of Central Africa (Yaounde)
• The International Relations Institute of Cameroon - IRIC (yaounde)
• St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Major Seminary (Bambui)
• Siantou and Ndi Samba Schools of Higher Learning (Yaounde)
• Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda (Bamenda)
Cameroon public expenditure on education in 2011, according to UNESCO, amounted at 3.7 per cent of GDP
VI. Education Issues
Absenteeism of teachers is a reason generally considered to contribute to the poor level of education in the country. Teachers from both English and French sub-systems, for cultural and historical reasons, still operate as separate in the educational system, which prevents “teachers from developing a joint pedagogical repertoire about professional matters and to engage in productive debates around new discourses and repertoires such as ICTs in support of teaching,” even if as private individuals they “appear to be open to the challenges of modern Cameroon and multilingual communication in large urban centres.”
- Textbook review
In 1995, the National Forum on Education strongly recommended “the insertion of local knowledge and practices in the school curriculum to make the education system more relevant to the learners.” Thus the Institute of Rural Applied Pedagogy (IRAP) put into place adapted programmes and an integrated training that combined general knowledge with work practices (agriculture, animal husbandry, poultry, brick laying, carpentry, etc)
However, the system was not perfectly balanced: traditional subjects (Mathematics, Science, French language) were adequately developed, whereas the new subjects were not studied to adapt to the different situations or considered other needs (in rural zones, children are forced to leave school because they are needed to provide enough means of support to their family). That being said the project was not a complete failure: some of the initiatives were, in fact, interesting and proved that the approach was somewhat correct, but had to be more precisely studied – possibly by integrating teachers’ and students’ experiences, outside schools.
Despite the two deeply divided sub systems being merged for more than 40 years, a major issue is the differences of approach in teachers, which affects the possibilities of reforming the system in a more competitive and efficient way. Another problem is the complete lack of a programme to integrate local languages in the educational system. Main reasons are the lack of government support to the proposal and the factual impracticability of some of the proposals. Since there are more than 270 local languages in Cameroon, picking at random a language to be taught in all country “would generate political feelings of superiority that may endanger national unity.”
There are some programmes (both public and private) to teach those local languages at school and in other facilities, but they carry mixed feelings. While they are spoken the most in the ordinary lives of Cameroonians there is still a “social stigma” towards those who cannot speak anything but their own languages. On the contrary, being proficient in English or French is something to be proud of (especially teachers are likely to “show off”), but still pupils are not stimulated in using them at home, because of the low literacy level of their families.
- Education of students with special needs
In 2010, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated “it’s deeply concerned at the persistence of de facto discrimination among children in the enjoyment of their rights. It is especially concerned that girls, indigenous children, children with disabilities, refugee children, children from poor rural areas, and children in street situations suffer particular disadvantages with regard to education, access to health and social services.
VII. Educational Programme in Rural Areas
Local Partner: Coalition for Education and Health – CEST International
In Cameroon, 46 per cent of kids drop out after primary school and only a meagre one per cent continue all the way to university. The country has a very high poverty level which, as in most of Africa, is concentrated in the rural areas. Here, illiteracy affects almost 90 per cent of the population. Les Hauts-Plateaux is an area comprised mostly of farmers who have little land and few technical skills. Logone and Chari are among the poorest regions in the country. Both zones are characterised by their inadequate education system, including a serious lack of qualified teachers, equipment and supplies. A primary school education ends with many students still unable to read, write and do the most elementary mathematical calculations in a satisfactory manner.
As a first step towards improving the quality of education for nearly 1,000 children in the selected areas, 275 teachers in ten different schools received professional training needed to effect change. Pedagogy manuals were created based on the training workshops and distributed to an additional 1,000 educators. A school book distribution plan was put in place, resulting in 1,185 books distributed to schools for the benefit of more than 600 children and future generations of students. Scholarships for a full academic year were awarded to 100 students in need.
• Results: Improved Quality of Education
“The project took place during an important moment for the country’s education system”, says Dr. Gilbert Mboubou, Principal of Moyopo, a bilingual academic institute in Bafoussam (West Cameroon) and author of the pedagogical method used for the teachers’ training and the manual. ”Recently, the Ministry of Education began reforming the teaching system to improve its quality and take measures against the high level of drop-outs. In practice, though, reforms are difficult due to the scarce economic resources available.Thanks to the Harambee-funded program, we were able to reach out to 275 teachers, provide them with qualified training and impress upon them the importance of their role in building a better future for young generations”. For teachers, what truly made them commit is the fact that the pedagogical system they were taught through the programme’s workshop was developed by one of their own, a reputable African professor who could understand their pressing needs. ”As a result”, continues Mboubou, ”we have more aware and energized teachers who love their work and are eager to make a difference. That, in turn, has a positive effect on students’ enthusiasm and achievement”.
• Results: Motivated Teachers Sharing Expertise With Colleagues
The programmes beneficiaries have acquired fundamental tools needed to continue the journey autonomously. One of Africans’ major strengths lies in their sense of community, which makes them share what they learn with others. The practical impact of this cultural trait is seen in the ripple effect produced by the programme’s teacher training. The workshop’s participants are now passing the acquired knowledge along to their colleagues who couldn’t attend, with every participant sharing material and insights with at least 3 other teachers. The reach of the initial training program is then magnified to benefit a much larger community of educators and children.
• Results: Textbooks Available To All Children
More than 600 children now have access to textbooks, something that they were missing before and was hampering their learning progress heavily. The books will become part of the schools’ libraries so that future generations of students will be able to take advantage of the material supplied by Harambee.