The education system in Cameroon
According to Cameroonian law, “the State shall guarantee the child’s right to education. Primary education shall be compulsory”. Compulsory education refers to the primary levels, class 1-6 or schooling until a child is age 12. This primary education has been free for ‘pupils’ since the year 2000 but families must pay for uniforms, book fees and sometimes even anti-malaria prophylaxis.
Upon completion of class 6, the secondary levels ‘form’ 1-6 commence. At that point, a ‘pupil’ becomes a ‘student’. Tuition and fees at the secondary school level are not covered by the government and remain unaffordable for many families.
Recent data on school enrollment in Cameroon shows approximately 47 percent of girls and 56 percent of boys attend primary school. There are many factors that contribute to this low enrollment rate. The largest obstacle for both sexes is often financial, especially at the secondary level. In addition, a shortage of classrooms, particularly in more remote areas compounds the inability for children to access education. For girls, the rate of enrollment is further affected by socio-cultural biases, early marriage, sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancy, and domestic responsibilities.
Statistics in 2011 put the adult literacy rate in Cameroon at roughly 71%. It is likely that the rate is much lower in rural areas and remote villages. These communities is where International Children’s Awareness (ICA) and our Cameroonian partners at the Center for International Cooperation (CIC) have concentrated efforts for the past 20 years.
Another significant barrier to education is the lack of teachers. Government trained and accredited teachers are in very short supply and many will refuse to work in very rural or isolated areas. In order to help address this issue, communities organize Parent/Teacher Associations (PTA’s). PTA’s will select individuals from within the community and will appoint them as teachers. A PTA teacher is paid a salary from contributions from the community. This salary is 1/10th that of a government teacher or about $25 per month. ICA has established a program whereby we will match the community funds for paying salaries to PTA teachers, thereby doubling the number of teachers a community can afford. Although most PTA teachers have very little formal education, they are a vital part of the education solution for isolated areas until sufficient numbers of qualified teachers are available.
ICA/CIC’s education program
The focus of our education program has always been ensuring access to the basic primary education that is the right of all Cameroonian children.
We know that educating girls can save millions of lives. A UN study, using data from 219 countries between 1970 and 2009, found that for every additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5 per cent. If all women had a primary education, there would be 15% fewer child deaths and if all women had a secondary education, child death rates would be cut in half.
Girls with a higher level of education are 14% less likely to get married at an early age. If all girls had a secondary education, there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages.
The UN studies also show that when these educated women have children, they are less likely to die in childbirth. In fact, the maternal death rates are reduced by two-thirds, saving 98,000 lives in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Mothers’ education also improves child nutrition. If all women had a primary education, 1.7 million children would be saved from stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. This number climbs to 12 million children saved when the mothers complete secondary education. ICA is committed to maintaining and improving access to primary education.
Through discussions with local partners, ICA realized early on that building schools was not enough. A fund is set up for each of the projects to cover the cost of textbooks, uniforms and other didactic materials so that the primary education at one of our schools is as cost free as possible.
We have focused our efforts in a small geographic area in the hopes of making the greatest impact. Each year a team from ICA Canada travels to Cameroon to monitor progress of the ongoing projects. The teacher and student profiles presented on the website are based on information gathered on the 2016 expedition.