Educational Challenges in Cameroon

Written by Frida Martine E. Brekk

 Cameroon is known as “Africa in miniature”, a country located in central Africa, bordered by Nigeria to the west, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south, and Equatorial Guinea to the southwest. With a population over 25 million, Cameroon is one of the most ethnically diverse countries within the African continent, with more than 250 ethnic groups and languages. The country is known for its unique cultural heritage, natural beauty, and abundant natural resources, including oil, gas and minerals. However, Cameroon also faces an array of challenges inclusive of educational barriers, high poverty, inequality, political instability, and environmental degradation. Despite these challenges, the country has made significant progress in recent years, and is working towards achieving sustainable development, and economic stability overall.

Cameroon, like many other nations in the African continent, faces a range of educational challenges that limit access to quality education and hinder the development of human capital. Despite progress in recent years, significant gaps in access, quality and relevance of education persist, particularly in rural areas and among marginalized populations. Inadequate infrastructure and resources, gender inequalities, poor quality of education, vocational training mismatches, and limited funding area some of the key challenges that Cameroon’s education system faces. Addressing these challenges is crucial for improving and promoting inclusive and sustainable development, reduction of poverty, and improving the overall well-being of the country’s citizens. Addressing the obstacles of Cameroons educational challenges will require a concerted effort from the government, civil society, and the international community to increase access to education, and ensure that students are receiving the skills and training required to further succeed in the job market.

Access is largely to blame in regards to the country’s challenges on the topic of education. Despite the nations progress in recent years, many children, particularly in rural areas, still lack access to quality education. This is due to a severe lack of infrastructure and resources including schools, textbooks, and qualified teachers. Many educational institutions in Cameroon are poor in condition, with inadequate facilities and a shortage of lecturers, professors and teachers.

Additionally, there is a significant gender disparity in access to education, with girls facing particular challenges in accessing education due to cultural beliefs and attitudes, poverty, early marriage, and pregnancy. These are particularly acute in rural areas, where the majority of families struggle to afford the costs of education, and there are fewer schools and teachers. As a result, many children find themselves forced to drop out of school prematurely or are never able to attend to begin with, which results in a limitation of opportunities for economic and social advancement. Lack of access to education not only limits individuals ability to secure employment and earn a sustainable income and life, but also limits the potential of individuals to improve their living standards and overcome and reduce poverty on a national scale. In order to address these challenges, the government of Cameroon must work towards the investment of educational infrastructure, increase the number of educators, and directly address the underlying social and economic barriers that enable limitation of access to education for marginalized communities.

 Cameroon’s education system faces notable challenges with regard to gender disparities and gender inequalities. Girls continue to face significant barriers to accessing education. Cultural attitudes, poverty, early marriage, and pregnancy all contribute to lower enrollment rates and higher drop out rates among girls. This not only limits their opportunities for independent, personal growth and development but also hinders the overall development of the nation as a whole. In addition to lower enrollment rates, girls also face discrimination in the classroom. They are often subjected to lower expectations, receiving less attention from teachers, and are therefore given fewer opportunities for advanced study. This hinders social mobility and perpetuates a cycle of gender inequality that limits the potential of girls and women alike, both in terms of personal achievement and contributions to the country’s economy and society.

According to UNESCO data, in 2019, the net enrollment rate for girls in primary school in Cameroon was 83.5%, compared to 92.4% for boys. For secondary school, the net enrollment rate for girls was 33.5%, compared to 42.1% for boys. Drop out rates for girls are also significantly higher than for boys at both the primary and secondary levels. According to the Ministry of Basic Education, the primary school dropout rates for girls was at 10.6% in 2018, compared to 7.6% for boys. At the secondary level, the dropout rate for girls was 36.5% , compared to 26.2% for boys.

Cameroon has implemented a range of policies and programs aimed at promoting gender equality within the education system. These efforts include elimination of gender stereotypes in the classroom promotion of girls’ education in rural areas, and provide financial support to families in hopes to offset the costs of schooling. Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups have played a critical role in advancing gender equality in education, working to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education by supporting programs that promote access to these marginalized groups. Despite these efforts, progress has been slow, and significant challenges very much remain. Further action and effort is required to address social norms that perpetuated gender inequality, and promote equal opportunities for all students, regardless of their gender or socio-economic background and status. By actively addressing these challenges, Cameroon can assist in ensuring that all of its citizens have the opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute to the overall growth and development of their nation.

The lack of quality in Cameroon’s education system is another vital concern. The quality of education and the system remains low, with limited resources and inadequate teacher training and certification. According to the World Bank, only 47% of students can read a simple sentence in French or English by the end of primary school, and only 32% can do basic mathematics. This lack of quality in education results in significant implications for the country’s overall development and advancement, as it limits the potential of its citizens and therefore inhibits economic growth. The access to quality education is ever more linked to socio-economic status, with children from poorer families less likely to have access to quality education. This contributes to a never ending cycle of poverty and inequality, with limited opportunities for those who are unable to access said education. Cameroon’s policies and efforts to provide advanced training to teachers, increase access to newer textbooks and alike learning materials, and promote the use of technology within classrooms has fallen short – much more needs to be done to ensure access to quality education.

Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups have played a critical role in promoting access to education, working to improve trainings and through support programs in hopes of better learning outcomes. These efforts have been imperative in advancing access for marginalized communities. Moreover, the majority of educational materials and textbooks used are outdated, with little effort made to update the content or incorporate new teaching methods. This has led to a mismatch between the skills taught in schools and the demands of the ever evolving job market, hindering the ability of students to develop the skills required to succeed in todays modern economy.

Alongside the lack of material, Cameroon’s significant challenge lays in overcrowded educational institutions, which are more prevalent in rural areas. According to a report by the World Bank, the student-teacher ratio in primary schools is approximately 49:1, which is substantially higher than the recommended ratio of 30:1. This places a strain on the education infrastructure and disables teachers from providing individualized attentions students. Educational institutions lack basic facilities such as classrooms, desks and chairs, resulting in students sitting on the floor or sharing desks, which can lead to further distractions in an already deficient environment – hindering their ability to learn and develop new skills. As many schools are underfunded and struggle to meet basic needs, let alone invest in newer resources – resulting in outdated textbooks, resources and equipment and further results in failure to engage and motivate students. Additionally, the procurement process for textbooks and learning materials can be slow and bureaucratic, making it difficult to obtain the latest materials in a timely manner, or in any way at all. Lack of internet access and digital infrastructure is another major challenge faced by the education institutions in Cameroon.

Unemployment is a staggering challenge, particularity among the youth of Cameroon. According to the World Bank, the youth unemployment rate was estimated to be over 13% in 2019, and this figure is ever likely to already be higher in reality due to underemployment and informal work. One major factor contributing to this issue is the lack of vocational training programs. Vocational training programs have successfully proven to provide skills and experience required to enter the workforce and further build sustainable livelihoods. However, these programs are often limited in scope and accessibility, or completely nonexistent due to the high cost of tuition as well as limited availability of said programs. Additionally, there is often a mismatch between the skills taught in vocational training programs alongside the needs of employers within the current, yet ever changing job market. Lack of vocational training programs contributes to a cycle of poverty and unemployment, particularly in rural areas where access to formal education and thereafter job opportunities, if existent, is limited. This results in youth taking on low-paying jobs, as well as work in the informal economy, where wages are inadequate and working conditions are uncontrolled, and can be hazardous. In order to take action towards this concern, the government of Cameroon has launched a “National Vocational Training Strategy” aimed at expanding the reach and scope of vocational training programs across the country, as well as partnering alongside already established international organizations in providing funding and further support. Said NGOs, and international organizations alike have providing further independent funding and resources in advocating for policy reforms aimed at expanding access to quality vocational training. By ensuring these programs are tailored to the needs of the labor market, Cameroon can assist in the reduction of unemployment and provide its citizens with the skills and required experience to build sustainable livelihoods, as this would be in the interest to the economic advancement of the country as a whole.

In recent years, education funding in Cameroon has been a high topic of concern as the government continues to fall short in meeting the needs. Despite the governments commitment to education, the allocation of resources to the sector has been inadequate, leading to an array of setbacks and shortcomings. According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Program, Cameroon’s education sector is facing a funding shortfall of over $300 million. This funding gap has had a severe impact on the quality of education in the country, where schools often lack basic amenities as aforementioned. A critical issue being the lack of investment in the training and recruitment of educators. The majority of educational institutions in the nation struggle to attract and retain qualified teachers due to poor working conditions and even lower salaries, resulting in students left with inadequate instruction. Infrastructure is also underfunded, resulting in a lack of running water, electricity and proper sanitation facilities, making it difficult for students to study and pursue their studies in a conducive environment. This lack of infrastructure has led to a high drop out rate. Despite these challenges, the government has implemented the “Education Sector Plan” (ESP) in 2018. The ESP aims to improve access to quality education, particularly for girls, and increase investment in teacher training as well as recruitment. However, critics argue that the governments efforts fall short and much more needs to be done in addressing the shortcomings within the country’s education sector. They point to the fact that Cameroon’s education spending is well below the recommendation of 20% of the national budget, with only 13% allocated to the sector in 2020. Education funding in Cameroon remains a staggering challenge that requires immediate, urgent and transparent attention. The government must prioritize investment in the sectors to ensure that all students have access to quality education in order to achieve their full potential. Failure to do so will mean long-term implications for the country’s social and economical development.

Lack of education exacerbates health problems in Cameroon. Education plays a vital and imperative role in promoting health, particularly in areas such as maternal and child health, infectious diseases, and nutrition. Lack of education hinders the populations ability to access health education and information, leading to preventable health issues and lack of knowledge and skills to take care of their health in preventing diseases, seek appropriate medical care, or understanding in the importance of vaccinations and other preventative measures. Secondly, many Cameroonians may not be aware of the risks of certain behaviors, such as unprotected sex, that can lead to the transmission of diseases. Lack of education limits their understanding of health-related issues and reduces the individuals ability to make informed decisions accordingly. Thirdly, lack of education statistically contributes directly to poor nutrition, which is a significant health problem in this western African nation. Malnutrition affects a significant portion of the population, specifically children under the age of 5. It is studied that without education, individuals may not known how to grow, prepare, and consume a balanced diet.

Additionally, the lack of education directly hinders the country’s ability to address public health issues such as epidemics and pandemics. During Covid-19, the lack of education was directly connected to the difficulties endured by the population to understand and comply with health guidelines, leading to increased transmission rates. Lastly, women who lack education are less likely to seek medical care when necessary, as lack of education limits their ability to access health care altogether which directly results in higher rates of maternal and child mortality. In addition to strengthening the education sector, the health education should also be integrated into the curriculum in a safe, conclusive and secure manner for both genders alike.

Additionally, the lack of education contributes to social unrest as well as political instability. When individuals are unable to secure employment or participate fully in the economy, they are more likely to become involved in criminal activities or even join extremist groups. In Cameroon, the lack of education has been identified as a contributing factor to the rise of Boko Haram and other extremist groups. Boko Haram are recognized as a group seeking to establish the Islamic state, whilst opposing western education, which they view as a threat to their ideology, this extremist group is a concern within Cameroon in regards to the education sector. Boko Haram has specifically targeted schools, particularly those in the northern regions of the country, where poverty and lack of education are prevalent. The group has abducted school children and attacked institutions, resulting in the closure of schools and hindering children’s access to education. Boko Haram has been recognized in using education as a recruitment tool, targeting vulnerable youth who lack access to education by promising them ‘a better life’ if they join the group. Poverty has fueled hopelessness among youth in Cameroon, making them vulnerable to extremist ideologies. Additionally, this has perpetuated social inequality, particularly gender disparities, which have resulted in the exploitation of girls and women by the extremist groups. To counter the rise of existing and creation of further extremist groups, the focus on education is imperative.

Cameroon’s English speaking minority has been marginalized by the dominant francophone nation since 2017. The unresolved and ongoing civil war conflict has resulted in at least 15 attacks at in schools, resulting in the shut down and depriving 700,000 students from education. The education system has been held hostage by this military-separatist war. “Armed separatists bear full responsibility for these targeted attacks on education, but the response of the Cameroonian government and security forces has been inadequate and is hampered by the numerous abusive counterinsurgency operations in the Anglophone regions, which have spread deep mistrust among the civilian population victimized by these operations,” according to HRW. This has resulted in “uneducated generation of Anglophone youth joining criminal fighters because they lack other economic survival skills” writes journalist Aurore Bonny for the Anadolu Agency.

Cameroon faces various educational challenges that consistently hinder the country’s progress towards sustainable development. While significant progress has been made, much still needs to be accomplished in order to ensure that every Cameroonian has access to equal and quality education. Addressing these challenges will demand a collective, unified and transparent effort from the government, civil society organizations, and international partners. Only then can Cameroon provide its citizens with the tools required in order to build a prosperous future and contribute to the development of their nation.

3 Comments

  1. interesting

  2. I’m in love with this article. So accurate and current. Tha j you so much for coming out with this. There is no other way to explain the hurdles facing education in our country than this.


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