In Cameroon, clandestine schools take advantage of the difficulties of public education

In the office of Abel Ejuata, director of the private primary school Michel Ismaël in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, parents parade at the end of August

In Cameroon, clandestine schools take advantage of the difficulties of public education

In the office of Abel Ejuata, director of the private primary school Michel Ismaël in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, parents parade at the end of August. With the start of the school year scheduled for September 4 across the country, it is time for information on the school fees of their children.

Dressed in a dress with black and white patterns, Céline is full of praise for "this excellent school" where two of her five children obtained their certificate of primary studies (CEP) "on the first try, before entering to college ". The pretty shopkeeper has therefore come to enroll the two youngest still in primary school, sure that the promises of the director of "another year full of success" will be kept.

However, for this 2023-2024 school year, the establishment is on the list of 494 clandestine private primary schools banned on August 23 by the government in six of the ten regions of the country. These "will only be authorized to resume their activities after their administrative situation has been regularized and authorized by the ministry", notes the Minister of Basic Education, Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, at the bottom of the list obtained by Le Monde Afrique .

Abel Ejuata assures him that the Michel Ismaël school group created in 2018 has received approval but without showing any document. "The founder has it," he swears, after pretending to seek permission among the filing cabinets cluttering his desk.

"Private is the only option here"

For many years, Cameroon has experienced a significant increase in primary and secondary schools operating without approval: inadequate framework, poor quality of teaching materials, problematic choice of teachers, false authorization obtained via corruption networks...

At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, the country counted 326 clandestine primary schools, in theory closed by administrative decision. They are 494 today. “We note a recurrence of certain promoters when our role is not only punitive, explains Léopold Ymga Djamen, the regional delegate of basic education for the Littoral region, of which Douala is the capital. Education is a very sensitive thing and it should not evolve in inexpert hands. »

According to Cameroonian law, to obtain the necessary approval to open a private establishment, promoters, who hold at least a baccalaureate for primary schools and a license for secondary schools, must in particular provide a certificate of ownership of the land on which the establishment is to be located, foundation studies for future buildings and a building permit, a list of available teaching equipment or even a certificate of available funds representing three months of staff salary, etc.

According to a pedagogical inspector wishing to remain anonymous, "six to seven out of ten private establishments already have no land of their own" and are therefore "automatically clandestine". The Bois des singes district, where the Michel Ismaël school and dozens of others are built, is a private domain of the State, in theory forbidden to construction. However, "more than 50,000 people live here. There is not a single public school. The parents are poor and cannot afford transportation for their children to go to school miles away. Private is the only option here,” defends Abel Ejuata, the school principal.

Supplementary salary for teachers

In the city of Douala, 10 of the 59 clandestine private secondary schools listed are located in Bois des singes. “The less the state finances education, the better it is, judge for his part Roger Kaffo Fokou, the secretary general of the National Autonomous Union of Secondary School Teachers. We are in a situation of privatization and commodification of education. We have clandestine establishments because the education business is doing well. »

For the aforementioned pedagogical inspector, Cameroonians also see in these schools “a means of ensuring the future of their children. Because the tuition fees of private institutions are high and, while the public primary school is collapsing, they see this as a guarantee of a good education. The other significant element is the fact that the classes have few students, unlike the public where you sometimes find more than a hundred students in a secondary class. Therefore, according to him, these establishments have "good days ahead of them, in view of the enormous demand".

Especially, notes this source, that many teachers trained in Cameroonian normal schools are increasingly tempted, to make ends meet, to teach in these clandestine schools, on the sidelines of their public employment. For many years, these teachers have denounced their poor working conditions and demanded that the State pay their bonuses and arrears. Public education unions have threatened to make September 4 a day of general strike. The threat was not carried out but, in the ranks of teachers, the temptation is great to join clandestine establishments, sources of better income.