Back to School 2021/2022: Positive signs in Bamenda despite absence of school items in markets, security concerns

 By Bakah Derick

Unlike the past four academic years, there are signs indicating that the 2021/2022 academic year might witness an unprecedented improvement in school attendance in the city of Bamenda. Away from security dispositions being taken by schools to bypass the security challenge as a result of the current armed conflict, other actions to boost registration have been noticed. These actions have also received promising response from parents who are determined to ensure their children are educated. 

 

Back to school photo by equip counselling consulting

Before 2017, the display of books, school bags, uniforms were characteristic of Bamenda weeks ahead of school resumption. In 2021 it is not the case. These items sell almost like contraband goods. 

 

“I have books but I cannot display them like before by brother. I had problems even getting the few I have because we use to buy from Douala and Nigeria but now it is very difficult for us to get items from Nigeria following the blocking of roads. I managed to get some from Douala but now I cannot even display them because we still do not know what these boys (referring to non-state armed groups.) are planning.” Godlove Tah a book vendor on Bamenda’s commercial avenue say.

 

But for a few dealers, many have these items in their shops and warehouses but lack the courage to display. 

 

One of few Bookshops with items openly displayed for sale... 

“I am happy that a few parents now understand us and ask us in private. If the road blocks were not there, I could have bought more because at least this year it is moving better that last years.” Taah adds

  

Recently, one of the schools constructed by the Japanese Government was burnt down in Bali Mezam Division. This has been interpreted by some people as another attempt to prevent school going in the area and the region. School boycott became popular in October 2016 when lawyers and teachers united to announce no courts and schools as a protest to amplify the voices of many who considered the areas as a visible area of marginaisation for Cameroonians from the English speaking North West and South West regions.  

 

Activities that have been uncommon in the last four years

Publicising schools: Across the city, new school signboards are visible. These signboards are either directing people to new schools or existing ones. Announcements about interviews and admissions are now common on local radio stations across the city. The school promoters now insert these adverts in flagship radio programmes like pidgin news and animations. Flyers and posters can be spotted in some areas including door to door campaigns. Making school related announcement in churches is common especially for schools owned by the churches especially the Roman Catholic Church.

 

“This year, we have witnessed an increase in announcements related to school resumption. We have also been carrying out radio conversations on back to school and unlike the previous years we have not received any threats. I think this is good.” Roland a radio manager said

 

Cleaning of school campuses

“We are here today to clean the school following the assurance we received from the traditional authorities here and pressure from parents. This school has only been functioning partially since 2017 with a large portion of it in the bush. Parents didn’t come for registration but this time many have come and as you can see the line, they are registering.” Emmanuel Loshaa vice principal of a government School in the outskirts of Bamenda said.

This government school is one of the few in the region ready to open come September 6, 2021 official school resumption date in Cameroon. All the private and confessional schools visited have renovated the paint and repaired benches, sources of running water and toilets.

 

School under construction

Registration queues

Interestingly, some schools in Bamenda have closed registration into some classes of their schools yet cues can still be seen every day of work asking for admission.

“As a result of the crisis, initially we prepared to receive only 60 students into form One but during the interviews  over 200 kids came and after some administrative deliberations, we doubled the number to 120 and yet as I speak to you we have reached that number and many are still asking. I really wish we could do more.” Rev Kila Justine said as we could see parents queued in search for a place for their children in different classes in the confessional school facility.

School transportation systems

In at least three schools we visited, the collection of transportation charges were noticed. No official was ready to comment on how this will happen but from other sources many schools plan not to identify their transportation systems. In car maintenance facilities in the city, some buses were suspect to belong to schools are being refurbished. No matter how it will be done, this has not happened in the city for at least four academic years for fear of being targeted.

 

Recent facts and figures on school attendance in the North West Region

According to education authorities in the North West, at least 1200 classrooms have been burnt or destroyed in the region in the last four years. 220 852 pupils at least started school during the last school year. Though considered an increase, this remains far less than available figures in 2016 (422 720). Less than 118 secondary schools have operated in the region since 2017. This is well below the 558 recognised.

During a meeting recently to reflect on the situation of schools and education in the region, representatives of confessional and private schools raised concerns over the quality of education and delay of state subventions.

Regional Assembly authorities say education remains the identity of people in the North West Region and should be preserved.  

 

Note: The names used in this article are not the real names of those we interviewed. Many spoke to us on this subject on conditions of anonymity.  In some places, we went undercover and we will not want to endanger the lives of those we spoke to.