While acknowledging that teachers had already been offered training to help them develop the skills needed to deliver online classes before the COVID-19 crisis had begun, educators should be better trained in the area according to an education trade union in Cameroon. Authorities should ensure that teachers are well-equipped to carry out on-line education. It also maintains that distance learning should take place in better conditions and that access to it should be available throughout the country.
Concerning the use of information and communication technologies in Cameroon to prepare teachers to give online classes, it is “marginal” according to Roger Kaffo, General Secretary of the Syndicat National Autonome de l'Enseignement Secondaire (SNAES) and Deputy General Secretary of the Fédération des Syndicats de l'Enseignement et de la Recherche – one of Education International’s member organisations with which SNAES is affiliated.
Improving professional development for teachers in connection with online classes
Kaffo notes that, with some support from external partners, it has been possible to organise training for a limited number of teachers. Teachers are increasingly using Information Technology, however, within the context of independent education because of computer labs that are being progressively introduced in secondary but not primary schools.
Kaffo states that “Unfortunately, teachers who are, first and foremost, focused on their own individual survival do not really consider the use of new technologies to be a priority for their professional development”.
He goes on to add that “with online classes specifically, there is a huge amount of work to be done to improve the confidence that teachers have in themselves to create classes at the right level that can be put online.”
Similarly, he explains that teachers are given few examples of online classes that they would be able to prepare during inspections, and many, therefore, feel lost:
“This is a significant handicap in the preparation and online delivery of classes. The SNAES has created, with the support of three inspectorates, a document which provides teachers with twenty or so model lesson plans. This is only a start and this concern must be more thoroughly addressed if we want to successfully encourage teachers to create lessons and put them online.”
Kaffo also highlights the fact that during this COVID-19 crisis, Internet access remains very unequal in Cameroon for multiple reasons, in particular: a lack of computers and other electronic tablets, poor coverage in rural areas, low connection speeds, the high cost of connecting, the weakness of the electricity network, and frequent power cuts.
Teachers and their unions must be consulted
While acknowledging that the government seems to have taken these limitations into account in the implementation of broadcast and video-based classes, about which teachers were informed by letter on 31 March, Kaffo deeply regrets that the Ministry of Basic Education did not consult teacher unions, nor teachers when designing these classes. He asserts: “I don’t believe that implicitly addressing the main actors in a strategy is effective. We must address them directly.”
The SNAES has chosen to remedy this deficiency by directly approaching teachers and raising awareness among them. This is increasingly sparking a debate within the profession on the issue of lessons to be made available by teachers to their pupils prior to these lessons being made available online.
Ensuring equal access to quality education for all
He continues: “As regards the implementation of measures thus taken for the continuity of schooling during the COVID-19 crisis, we note indisputable efforts concerning classes for pupils in examination years, but these are very unequally distributed based on the issues previously set out. And for intermediate classes, it
has to be said that the situation is not good.”
Kaffo believes that these issues must be urgently addressed if we are to avoid increasing the inequalities in access to education between young people.