The situation of Cameroonian teachers has changed considerably, as their fortunes follow those of the economy, going from bad to worse. In fact, while the living and working conditions of teachers went from strength to strength from 1960 to 1984, they have gone in the opposite direction since 1993, the date of the implementation of the first structural adjustment programme (SAP) in Cameroon, to the point where, today, the profession has become a stopgap, a transitional phase while waiting to move on to greener pastures.
Chronicle of a decline
Cameroonian teachers are trained in teacher training colleges; the length of study depends on their level of education on entry. Until 1987, all teacher training college graduates were directly integrated into the state civil service. New staff received a substantial transfer fee to go to their place of employment. For the first three months after their assignment, they received an advance on their salary while awaiting the completion of their integration file. Teachers were also entitled to respite fees for annual leave, and all those posted to the northern part of the country were given air tickets, as were their families. Corruption was marginal and no one paid for promotions or pay rises; everything was almost automatic. There was no favouritism in the civil service. It was the golden age of education.
Everything changed abruptly in 1993 with the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). Civil servants suffered a 20% reduction in their salaries in January 1993 and another 50% cut in January 1994. Teacher training colleges were de-funded in 1995. Newly trained teachers were no longer automatically integrated into the civil service and had to look for work in private schools or wait for eventual recruitment by the state. In the latter case, teachers recruited by the state in this way were given the status of “vacataire”, receiving 40,000 francs a month for nine months, in other words, the duration of the school year, excluding annual leave. Over time, their status would change, becoming ‘contractualised’ staff. From then on, the teacher had a registration number and benefited from all the bonuses enjoyed by civil servant teachers, but his or her basic salary was lower than that of a civil servant teacher.
The trade union and social movements in action
Multiple demands from the unions led in December 2016 to the decision to gradually integrate contractualised staff into the civil service by recruitment phase. However, after the severe cuts in their salaries, contractualised staff have fallen prey to the system of corruption that the bureaucracy has set up as part of this integration process. The sluggish processing of files is becoming the norm, in order to encourage the people concerned to show their credentials. It now takes a minimum of two years to process an integration file; to speed up the processing of files, back pay for promotions or reclassifications is ‘negotiated’ at 30%. During this time, young colleagues are obliged to attend all their classes, under penalty of being sanctioned. It should be noted that among the students who still leave the schools that give direct access to the civil service, only teachers undergo this obstacle course, the others belonging to schools that supply the repressive apparatus of the State with personnel (Ecole Militaire Interarmées, Ecole Nationale d'Administration et de Magistrature, Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Police).
All these obstacles explain the recurrent trade union demands, the one-off movements by groups such as the outraged (les indignés)1 (2017) and 2 (2018), who demanded the rapid completion of their integration files, or the “enough is enough” (on a trop supporté) movement (2022). The latter mobilised not only teachers demanding one third of their salary, in other words those who were waiting for their salary to be paid, but also staff with more than 20 years’ service who had not received their back pay for salary grade increases. The strike lasted more than a month, at the end of which negotiations led to the gradual settlement of the debt.
Working conditions strongly impacted
Teachers’ working environment, also directly impacted by the structural adjustment programmes, is also a contributing factor to the malaise in the profession. Teaching in a remote rural area necessarily entails sacrifices for the well-being of the colleagues concerned and their families: basic social infrastructures are lacking, housing is often inadequate, and access to ICT remains a challenge. On the educational front, the shortage of teaching staff turns those who are there into a jack-of-all-trades, teaching subjects they did not study at teacher training colleges or universities. This inevitably leads to a work overload.
It should also be noted that some of these colleagues spend more than ten years away from their families without being transferred or being able to reunite with their families as required by the Civil Service Regulations.
In urban areas the situation is slightly better due to the existence of infrastructure, opportunities to earn additional income, and possibilities for family development. While there is no general shortage of teaching staff, and the number of teaching hours is decreasing, the number of pupils per class generally exceeds 80, which increases the workload in terms of discipline and marking students’ work.
In terms of careers, the situation leaves much to be desired. The job profile giving educators their specific status is never respected during appointments and the career profile is non-existent. Assignments and appointments are made on a subjective basis that has nothing to do with the needs of the service. The frustrations caused by this bad governance are terrible for morale.
Towards a “way out of the crisis” in the profession
The solution to all these problems lies in the organisation of the National Education Forum. In view of this, the unions have collected data and prepared their proposals so that schools are at the centre of social activities. Increased funding for education, the establishment of a career and job profile, substantial bonuses, and the redefinition of the place of teaching staff in the definition of education policies are the major strands of the educational renaissance that we are seeking.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.