By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This article is an adaptation of an earlier one I broadcast on the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) National Radio Station on the 24th of December 2003. The paper was written on the occasion of the handing over, by the Cameroon government, of awards to girls who had done well in secondary school leaving examinations. The paper is one of many I broadcast on the same channel between 2002 and 2005, on the early morning prime time national and world news broadcast.
Surely, no one in his or her right thinking mind would make disparaging remarks about general education as it relates to Cameroon. In fact, long before technical education became institutionalized in the country, general education had taken the lead and made remarkable strides.
Examples abound: the nation’s first colleges were general education oriented. They included St. Joseph’s College, Sasse, the Cameroon Protestant College in Bali and the Queen of the Holy Rosary College in Okoyong, to name a few. Those were the institutions that trained the early cream of the cream of Cameroon Anglophone leaders of the country, apart from the very early leaders who systematically came from Teacher Training Colleges. Some personalities who fall in the latter category are John Ngu Foncha, Solomon Tandeng Muna and Augustine Ngom Jua. The rare more “enlightened” ones such as Dr EML Endeley and his brother Endeley the Paramount Chief of the Bakweris opted for other professions such as medicine and law respectively. Those who walked the corridors of the pioneer secondary schools included Simon Achidi Achu and Peter Mafany Musonge.
Today, though, the scenario has changed because of the large number of colleges that have sprung up all over the country. The government deserves credit for this large number of institutions. However it also deserves to be reprimanded for getting in the habit of creating schools on paper and then allowing parents and the community at large to find and install the infrastructure, a task which is usually onerous. Even so, the number of technical colleges that exist in the country is alarmingly low, compared with that of general education colleges.
It is within such a context that the recent best fem ale awards were made in Yaounde, the national capital. Due recognition, of course, goes to the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Catherine Bakang Mbock whose ministerial department organized the event on the one hand, and to First Lady Chantal Biya who spread her motherly wings over it. The 150 recipient sample which was chosen from a population that included three of the country’s ten provinces, were thus compensated for hard work, and above all, excellence in their various disciplines. At a deeper level, the recognition was yet another battle won in the war to free the Cameroonian girl child from the well known shackles of illiteracy, early and forces marriages, genital mutilation and gender discrimination.
The award winners have now become the centre of attraction – an elevation which will continue as they grow older and take their place in society. A year from now, perhaps even five or ten years, observers will want to know what for example, became of that girl named Maison Kiyeh Julie-Laure who broke records by obtaining ‘A’ Grades in up to 11 ‘O’ Level subjects at one sitting. It is noteworthy that Technical Education and Professional Training Minister Louis Bapes Bapes, stood alongside his National Education counterpart, Joseph Owona, during the award ceremony.
In view of the slow progress made by technical and professional education compared with general education, government really must rethink its educational policy. In a fast changing world, the nation is in dire need of middle level professionals. It needs nurses and midwives, not just doctors; it needs building site foremen, not just architects; it needs agricultural overseers, not just agronomists; it needs veterinary technicians and nurses, not just veterinary doctors. The country needs electricians, radio and television technicians, not just engineers and manufacturers of radios and television sets.
We should remember that every year throughout the country, hundreds and perhaps thousands of ‘A’ Level and degree holders in technical education literally swamp colleges searching for jobs with there clearly being more job seekers than posts to be filled. On the other hand, the comparatively few technical schools that are in place end up by not having enough teachers to fill existing posts.
To solve this problem, the state must go further and open more technical colleges. Parents for their part must realize that technical education is rewarding because it can lead to job creation and financial autonomy. Industry should also assist in propping the sector, for at the end of the day, the industrial sector is one of the biggest consumers of skilled labour in the country.