By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper was published in the then London-based weekly international magazine WEST AFRICA, on the 17th of May 1986, under the title Moves For a Change and a stand first which read: Tikum Mbah Azonga finds signs in recent events that the government means to improve conditions in the educational system.
Recent events in Cameroon indicate that the authorities are intent on improving conditions in the educational system of the country. A few weeks ago, President Paul Biya signed a decree offering jobs to some 329 graduates who have been employed in the Economic and Social Council, 24 of the country’s 27 ministerial departments and two secretariats of states. The new recruits have been distributed such that the Ministry of National Education alone has 131 followed by Finance with 25, and Information and Culture with 15. The Ministries of Animal Breeding and Livestock and Animal Industries, Mines and Power, Youths and Sports, Social Affairs, and Women’s Affairs each have three, while the Ministry of Town Planning and Housing has two.
The decree said candidates recruited inside Cameroon were to report for duty on or before the 21st of May 1986 while those recruited from abroad should report by the 20th of June 1986. The decree further said the expenses incurred would come from the 1985-1986 Compte Hors Budget (CHB), the extra-budgetary account in which oil revenue is held.
In January 1986, President Paul Biya had signed a similar decree offering jobs to 1700 other graduates. Out of that number 52.7 per cent were absorbed by the ministries in charge of social and cultural administration, 17.9 went to the economic and financial ministries, 14.3 per cent to the autonomous ministerial departments and the department in charge of security. Technical ministries took 9.5 per cent of the employees while those in charge of coordination were given 4.6 per cent.
These steps which government sources said were "in spite of the difficult world order", are in addition to a series of development projects proposed for the University of Yaounde, the dream destination of many a Cameroonian holder of the BAC or the GCE A Level Certificate. The new lease package includes the extension of the Science Faculty and the University Library, as well as a portion for the Ecole Nationale Polytechnique and the Ecole Normale Superieure (Faculty of Education).
Two weeks previously, Abdoulaye Babale, the Minister of Town Planning and Housing, inspected the proposed site for five amphitheatres at the university. He expressed satisfaction at the pace of work being done, since as he put it, the buildings would be ready for the end-of-year exams next month. The new amphitheatres are expected to provide additional classrooms as well as lecture amphitheatres and thus solve the problem of students being cut off from their lectures as a result of overcrowding.
The transportation problem was tackled in January when the government provided special buses to ease movement to and from the faculty. The buses which sources in Yaounde say are still operational are available only to those with student passes. In another move, the authorities, for the second time in the same academic year, have offered 1000 allowances to be paid every month to students in faculties at the university. This latest award has increased the number of beneficiaries for the 1985-1986 academic year by 70 per cent. In addition to the allowances, no tuition fees are charged students at the university.
Similarly, and just as it did last year, the government has distributed financial aid to privately sponsored Cameroonian students studying abroad, notably in France, the US as well as the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. At the newly opened Advanced School of Translators And Interpretation (ASTI) in Buea where the school year started in January, students were jubilant when they were told the number of lecturers would increase from three in July to include professors, professional translators and lecturers from international institutions abroad. Although the new lecturers will be on a visiting basis Dr Fidelis Morfaw the Director of ASTI says their coming will be beneficial since they will further broaden students’ knowledge.
Another sore point in the Cameroonian educational system is the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), Annex in Bambili where students often complain they are "forgotten" when major decisions are taken in Yaounde. This, they say, is evidenced in the long-standing presidential decree which allows students of the institution to sit for Bachelors degrees in their various disciplines, as well as for the usual diploma in education. The argument put forward by Bambili is that whereas their counterparts at the main campus of the ENS in Yaounde can conveniently attend first degree courses at the University of Yaounde campus on account of the proximity of those two campuses, they at Bambili are completely cut off and excluded. However, most of them say this problem would be solved if Bambili were converted into a university campus of its own.
Although the opening of the long-awaited ASTI in Buea came as a relief to many, there is still a general belief that Cameroon is not adequately exploiting the advantages that official bilingualism can offer a country. From that view point it is argued that Cameroon treats its bilingualism more or less like the person who owns a million francs but prefers to live on a hundred. In Cameroon, despite the much sloganeering about official bilingualism (in this particular case, French and English), it appears there is a covert attempt by some officials to give one language (French), greater emphasis. This is clearly seen on the language of official sign boards which in the predominantly English-speaking provinces (the South West and the North West), is usually in both English and French, whereas in the French-speaking provinces, sign boards are inscribed mainly in French. The issue of postage stamps is another bone of contention in the sense that the description of the image on the stamp is usually in French alone.989
The general belief is that if an autonomous ministerial department were set up for translation and interpretation (and possibly the promotion of Cameroons national languages which number at least 230, dialects excluded), the problem would be solved. This is so because up till now, translation, interpretation and the promotion of national languages seem to have no fixed parent ministry. Such a ministry could be made to comprise a central administration, provincial, divisional and sub Divisional services. This may, of course, not have the desired effect unless Cameroonians themselves are willing to accept that French and English as official languages are equal and belong to all Cameroonians and not just to separate communities. It is only in this way that bilingualism, claimed to be a priority area in the educational, system of the country, can be fully promoted.