On Thursday the 20th of August 2015, the government of Cameroon closed down over 250 so called clandestine primary schools. This government measure also included the closing down of some Muslim religious institutions which the government claimed were operating without authorization. According to a report by Africa 24 aired on television on Sunday the 23rd of August 2015, these measures are being put in place because the government of Cameroon cannot allow unauthorized institutions of primary education continue to function, especially as some government officials claim that the teachers are not well trained to properly teach children. Other analysts add that due to attacks by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, such establishments could attract bomb attacks and thus a bad omen for state security.
This scenario raises a lot of contentious issues. Is this a situation of government coercion against freedom to primary education or does the state have the obligation to ensure that poorly trained teachers do not impart wrong knowledge to young Cameroonians? In the context of the war against the Islamic sect Boko Haram, is the state of Cameroon correct to take such measure for the security of the whole country?
In Eamonn Butler’s 2014 publication entitled ‘Foundations of Free Society’, he alludes that according to a study by Professor James Tooley, it was proven that in countries like India, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, most children were attending non-government schools. Many of these schools were unofficial schools not recognized by government. Some of these schools received charitable assistance and none benefited from state funding. Even in such circumstances, children who went to such schools performed better than those in government schools. Professor Tooley also found that in government schools the rate of absenteeism was very high. Private schools had better facilities including toilets.
A recent study by the Cameroon based Central African Centre for Libertarian Thought and Action shows that indeed like in the cases of India, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, private education especially at the primary school level furnishes better results in subjects like mathematics and general knowledge. Therefore the state of Cameroon needs to rethink measures on promoting primary school education. Closing down over 200 primary schools is not an appropriate policy measure.
Rather than closing down these establishments promoting primary education, there was need for the government of Cameroon to instead allow these establishments function and improve the teaching capacity of teachers via training programs. Such a measure will go a long way in improving the quality of teaching in these establishments.
Several private establishments are not registered because of heavy taxes levied on them by the state. In this respect the proprietors of these institutions prefer to run them without proper authorization. Being unauthorized does not mean that the quality of education is poor. Therefore it is important for the state of Cameroon to ensure that registration and taxation methods in place are favorable for private establishments to be created and stay in business.
Refining the curriculum of private institutions and making sure it meets the expectation of an emerging economy is germane. Rather than closing down these private establishments, the state of Cameroon could have also assisted these private establishments by refining their curriculum and ensure that it meets the expectations of development objectives of the state.
Private public partnership is an emerging phenomenon that improves quality of services as argued by certain economists. In this vein, rather than closing down private institutions involved with primary education, the state of Cameroon may have considered partnership agreements between some of these private institutions with state institutions, so as share best experiences and close up loopholes, for the betterment of young Cameroonians.
Not all Cameroonians have access to primary education, although this is a major objective set by the Millennium Development Goals, which was supposed to be realized this year, 2015. Private establishments promoting primary education can indeed make this dream come true if given the opportunity to do so by the government of Cameroon and most states around the world. All the same it is equally important for these private institutions to respect rules and regulations set in place by the state. Owing to the fact that terrorism is now a reality especially in the Northern part of the state, there is need for proprietors of privately managed primary schools to respect security measures and collaborate with the forces of law and order.