18 Years After Government School Was Created: Pupils Still Study Under Trees
On the campus of Government Primary School, (G.S) Amtchali, in northern Cameroon, Abdul Aziz, aged 12, is saddened that classes have stopped for the day as a result of a heavy downpour of rain that morning. It is Monday, September 29, 2014. Aziz is in his final year of primary education (CM2) and his dream of becoming a reputed medical doctor is gradually fading away. It is the second time in four days that classes end prematurely because of rain.
“I am not happy because every time the rain falls, we cannot learn again since we do not have classrooms” lamented Aziz
Government School, G.S, Amtchali, was created in 1996 and since then, the school has existed without a single classroom, toilet or administrative building, considered the minimum needed to meet existing requirements and national standards for the school.
Pupils sit on stones and learn under trees at the mercy of the scorching sun or dense rainfall experienced in the locality, found in the Sahara Desert.
“At first, I could not send my child to school because her stomach was empty and I could not afford school fees or a uniform. Now, the problem we have is that the government does not want to build the schools. That is why I stopped my child from attending that school, because they are at risk under those trees where they study” said a parent, Fadimatou Ibrahim.
Apart from rain that interrupts classes, insecurity also poses a threat to the pupils who feel vulnerable without classrooms, especially as the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram has intensified attacks in the region.
“When military trucks pass here, they don’t concentrate again because of fear. The worst is when an airplane or helicopter flies over. They run away and when that happens, there is no way you can gather them again to teach. School will close like that for the day” one of the teachers, Suzane Ongramal, narrated.
According to Ongramal, studies in the school are free and only FCFA1000 ($2) is required per pupil as Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) fee. Yet, parents are reluctant to send children to the school. She said most parents prefer to register their children in other schools and pay high fees while the poorer ones keep them at home, where they can assist them in the farms or in other activities.
“Parents come to school and pull children out of class to go and assist them in the farm. Some even say ‘I have much to do and you are here playing with other children’. If only a building of two classrooms could be constructed, things will get better” Ongramal explained.
The school has existed for 18 years and has an enrolment of over 200 pupils and 3 teachers on the payroll of government, but has not benefitted from any significant form of assistance by the government. Teachers complained that they buy didactic material with money from their pockets and have refrained from encouraging pupils to buy text books, for fear of possible dropout.
“We only encourage them to buy exercise books and pens” said Ongramal.
Teachers told stories of how they are ridiculed by people in the community and colleagues from other schools.
“I’m ashamed to tell people I teach here. I only tell them I teach somewhere down there, avoiding to call the name of the school because they will humiliate me” Ongramal continued.
She said they had complained to officials to no avail, and still continue to do so each time they submit periodical reports to the Ministry of Basic Education, through its delegation in Mora. However, nothing positive has fallen from it. Rather, officials demand that teachers shoulder the responsibility.
“Officials come here and intimidate us to buy chairs and put in school because they themselves feel humiliated. They even force us to teach Information and Communication Technology. So, we use traditional methods to teach them” said Suzane Ongramal.
The pupils have never had the opportunity to see a computer and have no idea, what one looks like.
According to teachers, parents have spent these years hoping government could react, whereas government officials said parents had to take the responsibility of constructing the school.
“Government officials often say ‘you wanted a school, government has given you one and they have sent you teachers, what have you done?’ and that is where the problem lies” said another teacher.
G.S Amtchali received only two packets of chalk – one white and another colour – from the Ministry of Basic Education as Minimum package from Government, for the 2014/2015 academic year.
Apart from this, the school has not received any desk, chair, table or didactic material to facilitate the teaching – learning process since creation in 1996.
The pupils are willing to learn but do not have the resources. Many of them talked about their dreams of becoming teachers, doctors and directors among other reputed professions.
By Jude Fuhnwi in Amtchali