Cameroon: Catholic Mission Rejects June 1 School Reopening, Teachers Pose Tough Conditions
The Archbishop of the Metropolitan Arch Diocese of Douala, Mgr. Samuel Kleda has dared authorities in Cameroon over plans to reopen schools on June 1. Classes were suspended in March because of the novel Coronavirus. But the country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Dion Ngute on April 16 said schools would resume in all educational establishments across the country on June 1.
However, Mgr. Kleda now says that is a risky plan that could put the lives of thousands of students at risk. In a letter to bishops of the Douala Ecclesiastical Province, the cleric said Catholic institutions will not go with the government’s plan.
“Given the rapid spread of the Coronavirus in our country, and our obligation to protect the health of all, we have decided, in concert with the other bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province, to postpone the school reopening originally planned for June 1 in our three formation houses, to a later date which will be communicated to you in due course," Mgr. Kleda wrote.
The Cleric called on the students and rectors to remain calm, understanding their health in the face of Covid-19 spread was invaluable.
“We call on you, the students, to remain studious, revising your lessons, and carrying out research in view of better preparing for your end-of-course examinations. May the Spirit of the Pentecost protect you in this difficult time,” he wrote.
The May 25 letter concerns the Dioceses of Bafoussam, Douala, Bafang, Edea, Nkongsamba, and Eseka. If the fear of Covid-19 is the main cause for the Archbishops’ decision to maintain the school closures further, it is double jeopardy for schools in the restive once independent state of Southern Cameroons.
“A school reopening announced by the government is of no use to us here in Kumbo,” said Bishop George Nkuo of the Kumbo Diocese in the war-torn Southern Cameroons. He lamented that for the past four years, kids have been out of school in his Diocese as the security situation continues to worsen.
A bloody armed conflict between forces loyal to the mainly Francophone administration in Yaounde and self-defense volunteers seeking to restore the independence of Southern Cameroons, now in its fourth year has left schools burnt, and teachers and students attacked, killed, or kidnapped.
Since 2017, pro-independence groups have enforced a school boycott as part of a push to restore the Southern Cameroons from the rest of the country and to rename their country “Ambazonia.”
According to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, over 80% of schools in English-speaking Cameroon have been closed, and an estimated 600,000 kids are out of school. UNICEF Spokesperson Toby Fricker says targeting education is “putting the future of an entire generation of children at risk, children who with the right support and opportunities can build a more stable and prosperous future.”
Mgr. Nkuo agrees: “It is a crime against humanity to deny our children the right to go to school in the name of a struggle, no matter how legitimate our case may be.”
Preserving the educational system inherited from British colonial rule has been one of the main reasons of disquiet among the people. Teachers and other experts have argued that sustained attempts by the mainly Francophone administration in Yaounde to tamper with the Anglo-Saxon system have meant Southern Cameroonians were about to be assimilated. The current unrest started with voluntary school boycotts on November 21, 2016.
Teachers pose tough conditions
While the Catholic Church is hesitant about the school reopening, teachers in the Central African country have presented the government with a range of conditions that should be fulfilled for a safe return to school.
"The distribution of [free] face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizers is the only means to ensure equal protection of all actors in the face of the coronavirus pandemic" reads a May 20 petition by teachers’ trade unions to the country’s Prime Minister.
They also asked that the number of students per class to be limited to 24, that schools should be disinfected daily and that examination centers be equipped with material to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The health of teachers, millions of students, as well as their parents seems priceless to us. The unions will mobilize teachers, if need be, to defend themselves if clear measures are not taken to ensure their protected return to school campuses,” the teachers note in a document sighed by the Spokesman for the Teachers' Unions of Cameroon, Robert Kaffo Fokou.