Friday, October 5, 2012

Another Attempt to devalue Anglophone Education

Cameroon - A document titled “Timetable Model Form 1” is surreptitiously circulating already in town. It is unsigned and purportedly comes from the Inspectorate of General Education in the Ministry of Secondary Education. It is suggesting a 7-period Timetable of 55 minutes each for Form One as from this 2012/2013 Academic year despite the fact that schools re-opened some three weeks ago! 

The most alarming part of it is the great reduction in the number of subjects to be done in Form One as well as the introduction of some new subjects. The timetable spans from 7.30 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. with two break periods: one from 10.15 to 10.30 a.m. (15 minutes) and the other from 12.30 to 1.30 p.m. (1 hour). 

Physical Education comes up twice (2 times a week! i.e. close to two hours a week). While the traditional science subjects: Biology, Chemistry and Physics are completely absent from this timetable, new subjects, probably relevant only in Cameroon have been introduced like: National Cultures, Science, Ancient languages, National Languages and Art.

This has been viewed as another attempt to devalue the Anglophone system of as Rene Ze Nguele tried and failed in 1984. It is seen by pundits as a calculated attempt to reduce Anglophone certificates (GCE) recognised worldwide to be recognised only in Cameroon.

The rank and file secondary education stake-holders in Cameroon - those who make and mar results in the schools - woke up Monday 17/09/2012, three weeks into re-opening, to a new dispensation. Beginning this academic year and from Form One, the authorities had ruled, a new teaching-learning programme will progressively go operational. The programme, it is said will gradually transform our educational system from its colonial objective driven, cognitive focused ramifications to a vogue broad-based skills or competency oriented system, tailored to address urgent socio-economic realities. Such a change, which should be hailed, has rather met with outright rejection and simmering passion for a number of reasons which will be mentioned below.

Agreed, any institution that does not seek to stride forward in the light of positive change stagnates and gradually gets asphyxiated. Section 5 of the 1998 Law laying down guidelines for education in Cameroon spells out nine different articles of national policy which stipulate the training of versatile citizens in cognitive, affective and psycho-motor domains. The nine articles highlight domains including national and international cultures, universal ethical values, family life, national languages, democratic culture, practice and other concerns, the cultivation of an ethos of work, creativity and related aspects, sports-cum-physical education and artistico-cultural concerns and hygiene and health education.

Furthermore, in Section 25, the Law asserts: The Education provided in school shall take into account scientific and technological advancements and shall be tailored in terms of content and method to national and international economic, scientific, technological, social and cultural trends. Consequently therefore, any reforms geared at overhauling an effete, anachronistic system can only be too welcome. However, today's rumbles of incipient dissent about the proposal derive from the covert, nay, surreptitious manner of its elaboration and application.

Erstwhile Secretary General Professor Ivo Leke Tambo recently hinted at this eventuality in a key-note address at a GCE Board Seminar in Saker Baptist College in Limbe 04 - 06 April 2011. But that was just a few months back. And while he appealed that reforms should be made "comprehensively, concretely, collaboratively and continuously", his main exhortation was that the GCE Board should rise above the shackles of a mere examination-obsessed institution to become involved in all processes in the gamut from the conception of educational policy, through curriculum development and teaching and learning to evaluation. I don't think that the state which defines policy, together with its examination officials and the coterie of participants at these seminars have had time enough to ruminate on the lofty proposals, not to talk about designing any syllabuses for study yet! So this imposition from top to bottom, which fails woefully to take into consideration the broad-based "collaborative" aspect of the proposal above smacks of uncalled hurry that will only end up wrecking rather than presenting a supposed well-meaning proposal in good light. That the Ministry sends out an alternative programme two months after it signed and made public booklists for the operational one, which books were already acquired by booksellers and parents is a clear sign that it does not also bother about the enormous costs that parents are subjected to by such unexplained and unexpected changes.

Education authorities say they want to get the francophone system to harmonize with the Anglophone five and two year respective courses for secondary and high school with this re-working of the syllabus. Subjects like Physics, Biology and Chemistry are suppressed for a generic discipline called "Science", whose syllabus we hear is more than 80% Biology. Maths, like in the Francophone system, is given full prominence, and Literature, which many have continued to erroneously see as "reading stories" despite its mind-sharpening and productive potentials, phases out, to be treated like a tool in the acquisition of Language - so English rises to an incidence of six periods per week. Other new disciplines include Ancient (dead) Languages, National Cultures, National Languages and Citizenship Education.

The new programme also envisages a mainstreaming of prospective secondary and technical learners for two years of observation, after which they will be orientated towards their appropriate lines of study. This sounds like a misapplication of a 1995 Forum of Education proposal calling for an integrated or harmonized programme that should take into consideration both general and technical subjects. The timetable model (was it meant to be a sample proposal?) which has been sent out ignores all proposed starting disciplines for technical education - basic technology, reinforced mathematics, health and environmental sciences, to name but a few. It is said that some earlier pussy-footing around the same issue had taken place in a Mbalmayo seminar, organized for another esoteric group of persons, the outcome of which was very stormy. When such unplanned and unexpected impositions fail, the unfortunate student guinea pigs in the experiment end up becoming national casualties, in the formless governance system that continues to inform and countenance our country - clear evidence therefore that there is everything wrong with the way many national issues are handled.

The Growth and Employment Strategy Paper (GESP) published by Cameroon's Ministry of Economy Planning and Regional Development, that long-term vision that stemmed from a participatory process in the words of those who drafted it, elaborates strategies domain by domain that will by 2035 enable Cameroon to become "an emerging and democratic country, united in its diversity". It emphasizes inter alia,

- an educational system that places all its products at a level coherent with the vision of an emergent nation;
- a secondary  education (technical and vocational included) that dynamically balances its secondary and technical facets … with a bias for priority professional, industrialization-oriented disciplines;
-diversified training methods and programmes that match training with job profiles.

It goes without saying therefore that the business of education should rise above the focus on traditional disciplines to components that are adaptable to socio-economic, cultural and political realities - concerns such as "entrepreneurial education, art and culture, inclusive education, information and communication technology, family life (health) and HIV education" so that assessment or evaluation can rise to embrace new issues like "projects, practical work in school related to livelihoods, and concrete realizations in the areas of art and cultural productions", in the words of Professor Tambo. However we note that the GESP master-plan was arrived at after well-thought out, broad-based participatory effort, which follows that a road map for education should come into being in like manner. And we believe that after a consensual conception and elaboration of the programme, a number of pilot schools should be selected all over for a trial testing of the proposal before it can go operational nationwide. My worry is that a top-bottom approach - contrary to the spirit of the 1995 Education Forum proposal that all syllabus reforms must be carried out in consultation with all stakeholders - has been used where the bottom-top would have yielded wonderful results.

The transaction of this business of harmonization has over the years given a consistent smell of bad faith. When the Anglophone Primary Education stretch was reduced from eight then to seven and finally to six years, it was on the understanding that the Francophone Secondary stretch would step up from four to five years, with the scrapping of the Probatoire, the same Probatoire that is being dangled today as bait again!. Ever since, this promotion examination has continued to be considered as a certificate examination, with employment opportunities, a bias against the Anglophones. This accounts for the national mismatching of certificates in which the BEPC is officially equated to four while the Probatoire is equated to five O/L subjects. And the prejudice has been stretched to the university level, with Anglophone aspirants required to have at least five O/L and at least two A/L disciplines, while their Francophone counterparts come in only with the Bacc. And when one considers that many of these face-value Baccs are nothing but marginal, even far below average passes that have been "unethically moderated" to suit "moyen national" obligations, then the Anglophone cannot but feel discriminated against.

The switch being effected, from an objective-driven to a competency-based educational system is too important to be trifled with like they ardoing now. It has worked miracles in countless countries - to name just Ghana and Nigeria contiguous to Cameroon. These two countries have well/fully outlined programmes (not partial postulations) from pre-primary, through primary, junior and senior secondary and vocational tertiary setups with core disciplines as well as nonpre-vocational, pre-vocational and vocational electives as well as with trades of all kinds. The teacher in the competency-based system trains life skills - runs a system that is very practical and real, that churns out producer, not consumer graduates.

However, for such a change to come to a system that has all along been propped by our type of colonial dispensation, much groundwork must have been done over a long period of time, which hasn't. And it must be implemented progressively, with a chosen batch of primary school learners, who will later on move to secondary and then to university before the transition would be said to have been complete and smooth. But in the case of what is happening in Cameroon, while the primary school system has not taken any visible steps to define a similar programme for its learners, the change is being foisted/imposed on the secondary schools. We think that if the whole Anglophone community were to stand up now to defend their subsystem of education, which has after all been the better of two in the conditions in which we find ourselves, then they won't be those to blame.

When the well-meaning minority elected to join those they considered as their majority brothers on the other side of the linguistic divide, little did they bargain with the fact that more than forty years of separation had immersed both parties in systems at variance. Each group was convinced that its own systems radiated enviable effulgence and so especially members of the minority adopted a no-nonsense attitude towards national subterfuge that over the years re-defined policies to their detriment. Gradually, after many botched attempts at assimilation, the majority party started a massive invasion of the minority system by sending their children to study in it - proof at least of the fact that there was/is after all something universally accepted as worthy in it.

In such a setup, where mutual suspicion reigns supreme, any meaningful change can only come after prolonged intra-group, followed by inter-group discussions (the classroom teachers, the parents and the civil society must work together in conceiving and elaborating consensual change that will impact on especially the primary and secondary levels), before a harmonized (not a francophonized) syllabus can be defined. Any programme that is imposed from above, in these days of dialogue and consultation, reeks of individualism and high-handed attempts to personify change that would otherwise have been communal and so well-meaning and the Anglophones will not hesitate to fight for their colonial heritage that still enjoys some prestige.

*Tameh Valentine Nfon, is the National  Secretary General of the Teachers Association of Cameroon -TAC, cummulatively with his functions as Regional Pedagogic Inspector for English Language)

©2012 The Vanguard Cameroon, Bamenda. A publication of Media World. All rights reserved.  All are welcome to comment. Leave a comment, speak your mind and take part in any discussion. As exchange of ideas and debates between opinions are fundamental for our democracy. And will push Cameroon forward. Comments with racist, homophobic, sexist, hateful, extreme Christian or extreme Islamic content will be removed. Leave the CAPS-LOCK off, no reason to SHOUT.


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