Education in Cameroon, although constitutionally guaranteed, falls short in execution. Undeniable disparities hinder educational access for poor, disabled, indigenous and refugee children, particularly disadvantaged girls. Issues ranging from sexual harassment, unplanned pregnancies and early marriages to domestic chores and socio-cultural biases proliferate a trend in which fewer girls attend primary schools than boys. Incongruences between male and female education in Cameroon exacerbate the growing movement of students leaving the country to study and live elsewhere that has been termed the “brain drain.”
Rectifying this gender discrepancy can boost individuals’ capacities for financial autonomy as well as improve the state of the nation overall.
Less than 50 percent of Cameroonian girls attend primary school, and the average adult has only 5.9 years of education under his or her belt. There are many, however, who are working to change that.
The ShineALight Africa initiative was inspired by one Cameroonian woman, Nsaigha Thecla, who risked her livelihood and security to give her daughter the education she had never attained. Borrowing, investing and selling all she had, her children received an uncommonly good education in Cameroon. Years later, Nsaigha’s granddaughter, Leila Kigha, founded ShineALight Africa in that spirit.
ShineALight Africa mobilizes individual women into a cooperative through which they can sell their farm produce as a group, and the profits are dedicated to keeping local community children in school. Participation fosters the skills to help women gain financial autonomy, which provides previously non-existent options regarding marriage and domesticity.
Self-sufficiency and personal livelihood are certainly not all there is to be gained through more available education. Many claim that national security is at stake when education is inaccessible, for “an educated population doesn’t give away to extremism.” As a military campaign against Boko Haram rages in northern Cameroon, mosques in the south resist the spread of Islamist insurgency by providing girls’ education. The director of the Grande Mosque in Briquerterie, Mohaman Saminou, claims girls are at the greatest risk of being radicalized due to their lack of education.
To that end, his mosque provides free classes to girls every weekend in subjects like computer science, sewing and the Qur’an. Other mosques, like the Yaoundé Central Mosque, follow suit, providing girls’ classes in French, English and Arabic to promote the notion of “bilingualism as a gateway to quality education and sustainable development.” This work should broaden opportunities and choices for Cameroonian girls, consequently decrease the likelihood of radicalization.
Improving education in Cameroon can hugely impact both individual lives and national wellbeing. The ability to make financial and social choices is essential to the welfare of the people and the state to which they belong.
– Robin Lee