By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Monday, September 6, marked the first day of school for the 2021/22 academic year across the country. Unlike in the other parts of the country, the hustling and buzzing that usually characterized the first day of school was low-key in the North West and South West Regions, areas that have been witnessing the Anglophone crisis as it enters its fifth year.
“I can say the attendance is above 80 per cent in general while some are 90 per cent and others 95 per cent. We can say there is a lot of improvement in the resumption of schools,” South West Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai told journalists after making a tour of some educational institutions in the Region.
“We want to congratulate the education community, the parents and Head Teachers who continue to sensitize parents to bring back their children to schools.”
Cameroon has been gripped by violence since November 2016, when government forces crushed a movement of Anglophone teachers and lawyers protesting against their perceived marginalization by the country’s French-speaking majority.
The deteriorating security has led to the closure of hundreds of schools and left thousands of children without no education and most of these families have moved to the French-speaking parts of the country to give their children education.
“Parents should do like the others (sending their children to schools). I think today, after what we witness the sad situation of two-three years, everybody has understood and agreed that let s do what we want to do but let us free the schools; let us allow our children to go to schools,” Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai added.
According to the UN, some 700,000 children have been affected by school closures in Cameroon’s North West and South West as a result of the Anglophone crisis that began in 2016. The situation of school closure in Anglophone Cameroon has changed in the last couple of years with many of these schools now opened.
Some separatist fighters have backed the resumption of school in the two-Regions, as they did back in 2020, though last year the fighters and their activists had called for the reopening of “community schools”.
Other fighters are threatening to abduct teachers and students who resume classes. But hundreds of children, who have been deprived of education, and their teachers are returning to the schools despite these apparent threats.
School resumes under a health pandemic
The resumption of the new school year comes as Cameroon is still battling with the Coronavirus health pandemic. The country currently counts 84,210 positive cases and efforts to get its population vaccinated have been ramped up.
Educational authorities in the Region have continued their sensitization campaign while hand-washing points have been put at the entrance to schools and other vital areas. Students have been encouraged to wear their face masks, and this is a sign this reporter noticed while going through some schools in Buea and Limbe.
“On the eve of the start of the new school year, I hail the enormous work of the teachers and urged school principals to ensure compliance with the barrier measures and the wearing of masks within their schools, in addition to the vaccination of teachers and school administrators,” Dr Manaouda Malachie, Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health tweeted.