MAROUA, CAMEROON —
Lara Salamatou wants to resume her education, but as Cameroon schools reopened Monday, the 16-year-old could only get lessons in frustration.
She’d tried to enroll in the government high school in Maroua, the Far North provincial capital, after fleeing three months ago from extremist violence near her home in Kerawa on the border with Nigeria. She was turned away because of overcrowded classes and few teachers, she said.
Now, Salamatou is among at least 100,000 displaced youths whose education has been jeopardized this academic year, according to Cameroon’s government.
Authorities recently shut her school in Kerawa, along with 160 others, because of cross-border raids by the Nigerian-based Boko Haram Islamic insurgents. Schools in host communities are overcrowded and insecurity has delayed construction of more classrooms.
Adding to the country’s academic challenges, the government last week moved to shutter more than 300 unlicensed or unauthorized schools, though those weren't in the Far North.
Would-be students wait
At a French-speaking government elementary school here, roughly 500 prospective pupils still waited outside as classes began Monday.
Teacher Njah Clementine said the school wouldn't admit youths whose parents had not paid the $10-per-student fee required by parent teacher associations for expenses such as textbooks and exams. PTAs manage public schools in collaboration with the government, which provides otherwise free elementary education. It’s compulsory for youngsters ages 6 through 14.
Though many of the deterred youngsters have been displaced from conflict zones, Clementine said, the government hasn’t provided instructions on whether to admit them.
"There are so many parents that rush at the last minute to come and pay. … Some are begging" that their children be allowed to come to class, Clementine said, insisting the school has "effective" teachers. "They prepared their lessons since last week."
Since 2014, some government-funded teachers have refused transfers to schools in areas vulnerable to Boko Haram attacks, further straining those schools' resources.
Battling Boko Haram
Across the border in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram attacks government schools and schoolchildren. The Islamist militants oppose education; the group's name translates to "Western education is forbidden."
Cameroon's minister of basic education, Youssouf Hadidja Alim, said the government is striving to build more classrooms in safer locales. She said it has constructed more than 200 classrooms, noting that 87 buildings have toilets. The government also has installed 56 wells to serve the education sites. More facilities are planned, she said.
The government also is providing special allowances for teachers to encourage them to teach in vulnerable areas and has implemented an emergency plan for border areas, Alim said.
But Boko Haram fighters target the companies building the schools, said the Far North region’s top-ranking basic education official, Aminou Sanda Zoua. He said that contractors have abandoned construction sites because of mounting insecurity. He added that all classrooms built by the military’s engineering corps are ready for use.