MAROUA, CAMEROON - Cameroon's government says at least 500 teachers in the north have not reported for duty this school year amid safety concerns.
The Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram has targeted schools since its insurgency began in 2009. The nickname of the group roughly translates as "Western education is sinful."
General Jacob Kodji, one of the commanders of Cameroonian troops fighting Boko Haram, has sought to reassure teachers and coax them back into the classrooms.
He told VOA the commanders have been working in collaboration with the administration and education officials to prevent any attacks. He says they are asking the population, including parents, teachers and students, to report suspicious people and share information to keep everyone safe.
Officials of the Cameroon Teachers Trade Union, including Secretary General Tassang Wilfred, say children are paying the price.
“We send out a clarion call for teachers to teach the children the nation has put at their disposal with all their energy in spite of the very harsh conditions in which most of us have to work,” Wilfred said. “We look at the plight of children. Their future seems bleak.”
Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon's Far North region, also has called on teachers to resume their duty. The governor says better security measures have been put in place.
But teachers are still afraid.
Two years ago, Boko Haram attacked a school in Tourou, setting it on fire. Several children were killed or wounded, officials said.
The government reopened the school this year. But only two of its eight teachers were present when VOA visited.
Teacher Ngeunang Timothy said they were traumatized by the attack.
“When they came that day, we were so sad because we ran from Tourou to Mokolo on foot,” he said. “We are now back in Tourou again and I think the government has taken a serious measure so as to keep our school safe and to enable us do our work smoothly.”
In the north, teachers have refused to go back to school.
As the school year opened last month, the government said 100,000 children displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency do not have access to education. Officials now say the teacher shortage in the north has put the education of an additional 100,000 students in jeopardy.
Boko Haram is blamed for about 20,000 deaths since beginning its insurgency in northern Nigeria in 2009. The Islamist extremist group says it wants to create a strict Islamic state in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria.