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MINEDUB Combating Absenteeism In Primary Schools — Teachers’ presence implies success guaranteed at school for pupils and parents, but, when teachers are absent, the classroom is empty and failure is foreseeable.

But, this alone does not suffice. Welcoming the teacher in the community enables him to achieve a good social integration and contributes to reducing absenteeism in schools. It is against the backdrop of this slogan that the Ministry of Basic Education, MINEDUB, launched a campaign to combat absenteeism in primary schools in Cameroon.

The Minister of Basic Education, Yousouf Hadidja Alim, recently launched the campaign designed to stop this phenomenon with the financial support of the World Bank under the Support Programme to the Education System abbreviated in French as PASE. The main objective of the campaign is to provide quality education in primary schools. To achieve this objective, Government has invested in different initiatives in the education sector.

Within the context of reducing or eliminating obstacles to education through a wholesome initiative, Government has been intensifying the construction of schools, training of teachers, recruitment of contract teachers and promotion of universal access to education in line with the Millennium Development Goals, MGDs.

After the attainment of the completion point of the HIPC initiative, in April 2006, the Ministry of Basic Education recruited about 40,000 teachers to meet up with the serious teacher shortage.
Through these efforts and others, attendance in primary schools witnessed an upward surge from 96.3 percent in 1990 to 103 percent in 2009.

The general opinion is that the pupils’ performance is related to the volume of resources allocated to the amelioration of the educative system. But, it is important to note that performance depends on effective presence of teachers in class, pedagogic efficiency – his skills and motivation to perform his duty.

Though the massive recruitment of teachers seems a satisfactory move, an internal and external evaluation of the programme of contract teachers has revealed a high rate of absenteeism, particularly among primary school contract teachers. The average absenteeism rate is 20 percent among the 37,200 teachers recruited on contract basis.

Contract teachers constitute half of the teaching staff in primary schools; however, absenteeism does not only concern contract teachers but other teachers as well. Following a map of contract teacher absenteeism in Cameroon, the three Northern and the East regions are most hit. This situation is characteristic of what is generally referred to as the educational Priority Areas, EPAs.

Statistics indicate 19.35 percent, 24.34percent and 20 percent absenteeism for the Far North, North and Adamawa Regions respectively. The East region also suffers the absence of teachers from schools with a 15 percent absenteeism rate. Many reasons have been advanced for the state of absenteeism. Many teachers complain they have to make frequent journeys to follow up their recruitment files.

Sometimes, this long procedure to get paid takes about three years and takes the teachers away from school. Some abandon their work under the pretext that they are far from their families. Ill-health and poor accessibility to health facilities, absence of good lodging facilities, a hostile school and community environment are also some of the reasons that justify absenteeism.  

Though personnel absent from their duty posts have been regularly sanctioned, this does not suffice. The sanction-based approach alone without a prior awareness, information and education campaign has been perceived as not effective, especially as responsibilities in absenteeism are shared. If nothing is done, Government effort, in collaboration with its technical and financial partners, would be in vain.

In this light, a number of measures have been envisaged to turn the tides. This canker worm plaguing the basic education sector would, therefore, be tackled following a three-fold approach to be implemented progressively. Guides and posters have been produced by the Ministry of Basic Education with the technical support of a consultant and financed by the World Bank to serve as campaign aids.

The duties and basic rights of the different teachers are stipulated in the guides that are in both languages; English and French. The primary school teacher has the duty and obligation to comply with the rules and regulations of the school, presence in school, participation in renovation of teaching methods and continuous assessment of pupils. On the other hand they are entitled to technical assessment allowances, among others.

One of the approaches to tackle the problem of absenteeism is a programme to construct houses for teachers. Already, within the framework of the emergency programme of the Ministry of Basic Education, 10 buildings to house 20 teachers are under construction in the Bakassi and Darak zones this year.

In the long term, within the next three years, 240 houses would be constructed to the tune of FCFA 14.5 million each. Also, to limit the movement of teachers chasing documents in Yaounde, the decentralisation of the personnel career management is underway.

From next year, documents for the change of grade would be initiated and treated in the ten regions of the country. The automatic treatment of advancement document is already a reality in the Ministry of Basic Education. For career advancements, teachers would no longer need to provide applications, pay slips or last advancement decision as was the case given that competent services now take charge of advancing teacher after every two years.

With these measures, there is hope that the teachers would no-longer have a pretext to leave their schools and the government a reason to progressively put in place a system of quality education. Teachers who dessert their classes are called upon to change and uphold values such as professional consciousness and assiduity that make teaching a noble profession. Above all, members of communities hosting teachers are called upon to be welcoming and collaborative.

First published in The Post print edition no. 01364


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