YAOUNDÉ, April 24, 2014 — According to the most recent issue of Cameroon Economic Update, if Cameroon hopes to meet its objective of achieving emerging market status by 2035, it must invest in human capital, starting with improving the quality of its primary education.
A biannual World Bank publication that assesses the country’s economic outlook, the magazine focuses its latest issue on basic education as a key source of growth. “Although the Cameroonian economy has been growing at a fairly decent rate of between 3 and 5% per year for the past decade, at this pace the country will not be able to achieve the target set by the government in its Vision 2035 working document,” said Souleymane Coulibaly, World Bank lead economist for Central Africa and one of the principal authors of the report.
Reexamining the sources of growth is therefore critical, and must begin with basic education, a pillar of long-term growth. “Primary education allows a significant portion of the population to participate in the production and growth process,” said the economist, noting that “there is in fact a strong link between the level of education and the likelihood of households falling below the poverty line.”
While access to basic education has improved considerably in Cameroon, with primary completion rates jumping from 53% in 2001 to 80% in 2011, academic performance in Cameroon has nonetheless declined.
Indeed, the report notes, the standardized test scores of Cameroonian children declined between 1998 and 2005, although they were higher than the test scores in many francophone African countries. A 2010 study conducted by the Ministry of Basic Education (MINEBUB) among primary school students confirms this finding: 49% of Cameroonian children in the third year of primary school struggled to read, while 27% could not read at all, demonstrating the urgent need for Cameroon to improve the quality of its education.
The Cameroon Economic Update also refers to the persistently huge disparities at the inter- and intra-regional levels, as well as between genders and among social classes. By way of example, while the primary completion rate in urban areas is 91%, the rural completion rate is only 68%. In addition, the adult illiteracy rate is three times higher in rural areas (57%) than in urban areas (17%).
Another telling statistic regarding the disparities that characterize the Cameroonian education system is the enrollment rate for rural girls: just 65%, compared to 79% for boys. Furthermore, while virtually all children from the most prosperous families complete primary school, only 40% of children from the poorest quintile complete this level.