1.10 Comparative Education: Can you discuss the intricacies of Cameroon’s Education System?

Chapter 1

1.10 Discuss the educational system in Cameroon


The history of Cameroon is important in understanding the evolution of education system in this country. First, the country was colonized by the Germans and after the World War I became a trustee for the League of Nations under the rule of British and French Governments. This has led to development of a dual system of education that exists to the present.


The population of Cameroon is estimated at 15,803,220 inhabitants as of July 2001. With a surface area of 475,442 km2, it is bounded to the west by Nigeria, to the Northeast by Chad to the East by central African Republic and to the South by Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo. There are ten administrative regions, two (2) of which are English speaking and eight French speaking.

Historically, Cameroon was founded around 1472 by a Portuguese navigator called Fernando Po who arrived the Bight of Biafra, then sailed up the Wouri River situated in the Coastal region. The navigator was surprised to see shrimps in the river, and so baptized the river ‘Riodos Camaroes (river of shrimps). This name which was to be associated to the country became ‘kamerun’ during the Germany colonial period and ‘Cameroon’ or ‘Camerroun’ during the British and French colonial rule. In 1884, germany colonized Cameroon. The signing of the germane-Douala  treaty  in  July  1884,  whereby  Cameroon  became  a  Geramn  preotectoriate, marked this event. But with the defeat of Germany  in 1916 during the World War I, Cameroon was divided between Britain and france and administered first under the League of Nations mandate and later under the United nations trusteeship. Britain got two discontinuous  strips of land of about 90,000km2 along the Nigerian border: the strip to the North was called ‘Northern British Cameroons’ and that to the South was called ‘Southern British Cameroons’. The French got the lion’s share and administered it as an independent territory, whereas the British administered theirs from Lagos in Nigeria.

French Cameroon became independent on 1 January 1960. Then on 11 February 1960, British Southern Cameroon voted union with French Cameroon through a referendum. This association between the two entities was consolidated on 1 October 1961 through the Reunification of Cameroon and creation of a federation made up of two states called West Cameroon and east Cameroon. The federation survived till 20 May 1972 when a unitary state made up of seven (7) provinces was created. And later in 1984, the number of provinces was increased to ten (10) through a Presidential decree.

The education al system of Cameroon is very popular in Africa. The method of learning is different in the eastern and the western part of Cameroon. The educational system of east Cameroon followed the methods of French model and the West Cameroon’s system was based on the British model. The English sub-system of education follows the system of education that was operational in the English speaking part of the country before unification 9during the trusteeship era under British). This education system reflects colonial heritage from Britain and France. Efforts have been underway since 1985 to harmonize these two systems.

Education is compulsory through the age of 14 years. Primary schools education has been free since 2000: however, families must pay uniforms and books    fees. Tuition and fees at the secondary school level remain unaffordable for many families.

In 2002, the gross primary enrollment rate was 108%. Gross enrollment ratios are based on the number of students formally registered in primary school and do not necessarily reflect actual school attendance. In 2001, 84.6% of children ages 10 to 14 years were attending school. As of 2001, 64% of children who started primary school were likely to reach grade 5.


Formal education is under three ministries: the Ministry of National Edcuation (from nursery to secondary education); the Ministry of Technical education and Vocational Training; and the Ministry of Higher Education. The administrative structure in Cameroon is centralized requiring endorsement of the Central Government, represented by line ministries. The Ministry of National Education at the national level makes education policies and at the Provincial and Divisional levels there are the Delegations of education with inspectorate support at the sub-division or district levels. There is however, no known education policy document, the process of putting one in place commenced in 1995 when the National Education Forum was held.

There are four main actors involved in education in Cameroon. These include government at the national, Provincial, Divisional, sub- divisional District and village levels; civil society, international  development agencies and the private sector. Civil society organizations both local and international play very limited or no role in the education policy process. The Cameroonian Government has demonstrated its will to promote Education for All goals. The National EFA plan has however not entered the implementation stage despite the setting up within the Ministry of Education of an EFA Permanent Autonomous Technical Unit for the implementation of this plan. Cameroonians even at the Ministry of Education (especially at the external services) do not yet have access to this National EFA Plan of Action.


In  2000,  the  school  age  population  at  the  primary  level  (6-12  years  was  about  2.8M.  in 2000/2001, 2.69M pupils enrolled, an enrollment comprising children aged less than six years, and especially those aged more than 12 years. A good number of school age children are therefore not attending school. This state of affairs is due to several factors like inadequate funding of education leading to parents paying user fees; paucity of classrooms 920% of which are temporary and improvised structures) and partly to insufficient number of teachers, with a 1 to 63 teacher- pupil ratio, a ratio that the Ministry of Education plans to reduce to 1 to 47 by 2011. The gross enrollment rate for formal education dropped from close to 100% in the 80s to 71% in 1995/1996 and rose slightly to 78% in 1997/1998. The gross enrollment rate for preschool children is low (about 10.6%) and lower in the provinces of Adamawa (5.3%), North (4.5%) and the far North (0.7%). Between 1996 and 2000, enrollments in private schools doubled. School enrolment is not marched by teacher supply.


The Cameroonian education is mainly divided into four categories namely, tertiary education, primary, secondary and higher education. The primary schools in Cameroon provide free education to the students and it is mandatory for every pupil. There are several primary schools in the country providing basic education to the children of Cameroon. Some of the primary schools belong to the government and others are run by religious organizations.

After completing primary education, a student can pursue higher education depending upon the financial condition of the family. The secondary educational system is divided into three parts namely, secondary schools, vocational schools and apprenticeships. For further studies a student can take admission in any of the six public universities of Cameroon.


In the past decade, Cameroonians have increasingly indulged in childhood education. Parents usually do so by first sending their children to kindergarten at about the age of 2 years. In the English speaking region of the country, kindergarten is known as a ‘nursery school’. While in French speaking Cameroon, it is called ‘l’ecole maternelle’. Children attend school for about two or three years, until the age of four or five when they are seen fit to start elementary or primary school 9l’ecole primaire’, in French). The state and private individuals are the main actors running these schools. It is worth noting that education at this level is not compulsory in Cameroon.

Primary level

Primary education lasts for six years in the Anglophone system, leading to the First school leaving certificate and six years in the Francophone system leading to the certificate d’Etudes primaries elementaires (CEPE). Primary education in Cameroon now runs for six years from grade one to grade seven. Primary education in Cameroon is compulsory. The Government and various religious denominations like the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist in Christian regions of the country, and Koranic ones in the Islamic regions mostly run primary schools. In the English speaking Cameroon, primary education runs for six years at the end of which students must sit and pass the general certificate exams as a prerequisite for graduation. The exams are the First School Leaving Certificate and the Common Entrance Examination. To follow some specific career paths, pupils have the opportunity to access some technical, vocational and professional exams.

Secondary education

After primary schools, there are at-least three main further channels students can pursue, depending primarily on their family financial circumstances, but also on the results obtained at the general exams. These are: secondary/ grammar schools, of which there Has been quite a proliferation over the lat 25 years. The principal operators in this sector are the Government, the religious denominations, and a growing number of private entrepreneurs. Here again, tuition at the Government secondary schools (GSS) is either free or costs considerably less than at the other types of school.

In the Anglophone system, the first cycle of secondary education lasts for five years and leads to the Cameroon General Certificate education Ordinary Level. Higher schools offer two year courses leading to the General Certificate of Education advanced Level. In the English speaking parts, secondary education at this selection into the government Secondary School was supposed to be based on the results obtained at the Common Entrance Exam. For example, Grammar schools generally takes five years, from ages 12 years to 17. Students specializes in arts and sciences, and at the end of the programe they must take the General certificate of Education (GSE) exam, at the Ordinary O level. The General Certificate of education Examination ordinary level is written by students after 5  years of secondary education. Students write the GSE Advanced Level A/L examination after two years of High Schools. The general Certificate of Education both ordinary and Advance d levels are the two most qualifying exams in the English Speaking part of Cameroon. The GSE Advanced Level certificate qualifies students to enter the university or other institutions of higher learning. The GCE examinations are organized by the GCE Examination Board created by the Government to handle examinations at the secondary and high school levels in the English Speaking sub-system.

In  the  Francophone  system,  the  first  four  years  of  secondary  education  lead  to the  Brevet d’Etudes du premier Cycle du second Degre. At the Lycees (upper secondary), three years study lead to the Baccalaureate. Technical secondary education leads to the City and Guilds Part III and to the Baccalaureate or the Brevet de Technicien Superieur respectively, or the Brevet professional. There is a Baccalaureate Board handling high school examinations for the French Educational sub-system in Cameroon (the French Equivalent of academic attainment). If they pass, they qualify for admission into a high school, involving two more years of study, at the end of which they take the GCE exam at the Advanced (‘A”) level. Success at this last exam opens doors to universities and other higher level institutions.

Technical and Vocational Education

The Government and the private sector are the main operators and the religious missions have shyed away. The primary purpose of these schools is to train students in the technical fields or to prepare them for specific vocations. The duration for vocation education is four years after which students must take professional examination. In the old days they used to take the city and guild examinations of London but that is now being replaced by the ‘certificate aptitude professionale (CAP) exam from Yaoundé. Success at either of these exams gets the students into a technical high school or another specialized institution, with a decent chance of securing employment upon completion. The students with poor results after the completion of primary education and those whose parents could not afford to take them to vocational colleges ended up learning a trade locally. These involved courses in motor mechanic, carpentry, tailors and bricklayers.

Higher Education

Universities, specialized institutions and schools mainly provide higher education. The Minister in charge of higher education takes final policy decisions regarding universities, although each university has a governing council. Councils have responsibility for personnel recruitment. The creation  of  new  departments,  degrees,  courses  and  changes  in  regulations  must  receive ministerial consent. Each university receives a budget from the state. The university of Bue’a is headed by a vice chancellor who is nominated by the Government and who, in turn, is chair of the  administrative  council.  A  Rector  heads  other  public  universities.  The  Presidents  of  the Administrative Councils of Yaoundé I and II, Dschang, Ngaoundere, and Douala Universities and  the  pro-chancellor  of  Buea  University  were  nominated.  A  Catholic  University  was established in 1990. Several higher education institutions do not fall directly under the Ministry of Higher Education, but the Minister must ascertain that they meet academic standards. Nonetheless, an emerging number of private higher technical institutions of learning like the Nacho  University,  Fonab  polytechnic,  and  many  others                   are  beginning  to  reshape  the predominantly general education style of education that for over three decades has been the turf of most Anglophone students in Cameroon.

Teacher Education

Training of pre-primary and primary/basic school teachers Pre-primary and primary school teachers are trained at the Ecoles normales d’Instituteurs (ENI). Holders of the BEPC are trained in three years and holders of the Baccalaureat are trained in one year. They obtain the Certificat d’Aptitude pedagogigue d’Instituteur de l’Enseignementmaternal et primaire (CAPIEMP). Holders of the Primary School Leaving Certificate are trained in three years. Holders of the GCE Ordinary level examinations can complete the course in two years and holders of the GCE Advanced level examinations or those who have at-least three year teaching experience with the Grade II Certificate can complete the same course in one year.

Training of Secondary School Teachers

Secondary school teachers are trained in three years following secondary high school or two yeasr following a first degree at the ecoles normales super rieures for college and lycee teachers or at the Ecole normale superieure d’ enseignment technique for technical secondary education teachers.

Language and Education

Cameroon is a multilingual country comprising 247 indigenous languages, two official languages and Cameroon Pidgin English. Among the indigenous languages, four are on the verge of extinction; they are Duli, Gey, Nagumi and Yeni, all from the Northern part of the country. Among the four major language families of Africa, three are represented in Cameroon. They are the Afro-Asiatic, the Nilo-Saharan and the Niger Kordofanian. The Niger- Kordofanian family is the most highly represented in Cameroon, while the Khoisan family is not represented at all.

The two official languages, English and French came into the Cameroon scene in 1916 when Britain and France shared Cameroon into two equal parts after defeating the German forces in the country. The new colonial masters then sought to impose their languages in the newly acquired territory both in the areas of education and administration. This led to the solid implantation of the two languages during the colonial era, a situation that was later reinforced after Cameroon became independent. At Reunification in 1961, English and French became the two official languages of Cameroon as the country opted for the policy of official language bilingualism.

French  was  adopted  as  the  official  language  in  French-speaking  Cameroon  while  English assumed the same status in the English speaking sector. Cameroon, like many other African countries, naturally opted for the ‘neutral’ foreign language option as official language in order to avoid language conflict on the one hand and unwarranted financial and material cost on the other. Repetition is common



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