The Plight of Catholic schools and Teachers: a cause for concern

By Livinus Tal Bam

Fr_zepherinuskumbo L’Effort Camerounais met with Rev. Father Zephyrinus
Mbuh, the Catholic Education Secretary of the Diocese of Kumbo, and he had the following to say on the plight of the Catholic school and of the Catholic teacher. In 1985, the Government issued a salary scale for Private Education according to which teachers were paid. The scale took into consideration the zone to which a teacher belonged, his/her qualification and longevity. In order to ensure that the salary scale was fully implemented, the Government assisted Private Education Agencies through subventions.

This practice came close to the grants in aid that obtained in the days of West Cameroon. The 1985 salary scale was respected by all Private Education Agencies until the 1992/1993 School Year when, due to economic crisis, the Government could not give subventions to Private Education.

This situation took the Private Education Agencies by surprise. As a result, they had to look for ways of coping with it. For the Catholic Education Agency in the Diocese of Kumbo, as was the case elsewhere in the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province, secondary school teachers and auxiliary staff suffered salary cuts while their counterparts in the primary schools went on token allowances, paid only as far as the income from school fees could go. This continued for two years until a protocol agreement was reached with these teachers. The Catholic Education Agency in Kumbo Diocese continues to owe fabulous sums of money to both current and former teachers for the 1992/1993 and 1993/1994 School Years.

The inability to pay teachers’ salaries was coupled with the unavoidable failure to pay contributions on behalf of the teachers to the National Social Insurance Fund. As a result, the Agency has accumulated huge debts, both contributions and penalties, with the Fund. The Diocese has been molested time and again, irrespective of the fact that State subventions have not been paid for the period concerned. Efforts are being made to clear the debs. The Catholic teacher continues to receive meagre salaries neither commensurate with his/her effort, sacrifice and dedication nor adequate to meet their needs.

This has caused untold suffering and pain to the Catholic teacher in particular and to the Private Education Agencies in general. Cameroon having attained the completion of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, the Catholic teacher would like to feel its rippling positive effect, as a teacher feels fulfilled when he/she receives a just wage and witnesses the progress of his/her pupils or students. Some of our teachers erroneously think that the Church is indifferent to their suffering. The Church, that is the voice of the voiceless, the strength of the weak, the wealth of the poor, the defender of the defenceless and the mother of all cannot afford to be indifferent to the pain and misery of teachers and their families!

That is why the Bishop of Kumbo leaves no stone unturned in search of a solution to the problems of the Catholic school and the Catholic teacher. On March 30, 2008 an educational process was launched in all the parishes of the Diocese of Kumbo, through which the Priests, Religious Men and Women, teachers, members of the Parents’ and Teachers’ Associations and the Education Commission, explained to Christian communities that Catholic schools belong to them and they are obliged to work tirelessly towards their survival. It is hoped that this sensitisation will make parents realise the need to pay fees and make other financial contributions to ensure the survival of Catholic schools and Catholic teachers.

The transparent managements of resources by administrators, is also indispensable. This will give a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment to both the teachers and the managers. Parents need to be reminded of their obligation to bring up their children in the Catholic faith. Convinced of this obligation, parents will be able to send their children to Catholic schools where this is guaranteed and pay higher fees to enable the Church to educate their children. The Catholic teacher has an enormous task to offer quality and faith-based education to their pupils. It is the duty of the Government to provide for the education of her citizens.

It is important to take note that although Government subvention to Private Education has dwindled and is not promptly disbursed, the Government always makes the effort to allocate it. We are close to the end of the 2007/2008 School Year and we have only received 71 percent of the subvention allocated for the 2006 Financial Year, to say nothing of the 2007 Financial Year! With the recent 15 percent increase in the salaries of civil servants, we hope that the Government will do well to increase the subvention package so that teachers of the Private Sector can be paid equal salaries with their counterparts in Government schools.

The Government teacher and the teacher of the Private Sector offer the same service to the State – educating the Cameroonian child. Is there any reason why Government teachers should be paid salaries about 5 times more than those of the teachers of the Private Sector? It is undeniable the Church runs schools for the purpose of evangelisation. This explains why the Church opens schools in the most remote areas of our country, places where those who run schools for the purpose of making profit would not go. We know that the Cameroon Government has made a lot of effort to bring education nearer to the people by opening schools in every community.

We also know that there are Government schools that do not have teachers because the few posted to remote schools spend most of their time chasing dossiers and salaries or running businesses in townships. The Catholic teacher, on the contrary, is very dedicated to his/her job in spite of the fact that they are not well paid. In dealing with teachers Priests need to function as pastors of souls, bearing in mind the fact that being called ‘Father’ does not only connote a title of respect, but a certain and conscious fatherly approach in dealing with the flock entrusted to their care. The Catholic teacher in particular, and every teacher who takes his/her job seriously, deserves to be congratulated on his/her careful, conscious and focused task of moulding consciences and raising responsible citizens and leaders of society.

We call on our Members of Parliament and the leaders of our country to give due and favourable attention to the cry of Private Education Agencies and to the teacher of the Private Sector and encourage him/her in his/her noble teaching profession!

April 24, 2008