The negative impact of Covid-19 on the Cameroonian economy, characterized before this pandemic by structural macro-vulnerability, is reflected in the contraction of the state budget and an adjustment of budgetary plans in favor of the health sector. One of the consequences is the reduction in financial resources devoted to education.
This perilous situation is likely to affect equity in access to quality education – especially since before the pandemic the diagnosis made within the framework of the development of the 2020-2030 strategy for the health sector. he education linked to sustainable development objective 4 already noted the insufficiency of resources, the limited share of these resources allocated to means likely to improve the quality of education and the considerable financial burden remaining to be borne by families. One of the consequences is the persistence of problems of geographic and socio-economic equity.
However, universal and equitable access to a quality education system is an imperative duty of the State, enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution, and embodied in all laws on education in Cameroon. It is also the backdrop for the international education agendas (SDGs, African Union Agenda 2063) to which the country has subscribed. How will the reduction in the budget allocated to it affect access to education? And how could the public authorities limit the harmful effects of this reduction?
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Risk of reduced access to education for vulnerable groups
The marginalization of learners from weak socio-economic strata could be the result of several scenarios. First, due to the fall in the budget devoted to education, public establishments, the main training segment for disadvantaged groups and with better territorial coverage, could reduce their reception capacities in order to preserve the quality of training. and apply social distancing measures.
Learners who have thus failed in the public sector could not access private establishments, due to their families’ inability to bear the high costs of access to these establishments (especially since these costs could, moreover, rise under the mechanical effect of the increase in demand for training now addressed to private establishments). This problem would arise especially for children residing in urban and peri-urban areas; in fact, those in rural areas have practically no alternative, due to the very low coverage of these areas by private establishments.
At the same time as this scenario, schools could also increase certain direct or indirect costs usually charged to parents, thus transferring to households a more or less important part of the funding previously provided by the State. In fact, we observe that in addition to school fees, establishments require various other expenses from households: membership of the parents’ association, purchase of a table-bench, reams of paper, computer equipment. , chalk boxes, etc. It is therefore to be feared that, in order to cope with the difficulties of the State, this type of expense will become more general and increase, beyond the capacities of certain households.
It is in this dynamic that, in the popular imagery in Cameroon, the abolition of school fees in public primary education, intervened in favor of decree n ° 2001/041 of February 10, 2001 on the system of schools public and fixing the attributions of the persons in charge of the school administration, is far from being translated by the free education of this level of education. On the contrary, school officials multiply the strategies to charge such and such expense to parents.
In the same vein, it should be noted that Cameroon has for some time put in place targeted educational policies in favor of education areas deemed to be priorities, due, for example, to the delay in education accused by host populations. In addition to these areas, there are those affected by insecurity due to Boko Haram attacks or the crisis in the English-speaking regions of the country. With the reduction in resources devoted to education, the attention paid by public authorities to these areas may wane.
Second, unequal access to technology, information and communication can act as a brake. Indeed, online or television teaching has become the main palliative in the face of the impossibility of face-to-face lessons. However, a good number of families in rural areas have neither Internet nor television access. Therefore, children from these backgrounds are kept out of education. The same goes for those who, although residing in cities, cannot afford the additional costs associated with the Internet connection which is essential for taking distance courses.
In addition, fiscal austerity linked to the response to Covid-19 could also be more damaging to girls than to boys. Indeed, under the combined effect of the mechanisms presented above and the reduction in household income linked to this health crisis, parents whose income is low and / or whose prejudices are unfavorable to women could decide to devote the resources available for the education of boys to the detriment of that of girls.
However, certain measures could make it possible to limit the magnitude of all these effects.
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Control of public expenditure and improvement of the allocation of the budget envelope
The drastic reduction in public revenue following the Covid-19 pandemic occurs in a context marked by various obstacles to the optimal mobilization of tax revenue.
The available resources should therefore be directed as a matter of priority towards priority sectors, in particular education.
In this sense, special attention must be paid to educational establishments located in disadvantaged socio-economic areas. Activities aimed at, at the very least, maintaining the current level of access to education should first figure among the priorities in the process of drawing up the part of the state budget relating to education. Thus, the credits allocated to these activities should be secured so that they cannot be granted elsewhere.
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The need for better regulation of the activity of schools
It is important to prevent schools from substantially increasing the education expenditure incumbent on parents. These control measures must especially be regular in the private sector, which could assimilate the influx of failed students from the public sector to a commercial windfall. These measures will also make it possible to further curb the potential increase in the number of illegal establishments.
Compliance with social distancing measures considerably reduces the reception capacity of the education system. The public authorities could consider, in addition to the construction of new administrative buildings, incentive measures aimed at the private sector for the provision of buildings likely to serve as an extension to schools. In the same vein, the public authorities could direct the social responsibility of companies more towards covering certain educational expenses in general, and those of rural and / or disadvantaged areas in particular.
Regarding the management of existing infrastructure, rotating several teaching groups in the same rooms significantly increases their capacity. However, this rotation of teaching groups may require an extension of the length of the school day and the school year in order to be able to complete the programs.
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The need for precise knowledge of the risk of regression in access to education
Access to and use in real time of satisfactory statistical information is at the heart of the success of public policies. This information avoids visual navigation and provides a credible basis for targeted interventions. From this perspective, it is important to have statistics on the risks associated with the decline in access to education following the Covid-19 pandemic.
This involves having complete and reliable information on, among other things, fragile households and their spatial distribution, the structure and relative weight of household education spending, the distribution of the school-age population, schools, the determinants of equitable access to education, etc. This control requires a clear improvement in the culture and production of quality statistical information. Therefore, it is also necessary to allocate and secure significant credits for the production of data.
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