Parents and students are starting to lose their patience with the ongoing teachers' strike.Many are beginning to indicate that if something is not done soon, they are likely to join the striking teachers.
Concern over the ongoing strike action by teachers affiliated with the OTS (On A Trop Supporter) movement is growing among parents in Cameroon. They want the government to act fast on the teachers’ demands to enable their children to return to school.
The OTS teachers’ strike that started last year resumed on September 4 as schools in the country reopened for the 2023–2024 school year.
For a month now, thousands of students in government schools in the French-speaking Regions of the country have been deprived of education due to the strike.
Teachers say they are poorly treated by the government.
Top among their demands are better working conditions and the payment of housing and family allowances and salary arrears, all estimated at FCFA 104 billion.
Parents whose children attend schools affected by the strike are contemplating withdrawing their children and enrolling them in schools that are not affected.
They are also asking the government to address the teachers’ concerns quickly for their children to resume lectures. Some parents are threatening to protest to exert pressure on the government to meet the teachers’ demands.
“I’m joining the strike to support the teachers and to demand that the government meet their demands,” said Chemaine Ngoufack, a parent whose child attends Lycée Bilingue Bonaberi Douala.
The school is among dozens of others across the country where lessons have been grounded due to the OTS strike.
“Our children deserve a good education, and that’s not possible if the teachers are not treated fairly,” Ngoufack added.
Paul Atangana, whose children attend Lycée de Nsam et Fouda, which has also been affected by the strike, says he will ask for a refund of his children’s school fees if the strike persists longer.
“It is not encouraging. We have spent a lot in registering our children. Will they refund us? Things cannot continue like this, the government should do something because it is now not only affecting our children but us too,” Atangana said.
Parents in Mora, in the Far North Region, also shared similar feelings.
“I am angry, very angry. I have spent a lot in the registrations of my children and since the beginning of the academic year they are unable to have effective classes because teachers are on strike and the government seems to be comfortable with it,” said Amadou Ibrahim.
Youssouf Ongoulo, also from the Far North, said: “I support the teachers in their strike. Though it is affecting our children, I still support it. It is not an easy job these teachers are doing and I think they need to be rewarded accordingly with what is rightfully theirs. The government is not fair pushing these teachers away.”
Many parents are disgusted at the slow pace with which the government is handling the OTS strike.
Some school administrators and government officials have also gone as far as threatening to suspend the salaries of teachers who are taking part in the strike as attempts to stop the protests continue to fail.
During a press conference last week, attended by seven cabinet ministers to address the strike, the Minister of Secondary Education, Prof. Nalova Lyonga, seemed to have added salt to injury when she threatened to sanction teachers who would be found wanting in their jobs.
At the press conference, the ministers took turns explaining what the government had done to address the protest since last year.
Minister Nalova Lyonga said MINESEC has spent FCFA 58 billion since 2022 to address the grievances of 21,102 teachers.
“The scheduled payment of arrears has been completed at 100 percent, worth 47,112,791 francs. A hundred percent of people who were receiving two-thirds of their salaries are today receiving complete salaries,” Secondary Education Minister Prof. Nalova Lyonga said.
She added that 9,925 housing allowances have been paid and 169,463 advancement decisions have been validated for over 79,441 teachers.
On the other hand, the Minister of Basic Education, Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, said his Ministry is looking into the housing and family allowances of 13,587 contract teachers. He said the Ministry has paid FCFA 4.3 billion for these allowances out of a total amount of 16.3 billion.
The Ministers said the government will continue dialoguing with the teachers to get them back into the classroom.
The protesting teachers are, however, showing no signs of returning to the classroom if their grievances are not resolved.
Students At The Crossroads
Those directly affected by the teachers’ strike are students who, for the past weeks, have been leaving their homes just to go meet empty classes.
Many of the students have been forcefully drawn into the strike action. Last year, after the strikes had persisted for several weeks, thousands of students from some schools in the country stormed the streets, asking the government to defend their right to education.
They are saying the same thing this year.
“I’m on strike because I want to have a future,” said Akono Giresse, a student at Government High School Nsam and Fouda. “I can’t have a future if I don’t get a good education.”
Another student from Government Bilingual High School, Bonaberi, said, “I’m on strike because I want to learn. I can’t learn when my teachers are on strike and the schools are technically closed.”
Thousands of students have missed classes for weeks now as the academic year enters its second month.