The disgruntled teachers who became part of a movement known simply as OTS continue to express their dissatisfaction following their meeting with the Minister of Education.
Teachers who downed their chalks at the start of this academic year to protest against poor working conditions say they remain fixed on the strike action, despite the government stating that most of their demands have been met.
The teachers are inviting their colleagues nationwide to join the industrial action aimed at advocating for better working conditions.
Rallying under a movement called On a Trop Supporter (OTS), both primary and secondary school teachers have tabled a myriad of grievances to the government.
Among these grievances are poor working conditions, including overcrowded classrooms and inadequate teaching materials; low salaries and lack of proper integration for new teachers.
The teachers, who have been striking since last year, have also been asking for family and housing allowances and are blaming the government for failing to implement agreements made with them during last year’s strike.
Representatives of the teachers trade union expressed their grievances after attending a press conference on September 28, attended by seven cabinet Ministers, including the Minister of Secondary Education, Prof Nalova Lyonga, and the Minister of Basic Education, Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa.
“We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens,” said one of the teachers.
“We deserve better working conditions and better salaries. We are the ones who are educating Cameroon’s future leaders.”
Another teacher explained: “We are striking because we have no other choice. The government has been ignoring our demands for too long. We are simply asking for what we deserve.”
“We are tired of empty promises from the government. We want to see concrete action taken to address our grievances.”
The teachers say they cannot provide quality education to learners if they are not satisfied.
“We are striking for the sake of our students. We want to be able to provide them with a quality education. But we cannot do that if we are not properly compensated and supported,” one of the teachers said.
Gov’t Says Grievances Have Been Met
The government shares a contradictory view concerning the grievances the teachers are insisting on.
During the press conference that was held at the conference room of the Ministry of Communication, the Ministers of Basic and Secondary Education enumerated several measures the government has taken since last year to improve on the teachers’ working conditions.
Prof Nalova Lyonga said the Ministry of Secondary Education has spent FCFA 58 billion since 2022 to regularize the situation of 21,102 teachers.
“The scheduled payment of arrears has been completed at 100 percent, worth 47,112, 791. A hundred percent of people who were receiving two-thirds of their salaries are today receiving their complete salaries,” Minister Nalova Lyonga said.
She added that 9,925 housing allowances have been paid for secondary school teachers, and 169,463 advancement decisions for over 79,441 teachers have been validated.
In the Basic Education sector, Minister Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa said they are looking into housing and family allowances for 13,587 contract teachers, with FCFA 4.3 billion having been paid out of the total amount of FCFA 16.3 billion.
“We are doing our best to address the teachers’ grievances,” said Nalova Lyonga.
“However, we must also be mindful of the government’s overall financial situation. We cannot afford to give the teachers everything they are asking for.”
The teachers’ strike has disrupted the education of thousands of students across Cameroon one month into the 2023/2024 school year.
The government has repeatedly appealed to them to return to work but the calls have been ignored as more teachers have been joining the strike.
The Minister of Labor and Social Security, Gregoire Owona, said the government will continue to dialogue with the teachers to permanently resolve their worries.
He said he met with them earlier this September after they called for the ongoing strike action and that they will be meeting again in the days ahead.
The teachers’ strike is another major challenge to education in Cameroon, as the government struggles to ensure effective school resumption in the North West and South West Regions, which have suffered school boycotts for years due to armed conflict.
Minister Nalova’s Remarks Enrage Teachers
Some of the teachers who left the September 28 press conference were enraged by comments from the Minister of Secondary Education.
This was after the Minister bragged that she attended the press conference out of her “humble wish”.
“It is out of my humble wish that I even accept to sit down with you trade union teachers to talk on your grievances,” said Minister Nalova Lyonga.
She also warned that teachers who have not been in classrooms or consistent in their job will be sorted out and severely punished.
The comment was a bitter pill for some of the teachers to swallow.
“How can a Minister who is supposed to listen to the worries of her workers instead come out to threaten them in the midst of a crisis? What kind of Minister is she even?” questioned Ngwa Ferdinand, government school teacher.
Vernyuy Julius, another teacher, wondered: “Is the minister even aware of the gravity of things right now? Her warning will instead contribute in aggravating the situation. What happens to the future of those youths in classrooms?”