Cameroon Tries to Balance Education, Tradition

Cameroon Tries to Balance Education, Tradition


Cameroon is reaching out to children of the Baka Tribe, trying to get them to pursue education without forsaking their tribal traditions.

Almost all Baka children who enroll in primary school leave before advancing to the secondary level. A number of factors contribute to inadequate education for the Baka people, including poverty, discrimination and an ill-adapted educational policy.

Of the 30 Baka children who initially enrolled in 2014 at one school, only one remains. The others dropped out to join their parents in their traditional Baka hunter-gatherer role.

David Angoula, a Baka parent whose two sons left school to pursue this traditional role, notes that the Baka pygmies learn important lessons in the forest as part of a tradition handed down from their ancestors. “We go to the forest to look for food,” Angoula explains. “Our parents left us a school in the forest, and it is that school that parents have to show their children so that they don’t forget their ancestors’ culture. What matters to the Baka is the present. The past and the future does not matter.”

There are nearly 30,000 Baka hunter-gatherers living in the thick forests in the southeast region of the country. They depend on wild fruits, honey, tubers and game for their livelihood.

“The forest is our home,” explains 58-year-old Dominique Ngola of the Salapumbe community in Cameroon’s East Region. “It provides us with everything we need: the good air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medicinal herbs that keep us healthy. It is our pharmacy.”

Still, the Baka are aware that for them to survive in a fast-changing world, they need to acquaint themselves with modern education. But keeping children in school is a huge challenge for people who forage for food and medicine.

“We have had a lot of propositions coming from many different actors: government ministries, organizations, the Baka themselves, and among the recommendations are first and foremost, using the Baka language in school,” said education consultant Sarah Tucker. Currently, most classes are taught in French.

“There is endless literature and information that confirms that the best way for students to learn is to learn first in their local language,” she said. “Also adapting the school calendar to the Baka traditional calendar; this means not teaching around January and December for instance — that involves students going with their parents and spending weeks in the forest.”

Teaching Baka children, she said, needs to include using more games, activities and hands-on lessons “because that is what Baka students love doing most.”