In 1999, approximately 81 percent of adult men fifteen years of age or older were estimated to be literate, as were almost 69 percent of adult women. This represented a significant improvement over conditions in 1995, when only about 63 percent of the Cameroonian population was estimated to be literate—approximately 75 percent of adult men and a little more than 52 percent women, based on UNESCO data. In 1995, Cameroon had had about 2.7 million adult illiterates, two-thirds of whom were women.
School enrollment rates for the late 1990s were not regularly recorded, making educational planning and evaluation considerably more difficult for government workers and educational specialists. The Government of the Republic of Cameroon estimated there were about two million students in primary and secondary schools in the year 2000, plus about thirty-five thousand tertiary students. Parallel English- and French-style school systems existed in the country, since national education plans for integrating students from the two main European language communities (the official languages of the country) were rather slow to be developed and implemented. Although school enrollment rates in Cameroon for basic education in the early 1980s had been among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, attendance and graduation rates dropped markedly by the late 1990s. School enrollment rates decreased significantly as economic crises struck the country in 1985 and government funding was sharply cut for the education sector over the next few years.
School attendance for girls in Cameroon has been considerably lower, on average, than for boys, due to a variety of factors. The reasons for this gender disparity include the traditional undervaluing of formal education for girls among certain ethnic and religious groups and also sexual harassment of girls by male teachers and professors, a significant number of whom have demanded sexual favors of their female pupils and students, leading to a reluctance among many girls to attend school and an unwillingness of family members to send their daughters to school. In the 1990s significant World Bank support for education in Cameroon was directed toward increasing school participation rates for girls.
French and English are the official languages of instruction in Cameroonian public schools, although by fiscal year 2001-2002, efforts were being made to encourage the use of both French and English in the higher education institutes, to promote a sense of national unity and integration among university students, professors, and ultimately, the entire workforce trained through these institutions. The need to develop new textbooks, teaching approaches, educational programs, and course curricula relevant to Cameroon's diverse population was highlighted beginning in the 1990s in the World Bank's project reports. As of 1995, most textbooks used in Cameroon were produced outside the country. Cameroonians wrote just 28.6 percent of the 39 texts used in French-speaking primary schools. The picture was the same for English-speaking schools, where Cameroonians wrote 28.7 percent of the 51 texts listed for use in primary schools. Additionally, efforts to provide Cameroonian students, especially at the higher education level, with education on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS increased after the turn of the millennium, with the June 2001 program report of Prime Minister Musonge to the National Assembly specifically referencing the need to reinforce medical training at the university level with assistance for information, educational, and communications activities related to these diseases, whose destructive effects were ravaging Cameroon, vastly increasing infant and child mortality rates, and diminishing the life expectancy of the general population in the country.
While training students in the use of computers, the Internet, and other high-technology learning tools, including distance learning, began to be prioritized in national educational planning by the end of the 1990s, the number of personal computers in Cameroon was quite small—only 27 computers per ten thousand persons in 1999. Significant economic resources will be needed to improve the level of computer training and the availability of high-technology-oriented courses in Cameroon's schools.
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