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The results of this year’s baccalaureate high school leaving exam were officially announced by the Chadian Prime Minister, Emmanuel Nadingar in August: only 9% of students had passed and 91% had failed. Nadingar’s announcement contradicted a previous announcement made by the President of the examination panel via radio on July 31st in which it was claimed that 27.63% of all candidates - 19,307 out of 69,919 - had passed. These terrible results are in stark contrast with those of other African countries which hold baccalaureate exams. Cameroon boasts a pass rate of 53.50%, for example, whilst Burkina Faso has a pass rate of 35.1%.
The baccalaureate is the exam which marks the end of secondary school and the beginning of higher education. Students take the examat the end of a seven year programme of secondary studies which spans ‘class 6’ to final year (Terminale). The baccalaureate is based on the French education system and is roughly equivalent to British A-level exams.
Following the announcement that the 2012 baccalaureate results had been partially withdrawn,the Minister of Higher Education in charge of organising the exams was removed from his position. The new Minister was tasked with organising a special resit that would help to improve the pass rate. This took place between the 2nd and 5th of October. As we await the results, the return to school for the academic year 2012-13 which was officially launched on October 2nd has been suspended, thereby cutting a month off the academic year.
How did we get to this point?
The Chadian education system: in a state of crisis
According to the United Nations Development Programme, just 36.5% of all children of school-going age are enrolled in school in Chad. This places Chad amongst one of the least advanced countries in this area, ranked 163rd by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics in 2010. Government spending on education represents just 2% of national GDP, which is one of the lowest levels in the world. In stark terms, just 10.4% of the State’s 2012 general budget was committed to education.
The disastrous baccalaureate results pushed the President of the Republic, Idriss Déby Itno to call for the organisation of the first ever Forum on the Chadian education system, which took place from the 10th to the 15th of September. In his opening speech, the President promised to double the budget allocated to teaching. Up to now the State has invested 150 billion FCFA ($300 million US dollars) in the education system. Starting from next year, this will rise to 300 billion ($600 million US dollars) - 20% of the national budget.
Given its starting point as one of the lowest ranking countries for education in the world, Chad has already made some important progress in school outreach in the last decade. Between 1998/99 and 2003/4, for example, there was a strong rise in school enrolments at all levels, with enrolments in primary schools rising from 70% to 88%. Idriss Déby Itno’s so-called ‘social’ five year term since 2006 has also been marked by extensive building and construction works; in the education sector he has prioritised repairs, new building work and the maintenance of school establishments as well as the improvement of teaching resources. Yet these efforts have ultimately constituted a stab in the dark since the proposed solutions, identified and pursued by those at the top, are disconnected from the growing demands of the sector itself.
The need for comprehensive reform
According to a document published in March 2012 by the four ministers in charge of education in Chad entitled, ‘Key assessments of education sector in Chad’, 80% of community based schools and public schools are located in rural areas where they welcome 67% of the national student population. These schools remain seriously under-resourced in terms of both infrastructure and access. Some schools have no classrooms and students take their lessons on the floor under straw covers or shelters made from millet stems. The teaching staff also lack crucial means for their work.
The poor infrastructure has generated problems of over-crowding in rural schools, some of which host 100 to 200 students per class. Picture it: you have three or four students sat at each table and others sat around it or standing up. Teachers struggle to give their lessons in these conditions.
Yet the problem is not just one of numbers and infrastructure. When it comes to the quality of teaching in Chad indicators are also poor, “this is due, in part, to the lack of qualified teachers”, explains Faïtchou Etienne, Minister of Primary and Civic Education. In Chad, uncertified community teachers (maîtres communautaires) and temporary staff (enseignants vacataires) make up 70% of the total workforce.
Abuses of power and responsibility
The chaos of the Chadian education system is the perfect recipe to encourage abuses of power and irresponsibility. A maths teacher I know took the baccalaureate four times without passing. In the end his father bought it for him and he was hired as a civil servant. He now teaches maths to secondary school classes and passes the young girls in return for sexual favours, and in return for cash from the boys. Without any training, and devoid of morals and respect for the teacher-student hierarchy which puts a barrier between the two parties, this young ‘professor’ is sadly not alone in such behaviour. The lack of opportunities to take legal action against such individuals does little to discourage this type of attitude. One young girl in her first year who was being harassed by her teacher, and refused to give in to his advances, had to turn to her brother. He went to threaten the school administration, causing a scandal so that the abuse would stop. She had to change school that year in order to be able to study in peace. It seems that many - like these men - embrace the career of teaching not for passion but because they have no other choice. What is worrying is that individuals like this do not appear to have any trouble getting places at official teaching centres.
One proposed solution to the poor teaching problem has recently been advocated by the President himself: “I call on the Government to amplify its efforts to improve teachers’ working conditions, orientation structures, equipment, teaching materials and to issue more political guidance on the matter.” Faïtchou Etienne has also made his promises: “my department is in the process of finalising a strategy which foresees a huge teacher recruitment drive in Écoles normales d'instituteurs (teacher training colleges for primary schools) and Écoles normales supérieures (higher teacher training schools) coupled with the continued vocational training of community teachers”. These efforts should be welcomed, but they will not solve all the problems; they will not solve the educational crisis currently facing Chad.
From the conditions outlined above it is evident that the reorganisation of the baccalaureate exam is no solution to the educational crisis; it is akin sweeping a whole host of issues under the carpet. We need to re-examine the whole education system, encouraging all those involved to wake up and take stock. The government should focus its efforts on identifying and tackling the root issues of the situation. Without this, the already very low level - and the abuses of power it gives rise to - will continue to soar to the detriment of our country’s development.
This article has been translated from the French original by Jennifer Allsopp