At SODEI we believe in the power of education as the key instrument to unlocking the potential of the younger generation and the vehicle for driving peace and sustainable development in local communities. We believe in fostering the goals of ‘Education for All’ aimed at meeting the learning needs of children, youths and adults. Access to education has been seriously affected due the conflict and poverty in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon.
We believe in the fundamental right of every child to access to education as a vital component for realising their full potential and their development; to be able to play an active role in the communities in which they live. We believe educational opportunities will guide children and youths towards making informed choices, removing them from crime and violence, and radicalisation.
We strongly believe in the importance of access to education in all circumstances including in times of conflict. We believe in promoting the respect to the right to access education during conflict times, especially for children, girls and boys, and the importance for all actors to work towards protecting this right.
We believe in the power of education in transforming lives and combating poverty. We work towards guiding youths towards self-reliance and independence. In so doing we prioritise vocational and technical training. We also value the importance of recreational activities in building self-esteem, healthy relationships with other members of the community.
We see the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 as a useful guide towards transformation and achieving the goals of youth emergence and development in an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence among communities.
Benefits of Education
- Education is the foundation of social and economic development
- Education is a crucial investment in the push towards world freedom
- Education is the key to unlocking freedom to the people
- Educations presents a plethora of benefits to communities stricken by violence, crime and radicalisation.
- Education is a sustainable means to alleviate poverty and encouraging lasting change.
- Education offers youths self-reliance
- Education is the best weapon against impoverishment, disease, prostitution, early marriage, gang activities, crime, violence and radicalisation.
- Educations offers youths a better chance of combatting these issues and gives them a better chance of building a positive path in life.
- Moreover, education teaches youths social studies, geography and history, all subjects which present youths with a better cross-cultural understanding which in turn can present a first step in conflict resolution.
Challenges to Education
- Lack of financial support
- Lack of qualified teachers
- Lack of resource materials
- Low university admission capacity
- Corruption, indiscipline and fraud
- Poor living standards
- Bad governance
- Politicisation of education
Supportive charities like SODEI can provide communities with essential support, such as essential learning materials, and financial support, without which many youths feel pressured into jobs to support their families, allowing youths better access to education and all its benefits.
The state of children and their right to education in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon
Since late 2016, socio-political tensions have been rocking the North West and South West regions, the two English speaking regions of Cameroon. Unfortunately, these tensions have deteriorated and escalated to a crisis which has resulted in the loss of lives, heightened insecurity, thousands of refugees in neighboring Nigeria and thousands more internally displaced, loss of livelihoods and violence among other vicious consequences. According to latest United Nations estimates, 1,800 people have been killed and over 500,000 displaced since 2017. The humanitarian situation in these regions has also deteriorated fast leaving children more exposed and ultimately the most affected in all the group of victims. The focus of the available humanitarian response is hardly education even though most victims are women and children. Concerns for children in these troubled regions include security, physical and mental well-being and access to education.
Education has a vital role to play in the adoption of strategies that reduce risks of conflict and create a culture of peace and resilience. Every child has the right to education but that is more than can be said for every child in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. For the last three years, students in the English – speaking regions have hardly had a full uninterrupted school year. From an imposed ghost town every Monday to spontaneous shutdowns which have sometimes lasted 10 days, an already prejudiced system of education can hardly thrive. Education in these regions has suffered a terrible blow with the shutdown or even burning of schools, the targeting of schools by armed persons, kidnapping of students and speculations of the cancellation of the academic year due to the time lost. UNICEF has recently estimated that up to 80% of schools in the southwest and northwest regions have been closed affecting more than 600,000 children. The situation is even more precarious for those children whose parents have lost their livelihoods and or are in a situation of involuntary displacement, causing serious financial constraints and thereby putting a ceiling over the rights of many children to education.
Even before the crisis began, the problem of the children in these regions as regards education was compounded by exclusion probably as a result of limited means and or a false perception that formal education is not imperative for success. This problem has been exacerbated by the witnessing of traumatic events like the destruction of homes and schools as well as further exposure to undesirable situations such as homelessness, poverty, sexual exploitation, abuse and trafficking. The girl child is on the receiving end of the worse of these effects.
All of this points to the fact that, society has failed children and young people and it is our collective responsibility to correct this.
The role of SODEI in securing the right to education for children in the troubled regions.
SODEI was born out of the need to contribute to a society where children and young people have equal access to education and participate in building a society where they can grow up happy, healthy and confident of a bright future. SODEI is committed to putting children’s rights and well-being and their equal access to education at the core of all their work. To do this SODEI aims to promote the rights and well-being of children and young people in Cameroon through education and participation. Through a mentoring programme, SODEI is empowering children and young people with supplementary education to facilitate the acquisition of skills. Putting children and young people’s rights and well-being at the forefront of policy in partnership with other civil society organizations and government resources has been a primary focus. Educating young people on Sustainable Development Goals concerning youth and education and how they as beneficiaries can be involved, help to make these goals a reality in their communities.
Most importantly, giving a voice to children and young people through the creation of community resource centers in various cities in Cameroon, like the one in currently operated by SODEI in Limbe which has after-school, computer literacy and mentorship programmes. One other very important focus of the work of SODEI is changing the way society views and treats young people especially women and girls through empowerment programs which educate on taboo subjects like menstrual hygiene and designing programmes aimed at especially empowering the young girl in her ability to make responsible choices and be a more active member of her society.
What still needs to be done: Moving forward
All Cameroonians are equal by virtue of the constitution and thus the right of every child to a sound education should be respected. No one should be left behind. It is alarming to think that a child in a village somewhere has just spent three years without going to school when they have the right to education. That is a sure way to jeopardize their future. As a new academic year approaches, parents and children in the North West and South West regions are still uncertain of what will be. Children need an enabling environment to profit fully from their right to education. This signifies access, safety and equality for all. It is incontestable that when children and youth develop literacy skills, they improve not only their own economic and prospects and personal development, but also that of their families, communities, and countries.
According to Allegra Baiocchi, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Cameroon, in a recent interview with the ‘Education Cannot Wait Fund’, it is the responsibility of the humanitarian community and by extension the civil society to protect children’s right to education and to get these kids back on track with their learning”.
Facts on the right to education for children and young people
What is the right to education?
Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment. To have the right to education means that one’s education (formal and informal) is legally guaranteed, that no discrimination will cause an impediment to the right and that a State can be held accountable if someone’s right to education is hampered. Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children and young people have the right to education regardless of their identity, race, gender or disability; if they’re in detention, or if they’re a refugee.
Children and young people have the right to both primary and secondary education, and should be able to choose different subjects when in secondary school. This should include the option of technical and vocational training.
Statistics on children’s lack of access to education
According to UNICEF, factors such conflict, gender, location, disability and socioeconomic status exclude 263 million young people from school and deny them a chance to reach their full potential.
- 63 million children of primary school age (typically aged 6-11 years) are not in school.
- 61 million adolescents of lower secondary school (typically aged 12-14) are not in school.
- Adolescents of upper secondary school age, from 15-17 years, make up the largest group of those out of school. About 139 million (53 per cent of the total) are not in school.
- More than one half of all out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan Africa.
- 50 per cent of children who are out of school are girls.
- Nearly 1 in 4 of out-of-school children live in crises-affected countries.
Why is the right to education for children and young people important?
Education plays an important role for a child’s development and empowerment. It is a sustainable means of po
verty alleviation and the vehicle for driving peace, tolerance and sustainable development. Education is beneficial both to the children and the societies in which they live.
Which international treaties guarantee children’s right to education?
The right to education can be found in many international human rights treaties. The right to education is enshrined in the 1948 UDHR (a milestone document in the history of human rights). The Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the most ratified international treaty (with 191 state parties), specifically protects children and provides for children’s right to education. Other international instruments that guarantee the right to education for children include:
- UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education.
- International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Other non-binding declarations and international policy framework on the right to education include:
- The World Declaration on Education for All.
- The Dakar Framework for Action: Education for All.
- The UN General Assembly Resolution on the Right to Education in Emergency Situations.
- The Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of the 2030 Agenda.
Who guarantees children’s right to education?
States have a legal obligation to:
- Guarantee free and compulsory access to primary education to all children without discrimination.
- Make secondary education available and accessible for children with the possibility of choosing between general and vocational education.
- Take measures to progressively provide for free secondary education and offering financial assistance in case of need.
What must governments do to guarantee the right to education for children?
Obligations under the right to education have been categorized under the 4As: Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability and Adaptability.
Governments must guarantee that education is:
- Available: Education is free for every child and there are adequate materials, classrooms, trained teachers and so on – to support delivery.
- Accessible: The education system is not discriminatory and accessible to all including disabled children and must be affordable for all children.
- Acceptable: Education must be of a high quality and include relevant information that is appropriate. Schools are safe and teachers practice professionalism.
- Adaptable: Schools and school systems must be suitable for the communities they serve.
What must governments do to support children in education?
– Take measures to encourage school attendance and reduce drop-out rates.
– Make sure children are not bullied in school.
– Ensure that punishment that amounts to violence against children in school is eliminated.
Does the right to education apply during emergencies?
Children’s rights instruments as well as other international human rights apply in times of peace as well as in situations of emergency. While the realisation of some civil and political rights may be limited during situations declared national emergency, this is not the case with the right to education.
Who has obligations to guarantee Children’s rights to education during armed conflict?
Governments as well non-state actors have obligations under international humanitarian law during situations of armed conflict. These obligations include among others, the non-target of civilians and civilian objects, which invariably includes school children and school infrastructure. During these times, Governments are not relieved of their obligation to guarantee the right to education but additionally third parties like Humanitarian contingencies must include education as part of the relief services for persons affected by armed conflicts.
Values of Education for Children and Young People
“Education should help children and young people care for the world”
The right to education under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) establishes a foundation for children’s rights and responsibility towards others. This is can be seen in the way the CRC defines the right to education in articles 28 and 29. While article 28 defines children’s right to access to education, article 29 outlines the purposes of education for children and young people. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) provides for rights as well as responsibilities for children and young people. They have responsibilities towards their families, society and the state.
According article 29 of the CRC, children have the right to education which develops their personality, skills, respect for others, respect for human rights and the environment. This provision not only adds a qualitative dimension to the right to education under Article 28 by making education a matter of values as it is of access, but also insists on the need for education to be empowering.
According to Article 29, children’s and young people’s education should help develop their minds, talents, mental and physical abilities. It should also lead to the development of respect for other people, for human rights and the environment. According to African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), education should also be directed towards ‘the preservation and strengthening of positive African morals, traditional values and cultures’. Education should prepare the child for a responsible life in the spirit of understanding, peace and tolerance; a life of harmony and friendship with people from different sexes, ethnicity, religious background, etc.
“Education should help children and young people care for the word” (CYP Commissioner, Scotland)
In line with the CRC provisions, education should lead to children and young people’s development of respect for the following:
- Their rights and the rights of others.
- Respect for parents.
- Respect for cultural identity, language and values.
- Respect for national values in countries in which they live or the country from where they originate.
- Respect for the environment.
At SODEI we are guided by the spirit of the CRC and the ACRWC to inspire in the youth these values of love, respect, peace and solidarity. We do so through advocating for their rights to education, to be respected and involved in building just and equitable societies.
While education systems have a vital role in developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that enable children and young people to contribute to and benefit from an inclusive and sustainable future, and schools are facing a growing demand not only to prepare students for the rapid economic, environmental and social changes; they need to equip students with the necessary skills for becoming active, responsible and engaged citizens. In relation to this, SODEI aims to support initiatives around providing technical support in development of school curriculum and training package on child rights education.
The sustainable development agenda (particularly SDG 4) recognize young people as a driving force for development but only if they are provided with a set of 21st century skills and opportunities needed to reach their full potential, succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based global society, and become informed and active citizens. This, SODEI recognizes the critical role of education in reaching sustainable goals, calling on Cameroonian leadership to ensure, by 2030, that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills to promote sustainable development, including among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, equality, promotion of a culture of piece and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity.