The financing of secondary education in Mezam Division, North West Province, Cameroon : an uneasy partnership between family and state
The government of Cameroon like that of many Sub-S aharan African countries is faced with dwindling revenues and cannot provide the required fmances for the education sector. Since many other developing countries are facing similar fmancial constraints, policy options have been proposed for the recovery of costs as a way of revitalizing and improving the quality of education in these countries. The introduction of user charges is one of the more prominent options that applies to all levels of education. In light of the educational financing situation in Cameroon, this study sets out to assess the possibility of implementing this option. It therefore seeks to analyze how secondary schools are fmanced and to measure private direct costs of secondary education so as to determine parental willingness to spend on schooling. A household and a school survey were conducted in Mezam Division of the North West Province of Cameroon. 335 households in urban and rural areas were involved in the household survey, while 16 principals and 750 students, selected from 16 secondary schools, took part in the school survey. Results from these surveys indicate that in government secondary schools, although tuition is provided free, parents are obliged to meet the costs of books and uniforms. Moreover, because government funding is inadequate, by default, parents are obliged to contribute further towards the provision of additional facilities in these schools through the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Thus parents incur substantial costs for their children's education, in relation to household income and Gross National per Capita Income. The study also reveals that in the private educational sector, fees and other parental contributions, including PTA levies, form an important source of finance for secondary schools. Parents of government school students value the education of their children highly, and therefore indicated willingness to pay more, even though they already incur substantial costs. The findings further indicate that willingness to pay will be increased if the quality of education is improved. However, ability to pay is related to family income and number of children, which have important implications for equity which are discussed in the thesis. Finally the study reveals that the highly centralized financing policy and practice in government secondary schools does not take into account the fmancial capacity of communities and private individuals sufficiently. The thesis argues that, in order to improve access, quality and efficiency of educational provision, an appropriate cost-sharing strategy needs to be developed to finance government secondary schools, with provision of scholarships or other selective assistance to the most needy. The thesis suggests further that, efforts be made to explore parental willingness and the inherent self help tradition of the people, by encouraging local management and fmancing of schools. Hence support from individual users and contributions from local communities through Parent-Teacher-Associations should be actively solicited. It also suggests that the decentralization of educational management of schools will go a long way towards enhancing educational quality and efficiency. This will require some adjustments to the existing financing structures, and changes in the regulation and management of the education system. The successful implementation of these recommendations require immense political will on the part of the policy makers.