Availability, Yes, But…

The recent declaration by the Minister of Trade as to the fact that prices for school textbooks have been kept under control and without any major hikes for the past ten years is quite plausible, but hardly are parents free from the scourge of spending huge sums of money at the beginning of each school year.

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The cycle of spending has begun in earnest as the countdown to the beginning of the next academic year has begun, bringing in its wake understandable worries. When our reporters went out a few days ago, they found that most bookshops were unusually well-stocked. This is something to celebrate indeed because, in the past, the availability of books, especially long before the start of classes, has never been easy. But it is not for that matter that one would easily sing alleluia. Parents are complaining about the multiplicity of books for the same subjects. In one case it was reported that there were as many as five books for one subject! The pinch here is that quite often some of these books are not even consulted during the entire year whereas access to class at the beginning of the year is pegged on the provision of all of the books indicated.

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Little wonder one often comes across nine or ten year olds crumbling under the very heavy weight of school textbooks on their way to school and quite often some of the books are stolen even without their knowledge. Evidently the high cost of such a heavy number of books is borne by the parents who, in the first place are often not even well prepared financially! Mind you, the minimum wage in Cameroon is in the region of FCFA 30 000 and findings made by our reporters on the field indicate that an average school bag with all the required books is obviously not within the reach of an ordinary worker. For example, textbooks for one Form One of the French Language sub-system cost about FCFA 82 000 and rise up to FCFA 112 000 for a Form Four student!

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the situation is simply distressing and as the new school year comes closer, parents get more and more frightened. One disturbing fact is that these selected books keep changing with each passing year making it difficult for parents to envisage handing down used books to younger siblings in the family. One can figure the unrest in families with many children at the moment. The present situation suggests a number of radical measures to address the issue with the need to reduce the number of obligatory books being the most urgent if parents should expert some form of relief. So the whole issue is not just about the availability of textbooks, but also about access to them.

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