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  • Akaba James, The Open Dreams Team

Education for Sustainability - the YALI MDAO Project

“If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. ” ― Confucius

Under the umbrella of Open Dreams and the Cameroon TEA Alumni Network, I was part of a panel of NGO representatives and community leaders to talk 'Education for Sustainable Development' at the Mission Driven Alumni Outreach (MDAO) Fair, Yaounde-Cameroon, from the 13th to the 15th of September, 2018.

The Education for Sustainable Development Panel

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" Chinese Proverb

The MDAO project titled Connect- Inspire- Impact: Nursing the Next Generation of Cameroon Leaders is a U.S. Government funded project through the U.S. Embassy Yaounde to the Mandela Washington Fellows Cameroon (MWF-C) Association. Amongst others, the purpose of the project was to train and mentor young leaders for effective community engagement.

Minutes before the kick - off of the program [I am sandwiched by Feka Parchibell of Hope for the vulnerable (HOVO) and Ako Tambe - both of them fellow Fulbright TEA Exchange Alumni]

'One Child, One Teacher, One Pen And One Book Can Change The World' - MALALA YOUSAFZAI

For three days running, we engaged with students and the public, evaluating the grounds Cameroon has covered with focus on Education for Sustainable Development, 60 years after independence and how we can reform the Educational System (challenging some existing beliefs) in order to empower graduates to better address economic development and technology, alleviate poverty, enhance peace, democracy and stability, care for the environment and to assume full responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Sustainable education should give long-life skills.

The suggested reforms in the Cameroonian system is the elimination of Diplomas in our mainstream programs - e.g. Graduates from ENS, ENAM, Ex-CUSS etc after a rigorous academic program are awarded Diplomas. This breeds confusion in the academic world in terms of equivalence - some call it degrees, others do not and this stagnates people from moving forward academically as opportunities show up, as they find themselves ineligible for programs with well-defined academic certificates. Diplomas are supposed to be for short programs or for those who did not pass the GCE Advanced level but had to do an extra year at a higher institution of learning to qualify. In our Universities, a little addition to the academic content to enable students graduate with degrees in their field of specialization as a full packaged program is necessary! Instead of instituting a Masters I and Masters II program, it should be lumped up into a full package Masters Program so students can go through without hitches along the way. Same with the "Doctorate de troisieme Cycle", this needs to be eliminated and a clear pathway to a full PhD program created (Doctorat d'etat). I know the LMD or BMD program was introduced to address this but how successful has it been?

Break time discussions

Human capital is considered to be one of the most important elements for sustainable development. Hence, creating environments where people can learn better and apply innovative ideas, acquire new competencies, develop skills, behaviors and attitudes is essential to the development of any country. Cameroon spends a significant amount of its GDP on education but still has a very big problem of sustainability - remember the 25,000 jobs launched in 2011 on real market-demands? Many graduates could not fit in. Our schools prepare us for certificates and government jobs - it is more about qualification than what you can do. We are equally very slow as a nation with technology. Research institutions are under-resourced and lack depth and continuity. Research data-coordination and publication online presence are very poor. We have great hospitals but many would want to be treated abroad if they had a chance. We have got engineering schools but Chinese are all over our streets doing the jobs, and we pay high for foreign services, in place of building local and sustainable capacities and diverting more resources into projects than high salaries for foreign experts.

Fulbright TEA Alumnus and Community Activist, Ndifor Richard, provokes a discussion point while Cameroon TEA Association President, Philip Nteta looks keenly

How do we educate for sustainability in order to break the poverty cycle? Go into our classrooms and they are rich with the best brains - but move into our streets and you are welcome by potholes everywhere! Where do those brains go to when they leave the classroom and how can we build roads which can last, and free resources for other development initiatives? You remember the grandstand build to host the university games at the University of Bamenda collapsed days after the event ended? How do we move from make-shift projects to lasting ones? Look at some developed countries and they look ready-made? Where were we when they were developing this much? Cameroon is blessed with French and English, the top languages in the world - how well are we using this blessing to take good advantage of opportunities and enhance sustainability of our economy? Talk about football and we are good at it - how can we also be indomitable in sustainability?

The Team of students who represented Cameroon in the last Robotics Competition in the USA demonstrates at the event

How productive is politics? The huge amounts of money spent on politics (misplaced priorities) could be diverted into scholarships for those who really do well in school but lack the money to proceed into the universities; the money could be used to create more development-oriented programs in our universities to empower the people who build the nation. And what about the billions spent on war, when simple dialogue could lay to rest the problem? Why would a nation want to sustain a war on its people in place of sustaining development?

The civil service is bloated and the increasing external borrowing rate by the government is alarming - a clear indication that policies on sustainability are not working! If education cannot get us out of poverty and enable us to tackle problems with reason, then what purpose does it serve? There are fewer development options for nations with low skills and high levels of illiteracy. Education is central to improving quality of life and raising economic standards and the respect of diversity and every individual, the upholding of human rights and peaceful cohabitation.

What difference are you making? Each of these people from Feka Parchibell, Acha Leke to the end, have a successful story of community engagement, building the community we want!

If you education is to get a certificate - wrong! If it is to get skills first to make you a problem solver - fine! This way, the country can rely on you for entrepreneurship and development initiatives which boost the economy. This way, there is hope for sustainability.

Build your capacities- develop yourselves - ask what you can do for your nation. Do not only go for 'concours' or competitive entrance exams - they keep you within the box!

The Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) Stand at the Fair, where we provide details on the program and exhibit our different works in the field

As part of the Cameroon TEA Alumni Network, we had a stand which many people visited and discussed with us on how to benefit from the US State Department sponsored programs and also how to engage with the community to make a difference in service.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela

The Challenges over 300,000 students face were equally topical - these students are not able to go to school due to the degenerating political crises which is now an armed conflict. We discussed ways we could help out at the individual level in the stalemate. We continue to seek windows of opportunities we can put in our best to support our students while equally prioritizing safety in an uncertain atmosphere, which affects roughly 20% of the country. It is note-worthy that in the rest of Cameroon (the French-Speaking part), it is business as usual and schools are going on.

A warm handshake with the Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy, Yaounde

A micro-project submitted under the title , "Facing the Future: Education at all cost" was approved for sponsorship. It entails rallying community voices of parents, students to call the authorities to reason, so they can prioritize education and hence seek lasting peace through dialogue.

The Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, Yaounde poses with US Government Alumni whose micro-projects were selected for sponsorship.

Our thanks to the President of the Cameroon TEA Alumni Association, Philip Nteta, the Mandela-Washington Fellows - Cameroon and the US Embassy, Cameroon

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