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Teachers hit out at Gabon government

27 November 2013, 20:11

Libreville - Classrooms stuffed with 100 students, teachers striking over woeful pay and pupils taking to the streets in protest: Gabon's education system is far from top of the class.

The government has temporarily shut public schools in the hope of containing protests that erupted when students returned for the new academic year in October, but the move has failed to cool a torrent of anger around the education system.

In mid-November, students in middle school (aged 11-15) and high school (15-18) united to support their striking teachers by joining them in demonstrations in the capital, Libreville.

Anti-riot police and university students also clashed in February over non-payment of bursaries.

"We are on strike here because our teachers are not being paid and we want to stick up for them," said Basile, a pupil at Lycee Technique Omar Bongo Ondimba -- named for the Gabonese president whose 42-year rule was tinged by accusations of rampant corruption, and whose son, current President Ali Bongo Ondimba, has faced similar charges from rights groups.

Protesters say poorly paid teaching posts have not seen wages increase over the years, while the cost of living keeps going up.

"Between 2002 and 2012, my salary hasn't risen at all despite the length of time I've served. Today, the government owes me millions of francs!" said Blaise, a high school teacher in Libreville.

Serious issues

Gabon's 13 000 schoolteachers are paid a base salary of 150 000 CFA francs per month (230 euros, $310), equivalent to the minimum wage, which is supposed to be padded out by allowances for housing and transport, and for seniority.

But those like Blaise are still waiting for the additional payments they are due each month - extra money desperately needed in a country where basic goods are comparatively expensive.

The government acknowledges its schools have some serious issues, but has yet to offer concrete solutions to end the impasse.

Marcel Libama, a trade unionist, told AFP the government of the oil-rich but deeply unequal country had not understood "the magnitude of the current crisis."

Presidential advisor Etienne Massard Makaga recently admitted during a live television debate that the education system had "some problems".

The advisor to Bongo - who took over from his father when he died in 2009 - also said Gabon "wasn't exactly getting top marks", referring to the 50% pass rate for the national baccalaureate exam, taken by pupils in the last year of school.

Teacher and part-time cleaner

Some Gabonese teachers do not even make minimum wage and have to go to extreme lengths to make ends meet.

"I've worked for the last eight years for 80 000 CFA francs per month, which they call a 'pre-salary', while waiting for a budget allocation" for a standard salary, said Anne-Marie Nkie Nsogo, who teaches at a pre-school in the capital.

"I have five children, and in order to pay for them to go to school I have taken on cleaning work. I do the ironing at people's homes, and sometimes I even barbeque food to sell by the side of the road," she said. "All the rest goes on rent."

And beyond the precarious existence of its teachers, the typical Gabonese classroom is in pretty poor shape itself.

Many buildings have lacked basic maintenance over the years, and there are often water and electricity shortages, pupils and teachers say.

"It finally got to the point where I had 120 pupils, some of them sat on the floor, others at the very back of the room," said Patrick, a science teacher in an overcrowded neighbourhood in the capital.

"When there are no textbooks, the students cannot even learn the same thing from one school to the next," said Clovis Mbend Nze, a high school Spanish teacher.

"I use books that I had at university, adapting them for the students, but they are 15 years old," he added. "Everyone makes it work, in their own way."



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