Student loans in America is something my generation knows all too well. I don’t have a single friend in my circle who graduated from university without substantial student loan debt. But, at the very least, we have a bachelor’s degree of some kind to show for it. While undeniably the degree is not worth as much as it used to be in today’s job market it can still get you through a few doors, such as a position volunteering in the Peace Corps. I could no doubt write an entire post on the perceived vs. the actual value of an undergraduate degree in American society today, however, that is not what I would like to discuss.
I would like to instead ask the question that crossed my mind on my way into the post office. I was struck to consider the fact that many children I have met here in Cameroon have families taking out loans far more unfavorable than those we have at home only to send their children to primary school. Take a look at the flyers I came upon today while visiting retrieving a package at the post office.
For many these are the only options available to you if you cannot front the costs for the new school year fees and as you can see from the flyer making up a file to even be considered for a loan is no easy task, insurance policies, proof of your honor, bank account statements if you even have a bank account, etc. Even if you are lucky enough to complete the application process and be selected for a loan, you are still staring down some very unfavorable interest rates and the reality of when/if you cannot pay it back it will all have been for nothing, because you will not be allowed to go onto complete your education in further years. Because you see, all of these loans are on a fixed one year term giving you the Cameroonian equivalent of a ‘payday loan store’. These loans in my opinion are very unapologetically not helping out anyone aside from the ones making and collecting the loans.
I can only imagine what it would be like to have to choose between taking out one of these types of loans or not being able to send a child to primary school. At least in the United States when it comes time to size up the advantages and disadvantages of student loans the student already has a solid basic educational foundation.
So now it comes time for me to ask myself what can be done to change this here in Cameroon. Granted this is not a problem that is unique to Cameroon, it in fact happens all over Africa and all over the world for that matter. So what are other countries doing to address this problem? Who else among us sees this as problem that needs to be addressed? These are just some of the developmental questions I seem to find myself asking in the course of an average day or a trip to the post office.