Dec 2021 – Feb 2022
Nanje Patrick Itarngoh
Hailing from Kumba, South West Cameroon, Nanje Patrick Itarngoh is an educator specializing in teaching physics. He is the fourth in his family among 8 children comprising of six sisters and a brother. His father was a military man who raised him to see life as a race from birth.He obtained a BSc in Physics from the University of Buea in 2016 and subsequently an MSc from the same institution in 2020 where he studied theoretical physics with an emphasis on Advanced Material and Sustainable Energy Development.
Patrick is an expert in e-learning using IT to enhance the understanding of basic concepts in physics. He has been designing and presenting distance education lessons at the Ministry of Education in physics since the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic and created ‘The Science Education Center Cameroon’, an organisation dedicated to the enhancement and advancement of science teaching and learning. The organisation instructs both students and teachers.
AGN: What insights can you share about the education system/landscape in Cameroon?
NPI: We have 2 systems here, i.e. Anglophone and Francophone. Our country comprises of 10 regions of which 8 are Francophone. The Anglophone education system is very rigorous so people from Francophone regions are also keen to study under it. The flare-up that occurred in 2016 was touched off due to changes in the education system and that resulted in teachers going on strike. Sadly, since then I would say approximately 80% of schools in Anglophone regions have not reopened.
AGN: What key improvements would you like to see applied to the education system?
NPI: Infrastructure is an area that could do with attention in order to expand what is available and reduce class sizes. 300 pupils in a 20 metres square classroom is far from ideal. Broadly speaking, we don’t lack schools on paper as there is reasonable coverage of schools across the country, however, quite a number are but schools in name as they lack sufficient or adequate facilities where science is concerned modern and well equipped labs need to be provided. The new curriculum emphasises equipping students with skills i.e. a ‘Competency Based Approach (CBA) to learning. This new basis is grounded in practical application so teachers need to have the necessary equipment to be able to demonstrate concepts and learning points and students also need to be able to apply what they have learnt in practice through provision of the necessary equipment in class.
We also need to look at recruitment of teachers. The current system is not robust enough in terms of ensuring those most qualified and capable are more likely to be selected to teach rather than those who are best able to work the system.
AGN: When did you discover you had a passion for science and why physics in particular?
NPI: While in my 2nd year of high school a teacher who had taught me in middle school gave me his notebook and asked me to teach my friends. When I asked why he simply said he had confidence in me and thought I would be good at doing so. I soon realized I had an aptitude for physics. Biology and chemistry were a struggle but not so physics. Some people thought I was mad and said ‘people are running away from physics but you are running towards it’. I could see why they would say that, speaking from their own perspective about physics rather than mine. My teacher saw the ability in me before I did and it is as a result of his guidance and to some extent fate, that I went on to pursue studying it academically.
AGN: Why did you decide to teach instead of going into industry or starting your own business?
NPI: Sadly my father passed away when I was in my final year of high school. This is what I was eluding too in my above comment about fate. His death had a detrimental effect on me and my family in so many ways as you would expect and one of those was financial. Due to the strain on my family I decided to become a teacher as I was confident I would do alright in the accreditation exam and that after 3 years I would be able to secure a teaching position that would enable me be a more supportive family member. After I began teaching I realized that I had a passion for it.
AGN: What Plans do you have for the future?
NPI: I would like to study for my PhD. I had to pause the existing programme I started because I found it was not aligned with my goals and interests. I want to focus on energy studies that are relevant to Cameroon and Africa in general. We have a power deficit here on the continent and this is something I would like to help address. It’s really a matter of finding the right course and time to resume on that path. This September I will be resuming a project called ‘The Science Education Centre, Cameroon’. It was derailed due to the upheaval the country has been facing. Earlier I highlighted the lack of equipment in our schools. There is also very low usage of ICT in our schooling system.
The project is focused on STEM subjects and it will provide a service that will train both educators and students on the use of ICT and how it can be incorporated into their processes and modes of learning in order to improve outcomes. It will also be demonstrating usage of different types of equipment and devices teachers are expected to cover in class but whom many would not have ever held or used before. It has a mobile arm that will visit other urban as well as rural areas in order to reach the more remote parts of the country.
AGN: What do you perceive your country’s key economic drivers to be?
NPI: I would say agriculture. We are in the top five of cocoa producers in the word. Given our size by land mass relative to smaller countries who are doing better in agricultural production and taking account of the poor security situation here, it is indicative of what things could be like if there was greater stability, adequate investment and well executed strategies being deployed in the country. Cameroon is known as Africa in miniature because many of the different conditions found across the
continent can be found here. This allows for a wide range of biodiversity and many things can be grown or
AGN: How do you see AfCFTA impacting Cameroon?
NPI: I feel it will be very beneficial. Imports can be very expensive here and while I understand there are economic arguments for setting import taxes, at times the way in which they are applied does raise concerns. As an example, importing vehicles directly into the country is very expensive, however, if they are brought in via a neighbouring country it becomes far more affordable. I don’t doubt that not everything about AfCFTA will be beneficial to the country. In principle I am in favour of freer movement of people, goods and services across the continent.
AGN: What role do you see education playing in your county’s development?
NPI: Good levels of education will of course have a bearing on how well we can maximize our resources if things were more settled. The country is projected to become an emergent economy by 2035. I believe more needs to be done in the area of STEM if we are to realise this. The latest results for GCE grades based on the Anglophone system puts things into perspective. In terms of physics, out of 12,400 results only 3,300 people passed. 2,000 of those achieved grade E. Only 64 students
achieved an A grade.
As a teacher I know how hard many of us work. It is not easy to process such results and it is indicative that far more needs to be done. Some people have been making the excuse that physics is hard and that is why pass rates are what they are. I don’t see that as being the case at all. I do understand physics is not for everyone but from what I see, the results do not suggest that those with the aptitude for it are having their needs met. Aside from direct government intervention some things need to be addressed more locally. Peer and family pressure is forcing students to study things they may not be best suited to. I highlighted my own situation and of course I don’t wish to criticise any of my parents.
My experience has made me more mindful of the pressure students can face due to parents who want careers that may not be best aligned with their child’s abilities or interests. It continues to result in some rather vigorous debates between certain parents and I. One parent revealed they would like their child to study science because they liked the look of the white lab coat on their neighbour’s child and wanted the same for their own. Such attitudes need to be challenged so that parents are more open to supporting and encouraging their children to follow a path they are best suited to rather than one their parents absolutely want them to follow at all costs.
Some children are very artistic however, there is a distinct lack of appreciation for the arts as a career in relation to professions such as becoming a lawyer, doctor or engineer. The economic expansion that a vibrant art scene would have on the country appears to be lost on many. Of course the self-development and self-actualization on an individual level is beyond priceless if art is what a student wishes to do and both the family and society as a whole are embracing of that.
AGN: What do you like to do in your spare time?
NPI: I enjoy playing the piano and jamming with friends and can be found doing so at church. I discovered I had a knack for playing it quite by chance around 2008. I had the opportunity to tinkle the keys and found I was good at remembering patterns. When I went to university I met other people who were interested in music and through this shared interest I was able to develop further. I have studied tutorials on music theory via the internet but have never attended a class. While I have a grasp of the theory I do not play as a result of reading sheet music. Instead I play by ear. If I am given a recording of a contemporary gospel or popular music song, after about 20 to 30 minutes I am often able to play a rendition of it. Like I said earlier it’s all about remembering patterns. Having said that I am not at the level of those classical prodigies you see who can play complex pieces shortly after hearing them just by ear. Such people have a gift that is beyond the next level. My faith and passion for music has led to me establishing a gospel music label. I now also produce music.
AGN: How would you describe your upbringing?
NPI: My father was a military man and this reflected in how I was raised. I grew in a very strict and disciplined home. He would often say “discipline is the key to success”. As a result of my upbringing discipline is of course very important to me. My father had the future of his children mapped out. My older brother went into the military as that is what my father wanted. Had he been alive when I finished high school I would have gone into the military too as that is what he wanted for me.
AGN: What was family life like when you were growing up?
NPI: Family is everything. Rarely is someone booted out of their family. Like everyone else we too have had our ups and downs but even so I know I can rely on mine and they know I am always there. As you are aware from my bio, most of my siblings are girls. My brother is the eldest and he was not around when I was younger so I spent more time with my sisters during my formative years. To be honest at times I felt like a bit of an outsider as I couldn’t participate in many of the things they did. They would exchange clothes and shoes and have a way of discussing things that seemed to have its own code – it was definitely not male inclusive, at least that is how it felt to me…
When my father died everything fell on my mum. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank her enough for all that she has done for me and my siblings.
AGN: You have mentioned you love helping people. What drives you to do so?
NPI: It is an internal compulsion. It feels right and good to see people doing well. Enabling young people advance themselves by developing a road-map that is aligned with their skills, desires and sensibilities and then seeing them realize that is very rewarding.
AGN: To round off. Why should people visit Cameroon.
NPI: I highly recommend people visiting. As mentioned earlier Cameroon is Africa in miniature. There are many wonderful things to see and experience here. The contrast in terrain is staggering, from rock formations and dense rainforests to white-sand beaches. Obviously one cannot leave out Mount Cameroon. as a place that is a must see!
Then there are the historical places of interest such as Bafut Palace and Foumban Palace to name but a few. For those who are into flora and fauna, I recommend our national parks such as Lobeke National Park where one can see a variety of primates as well as other animals (it contains one of the highest density of forest Elephants on the continent) and it also contains a dizzying array of plant life. These places are simply unmissable.
Previous ‘Personal Profile’ interviews are available here; archive
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