Going back to school a challenge to Tunisian families

Friday 25/09/2015

Tunis - As more than 2 million Tu­nisian schoolchildren go back to school, many par­ents complain that with the new academic year coming so close to the Eid al-Adha religious holiday, it is leading to ex­penses they cannot afford.

Although education has been free in Tunisia since independence in 1956, books and supplies are expen­sive, especially for low-income fami­lies. According to figures released by a local consumer institute, together Tunisians spend about $100 million a year on school books and supplies.

“After the summer and the ex­penses of the holidays and the Eid, we are struggling to make ends meet. Today, everything is expensive,” said Ahmed Makni, a civil servant and fa­ther of three.

Some 2 million Tunisian school­children, including about 1 million in primary school, have recently start­ed a new academic year, while Eid al-Adha is due on September 24th. Students at universities and colleges are due to return after Eid.

What makes the situation more expensive is that the majority of parents are not satisfied with the education their children get in pub­lic schools so they resort to private schools and after-class tutors.

Another expense is school uni­forms. Male students at secondary public schools are required this year, for the first time, to wear uniforms, a symbolic attempt at instilling in young students a sense of discipline and further establishing gender equality. Previously, only female students were required to wear uni­forms.

But with the use of drugs and other forms of juvenile delinquency prevalent, more will need to be done besides requiring uniforms.

Teachers’ strikes add to the dis­quiet of parents. Primary school teachers went on strike a few days into the academic year. After months of teacher strikes in 2014, union de­mands were supposed to have been met by the government.

The most pervasive complaint among parents has to do with what they see as the deteriorating level of education. Everyone agrees on the need for change.

“The curriculum needs to be re­formed,” said Olfa Youssef, a promi­nent intellectual and university pro­fessor. “The educational system is at a critical stage. Our universities rank low internationally. The standards are falling compared to previous years. Some of the teachers recruit­ed are not even qualified.”

“The reforms require a serious plan, one of a long-term with a clear vision… It can’t be done over a year or two. It should span at least the next 20 years,” she said.

A national dialogue on reform in the field of education was launched in 2014 to hear the views of pupils and teachers about what changes need to be introduced. Educational reform, however, is a generational challenge that has barely started to be met.