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Tunisia: Education resumes while activists continue to mobilise

published 11 February 2011 updated 11 February 2011

Students and teachers across Tunisia have resumed their classes after weeks of protests that brought down the government of former President Ben Ali, but the debates continue about how to shape a new Tunisia.

Prior to the resignation of former President Ben Ali his Education Minister had shut down all education institutions during the exam period. With a new Education Minister in post, schools have now resumed, and for the past two weeks, despite the insecurity and impassioned discussion on the shape of democratic developments in Tunisia, most students are able to take their exams.

In acknowledgement of Tunisians placing a high value on education, all students who missed classes, either because they were unable to return from the safety of their rural villages or because they were involved in protest action for or against the transition government, will have the opportunity to take their exams at a later date.

Eye witness accounts tell the story of insecurity within colleges and across the country. Higher education institutions are quieter because many older students have been engaged in debates about the current reforms. Civil society groups and the judiciary continue to be locked in debates about the next steps for Tunisia.

The transition President has been appointed, and not elected. The parliament continues to be composed of representatives from Ben Ali's dominant political party who are considered illegitimate by the people, but the infrastructure is not in place to enable parliamentary elections to happen quickly. The opposition movement began as a popular uprising with unemployed young people and the energetic spirit of mobilisation continues to be active. Passionate debates about reform have replaced protests on the streets. Freedom of expression is being exercised fully, especially within universities. While the transition government is not universally accepted, the old cadres have been ousted and new ministers with expertise have been coopted. However, the political experience is taking its toll. On 9 February, teachers from the primary and secondary education sector staged demonstrations to protest at offensive statements made by some newly appointed ministers. Ordinary citizens, not just the intellectuals, want to understand how the democratic reforms can be implemented. There are reflections on what to keep from the 1958 Republican Constitution, what role civil society organisations can and must play. The trade union centre, UGTT, which played a major role in coordinating the so-called Jasmin Revolution across the country is represented in many commissions which are now developing new policies. People are feeling inspired. They feel that they finally have a real say and want to be sure to take the right steps to preserve the integrity of these historic events.