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Tunisia: teachers unite to demand essential education reform

published 17 January 2017 updated 19 January 2017

With the full support of their unions, primary and secondary school teachers from across the country have come together in protest to urge the government to secure quality education for every student in Tunisia.

On 12 January, Tunisian primary and secondary school teachers gathered in front of the Ministry of Education in Tunis to demand the resignation of the Minister for Education and successful education reform. The rally followed on from their general strike of 5 January, one of a series of actions aimed at ensuring quality education for all.

Since November 2016, the Syndicat général de l'enseignement de base(SGEB-UGTT) and the Syndicat général de l'enseignement secondaire(SGES-UGTT) – two unions that are members of the Union générale tunisienne du travail(UGTT) and Education International (EI) – have joined forces and taken industrial action.

On 30 November, 25,000 teachers – comprising one of the biggest teachers' rallies the country has ever seen – came to the capital from all over Tunisia to demand the immediate dismissal of the Minister for Education.

Districts organised rotational strikes between 15-28 December, with primary and secondary school teachers from three to four regions striking in turn. "There was a good turnout among teachers, with an average of 95 percent in secondary schools," said Nejib Sellami, international head of SGES-UGTT.

There has been strong mobilisation among teachers against the Minister for Education, Néji Jalloul, owing to his negativity towards teachers on television and radio, Sellami explained.

Ministerial interference must stop

He added that the unions want to reassert the dignity of teachers and are demanding significant reform of the education system. The unions believe the minister's interventions are inadequate and protest against his interference in the work of the National Commission for National Dialogue, which is leading this reform. Besides the UGTT, this tripartite commission set up in 2015 includes the Ministry of Education and the Arab Institute for Human Rights. In September 2016, SGES-UGTT suspended its participation in the commission, insisting that the commission must be able to work independently of the Education Minister.

However, the commission has already found areas of agreement concerning education reform, Sellami insisted, especially concerning a half-yearly rather than a quarterly assessment system, holiday times and the amount of homework. It is still working on reaching an agreement regarding curricula, objectives and the legal framework of the education system.

Sellami also noted that among the grievances raised by teachers is this year's new-school-year allowance: the minister indicated that it would be paid at the end of January, but in reality, teachers do not expect it to be paid until March. This allowance, which teachers have been awarded every year since 2006, is vital at the beginning of the school year to buy student supplies, etc.

Likewise, Minister Jalloul had negotiated a pay raise for teachers in 2017 with the UGTT, of approximately TND 60 (about €25). In the end, this will be paid over two years, with one half in January 2017 and the other in January 2018.

The SGES-UGTT is now waiting for the elections of the UGTT's executive committee at its congress from 22-25 January, before deciding on new actions.

No recruitment

"The education reform is a vital stake for the new Tunisia, born out of the ‘Arab Spring'", Sellami said. In his opinion, "the minister isn't serious when it comes to free and democratic education". This is evident as there are no plans to hire any primary or secondary school teachers in 2017 or 2018, and the Ministry of Education's budget is not sufficient to improve the situation of state schools, teaching or learning conditions.