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Educational System—overview

Public Education: In 1998, approximately 2.5 million Tunisians were enrolled in primary, secondary, and university institutions out of a population of about 9 million. Enrollment levels in basic education (the compulsory first nine grades of schooling) had reached 99 percent. As already noted above, all Tunisians ages 6 through 15 are required to attend school, as of the early 1990s. The educational system is structured into cycles, with the first, or primary, cycle covering the first six years of schooling—grades 1-6. The second cycle includes the next three years of compulsory basic education, grades 1-3 of the secondary level, with students taught in basic education colleges. Grades 4-7 of secondary education cover the final four years of pre-university public schooling, with students taught in lycées. For two years in the lycées all students take a common course of study; two more years of specialized studies follow where each student selects one particular field: experimental science, math, letters, economics and business management, or technical studies. The academic year in primary and secondary schools is divided into three trimesters, with the school year beginning September 15 and ending June 30. Summer sessions are not held, allowing students time off for vacation.

Tertiary, or higher, education in Tunisia includes three cycles of schooling, although not all students proceed through all three levels. The first cycle generally lasts two to three years, after which the diploma for the first cycle of university studies (diplôme d'études universitaires de premier cycle, or DEUPC) or the diploma for technological university studies (diplôme d'études universitaires technologiques, or DUT) is awarded. The first cycle prepares students to enter either the world of work or the second and third cycles of higher education. The second cycle of higher education lasts about four or five years and is capped with an engineer's degree or a teaching diploma that allows the graduate to work or to continue studying in the third cycle. The third cycle of higher education leads to terminal degrees at the doctoral level, the professional Diploma of Specialized Higher Studies (Diplôme d'Études Supérieurs Spécialisées, or D.E.S.S.) or the academic Diploma of In-Depth Studies (Diplôme d'Études Approfondies, or DEA). The academic year in institutes of higher education is divided into two semesters, and training can be provided in the form of coursework, work-study assignments, and possibly research projects. The university year begins in the month of October and lasts twelve months, including two required semesters and an additional, optional session. Higher education is delivered through a system of universities and two specialized types of institutes, Instituts Supérieurs des Etudes Technologiques (ISET, or Higher Institutes of Technological Studies) and Instituts Supérieurs de Formation des Maîtres (ISFM, or Higher Institutes of Teaching Training).

The academic year 1999-2000 saw almost 2.3 million students enrolled in Tunisian schools from the primary through university levels. The same year, net enrollments of primary students ages 6-12 was higher than 92 percent. Of youth ages 19-24, nearly 17 percent (180,000 young women and men) were enrolled in universities in 1998-99.

Foreign Influence: Because the French administrative system was used to structure the Tunisian government when Tunisia was governed as a French protectorate, the Tunisian government-supported education system is infused with many of the principles and structures of the French educational system. However, Arabic is currently used as the language of instruction in Tunisian public schools, with French taught as a second language starting in the third year of primary school and English taught as a third language beginning in the seventh year of school, i.e., the first year of secondary school. (Only fairly recently did Arabic become the official language of government in Tunisia, and French and Arabic are both used as languages of commerce.) Other foreign languages are also offered to Tunisian students as they proceed through the secondary grades.

Examinations: Tunisian primary and secondary students take exams at the close of each school trimester. In addition, special examinations are taken at the end of the two cycles of secondary schooling. After the first three years of secondary education in the colleges (i.e., at the end of the ninth year of schooling), a national examination is held. The students who pass progress on to the next four years of secondary studies and take the national baccalaureat (also referred to as bacc) examination after the final year of their secondary education in the lycées. The baccalaureat not only measures student achievement but also serves as an admissions examination for university-level studies. Typically much more difficult than standard secondary-level examinations given in American schools, the baccalaureat has a pass rate in any one year that may be as low as 40-45 percent or as high as 70 percent. Many of those who fail to pass the bacc on their first try will repeat the final year of secondary school or study privately and retake the exam once or twice in a subsequent year (although age limits and repetition limitations do apply). However, due to high unemployment rates, especially for Tunisian youth, many students who are unsuccessful at passing the bacc leave secondary school and cannot find work. The same goes for a number of university graduates. As a result, the pressure to move abroad in search of work, either legally or illegally, is very high, producing large flows of Tunisian youth to Europe and a somewhat lesser exodus to the United States in search of jobs. (Unemployment in Tunisia was measured at roughly 16 percent in the late 1990s but included unemployed household workers who typically would not be counted in measures of unemployment in other countries. Adjusting the rate accordingly, unemployment still hovered around 11 percent.)

Private Schools: Thirty-five private schools offered primary education in 1995-1996 to 8,900 pupils taught by 455 teachers, with an average class size of 19.6. That same academic year 68,500 students were enrolled in 340 private institutions covering the seven grades of secondary education, taught by 1,260 full-time teachers. Most higher education in Tunisia is offered through publicly supported universities, although numerous private institutions also exist. For example, the Groupe EEA-INTACULT is a consortium of seven schools based in Tunis that includes the Free University of Tunis (l'Université Libre de Tunis) and six other specialized institutions. Together, the seven schools of the consortium offer preschool, primary, and secondary studies, technological and commercial studies, teacher training and pedagogical research, correspondence courses for persons living outside Tunisia or mixing professional or family responsibilities with schooling, and the publication of textbooks and other teaching materials.

Religious Schools: Koranic (Islamic) kindergartens in Tunisia offer training to young Tunisians from the age of four in Muslim religious studies and the language of the Koran. In addition, one of the seven public universities in Tunisia—Universit,é Ezzitouna—is dedicated to training imams and Koranic scholars. Dorothy Stannard noted in her 1991 guide to Tunisia that concern had arisen by the early 1990s over possible fundamentalist Islamic activity in Tunisian universities, especially at Université Ezzitouna. She observed:

Fundamentalism in Tunisia shouldn't, however, be over-estimated or confused with ordinary expressions of Islam—which, according to En Nadha [the governmentbanned "Renaissance" party], is precisely what the government does when public employees caught praying at work are earmarked as religious zealots. Even in the absence of politicizing fundamentalists, Islam plays an important role in most Tunisian lives right from birth.

The fact that 98 percent of the Tunisian population is Muslim reflects the depth of Muslim traditions in the country, mirrored by the wish of many Tunisians to live a life that balances worldly demands with religious practices and aspirations.

Some Catholic private schools also exist in Tunisia, though their numbers are few considering that only 1 percent of Tunisians are Christian. Tunisia's small Jewish population of 1,500 has a range of private schools that offer education from a Jewish perspective. Djerba, the center of Tunisia's Jewish community, has one Jewish kindergarten, two Jewish primary schools, and two Jewish secondary schools. Tunis has three Jewish primary schools and two Jewish secondary schools, while the coastal city of Zarzis, just south of Djerba, has one Jewish primary school. Yeshivot for training rabbis are found in Tunis and Djerba.

Tunisian Students Studying Abroad: About 12,000 Tunisian students were studying outside of Tunisia in the 1998-1999 academic year. In particular, Canada and France have developed cooperative educational partnerships with Tunisia to assist in making international education opportunities available to Tunisian students. The Tunisian University Mission in North America, for example, is a Tunisian-government-sponsored institution located in Montreal, Canada to facilitate student exchanges and other educational programs involving Tunisia, Canada, and the United States.

Instructional Technology: In 1995 the number of personal computers in Tunisia was 6.7 per 1000 people; by 1998 this figure had more than doubled to 14.7. The government began an intensive effort in the 1990s to add computers to all the lycées in the country by the year 2000. In May 1998 the two-day seminar on "The School of Tomorrow" included significant attention to the issue of expanding new communications and information technologies for the benefit of Tunisia's students. In the year 2000 all upper-secondary students were receiving instruction in computers and computer software programs as well as in the use of the Internet. The goal is to expand the use of computers through all the levels of schooling so that Tunisian students can benefit from technological advances and distance learning throughout their school years.

Textbooks, Audiovisuals, & Curriculum Development: At the start of the new millennium, Tunisia was producing a full range of textbooks covering all course subjects at all educational levels. With several presses operating in Tunisia to publish texts and other scholarly books, Tunisia is becoming increasingly well equipped to respond to the demands of the educational reforms now taking place. During their two-day seminar on "The School of Tomorrow," Tunisian educators acknowledged the need to produce a broader range of higher-quality audiovisual materials for use in Tunisian schools and universities. With the advent of computer technology and video cameras, more multimedia materials can be produced at increasingly less expensive prices, making the delivery of quality educational support materials a less formidable challenge than in the past.

Improving pedagogical research and teacher training programs and developing curricula that reflect scientific and technological advances also have been the focus of government attention as Tunisia attempts to make itself economically more competitive with the developed countries of Europe and the Mediterranean region. Preparing new textbooks and upgrading instructional materials go hand in hand with these efforts. Significant attention is being placed on developing training materials that will better prepare Tunisian students for jobs in the high-technology and business sectors, where a major increase in service-sector employment is expected to occur over the coming years. In addition, increasing the transferability of skills from the classroom to the workplace has been the focus of curricular reforms. Substantial investments already were being made by the year 2000 by the Tunisian government, the World Bank, and bilateral donors to modernize and improve the curricula used in Tunisian schools and to improve the match between the job skills of graduating youth and the needs of the labor market.

Role of Education in Development: As already noted, Tunisia has long recognized the important role played by education in the socioeconomic development of a country. In fact, this was true as early as the 1960s and 1970s, when Tunisia became one of the first countries in the region to receive development assistance from the World Bank and the U.S. Peace Corps to expand education, build schools, make schooling more accessible to the rural poor, and increase the enrollment of girls. Tunisia's continuing collaboration with international organizations and donors to improve its education system and training opportunities and to increase the employability of youth represents further evidence that Tunisians at official levels and among the general public strongly support the belief that education offers the best chance for improving the quality of life for Tunisian citizens. Other key donors supporting Tunisia's efforts to upgrade education and strengthen economic development include the European Union, the Kuwait Fund, and several national governments such as France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceTunisia - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education