Education in Tunisia: ‘Hit the Road Jack!’

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Egyptian poet and dramatist Ahmad Shawqi once said:

“قم للمعلم وفِّه التبجيلا كاد المعلم أن يكون رسولا”

This line means that everybody should respect teachers as they are the closest thing a person can be to a messenger. What happens when these, if I may say, semi-messengers verbally and physically abuse their students? Should we turn a blind eye to their abusive and lewd behaviors? Or should the Ministry of Higher Education investigate into the matter and take a firm stand so that no similar incidents will ever crop up again?

Today, November, 12, 2013, a strike was held by members of the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET) at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Kairouan (FLSHK), following the incident of a male student who was verbally and physically assaulted by the dean Arbi Dhifaoui and the head of the English department Borni Lefi.

Seif Ouesleti, a former student at FLSHK with a BA in the English language, literature and civilization, headed to the faculty on November 11, 2013, with the claimed intentions of meeting the head of the English department and discuss with him the possibility of joining the MA classes at the faculty. According to the union’s allegations, Seif Ouesleti received an unexpected and a rather violent reply. He was reviled, attacked and kicked out from the administrative office by both the dean of the faculty and the head of the English department. Several witnesses confirmed these allegations, the thing that led the UGET to act on it and hold a strike demanding to dismiss the dean and hold the head of the English department accountable for his actions.

What happens to an educational system where the teachers become the bullies? How can the ministry in charge erect the flaws, knowing that the teachers are supposed to constitute the hale and hearty backbone of the educational system? We know that when students physically or verbally attack a teacher, they will be required to defend themselves in front of the disciplinary board of the school. The punishment might go as far as suspending the students in question for a whole academic year, and at times more. But what happens to the students when their personal safety and well-being become endangered and their rights violated? Why is the student constantly being disrespected by their teachers in the Tunisian institutions? The answer is never plain and simple.

Ascertaining which came first, the chicken or the egg might be full of loopholes. But it should not be that hard to figure out that a couple of university teachers put in charge of the most important errands, running a faculty and a language department, will definitely lead the future of education and the faculty to either success or inexorable failure.

Common people always identify the students as the only deficiency detected in the educational system, the thing that may lead some teachers to trespass their limits and use the power they have in hand for personal and corrupt matters. Such teachers always tend to forget that they were once students. Well, flash news, students have power too. It’s time to use it wisely. Therefore, instead of closing the entry doors of the faculty and preventing the students for joining their classes, more serious and peaceful measures can be undertaken. Students are striking as a response to the alleged violent actions committed by the dean and the head of the English department. It will be quite meaningless to use violence to fight violence.

No official statements have been released by both parties. The defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

The educational system in Tunisia has hit the road, and the destination is unknown.

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