On Wednesday June 10, the intermediate Access students, together with their teachers, visited Almouroua organization. Its mission is to provide mentally retarded kids with the appropriate care and support services for a better life. The students and teachers offered gifts to thekids and had fun with them. The head of the organization gave a presentation about the mission, staff, and services provided to the kids and the challenges they are facing.
On June 3rd, American journalists paid a visit to Schooling Plus to conduct an interview with the school’s co-founder and the Access Program coordinator, Dr. Emna Ben Arab
, and to film classes in action.
Below are photos and videos of an Access class in the music club.
The video is filmed for the count of the George W. Bush Institute’s Women Fellowship Initiative.
1) Why do you feel that education reform is so important?
Education reform is so important because education is a prerequisite to good citizenship. Reforming education is at the heart of reforming society.
More effective education with higher standards, higher achievement, and higher focus on the needs of students will have large social returns.
In Tunisia, we are at a stage where a redefinition of the mission of the school is needed, a redefinition that focuses on the making of a good citizen.
2) What are you doing to improve education in Tunisia?
I’m trying to raise awareness in my community about the importance of quality education as an engine of growth and as a means of creating better people, and about the challenges facing our country if no immediate action is taken to reform education.
Education is not only about facts, but mainly about long-lasting skills such as critical thinking, good command of foreign languages and most importantly an education that is in alignment with our core values which are the universal values of justice, tolerance, co-existence, appreciating differences, patriotism and moderation.
Through our school, efforts are being made to instill those values in the children attending the school, and I want our success to be measured not in terms of the amount of knowledge their teachers give them, though important, but in terms of how well they are trained to meet future challenges.
Our school is based on a reform that advocates longer school days, smaller class sizes, improved teacher quality through training, higher credential standards, performance bonuses (“merit pay”), internet and computer access, trilingual education, mainstreaming special education students…
We also focus on after-school activities oriented toward arts such as music, theatre, painting, and READING which is not in our habits. Neither Tunisian children nor their parents read and that’s a real problem in our community.
We give so much importance to reading. We make our children read at school and at home very frequently and we make their parents aware of the importance of reading on every possible occasion (parent-teacher meetings, one-on-one meetings…)
3) What is the current landscape of education in Tunisia? Do you feel that is a priority?
For the last two decades the focus was on mass education at the expense of quality education that’s why we ended up with an education that is not meeting our expectations.
Education in Tunisia is underfunded and even so, there is no correlation between per student spending and student performance. Poor infrastructure and outdated educational supplies are making things worse.
Our public schools lag behind the schools of other middle-income countries in the areas of reading, math, and science.
Barriers to reform include the general mindset of people wanting results regardless of the quality of training, favouring “ dead” knowledge rather than skills.
Teachers’ unions are also another barrier to reform: wanting more for less.
4) What are your hopes for the future of Tunisia? How do you want to personally contribute?
Tunisia is undergoing a very difficult period in its post-independence history.
The relative success of its democratic transition is very precarious if not shored up by informed citizenry that has acquired a decent education.
My hope is for my country to get out of the bottleneck as soon as possible: there are security problems, social instability, ecomonic decline (youth unemployment has reached an unprecedented rate, the steady decline in the purchasing power is a real time-ticking bomb for social explosion). Restoring trust by sending positive messages to investors, taking painful decisions in vital areas and putting an end to strikes (we need a Taft-Hartley Act) are necessary steps toward recovery.
I’m trying to contribute through what I can do best and that’s education. Also as a mother I try to give the best I can to my children to be good citizens, and as a former politician whose sense of responsibility runs in the veins, what is best for my country will always direct my actions.
5) Why did you decide to open your own school?
As education was relegated to a secondary position in my country after the 2011 uprising, I set, with my partners, upon starting our own school to implement our vision of education reform which stems from our belief that investment in knowledge pays the best interest and from our conviction that “a child miseducated is a child lost” as JFK once put it, and in Tunisia we cannot afford to lose our children upon which the future of our country depends.
6) How do you select students? Do you have scholarships or tuition assistance available for underprivileged children in your community?
Our selection of students is based on a placement test, and on the understanding and acceptance by parents of our vision of education (trilingual education, importance of the arts…) / No tuition assistance for underprivileged children, though the idea is tempting.
7) How did you decide to integrate community service projects into your curriculum?
Community Service gives a meaning to the community that is created around the school and accelerates the ramp of their engagement.
8) If one day you run for political office in Tunisia, how will you reform the Education system in Tunisia?
By improving the social status of the teachers/ improving the schools’ infrastructure/ including cultural activities as a compulsory component of the curriculum/ teaching of foreign languages…
9) You were particularly impacted by your visit to Google [X] and their concept of moon-shot i ot ideas. Can you tell us a little bit about your moon-shot idea and how this site visit has helped you develop your personal action plan?
Running an education campus where a child comes in at the age of 4 and leaves at the age of 21 with the best skills for the global job market and with an education that prepares him/her for challenges and jobs that will not have existed yet.
11) You have started leading international training sessions for professionals. How have you incorporated the material and curriculum you learned at Southern Methodist University into your own sessions?
A number of themes related to influence without authority, elevator speech, how to craft a sticky vision, branding and self-promotion were incorporated in my curriculum and were found very useful by international business students because they are at the heart of the corporate world.
12) Where do you see yourself in ten years? Where do you see your school and the education system of Tunisia in ten years?
May be back to politics With education at the center of my political platform!
With the help of the right people, my moonshot idea might come true!
This is how Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality ispired us, Access students at Schooling Plus. This video is the result of a combination of ideas, all of us particiapted in making our voices reach you :)
Public Diplomacy Assistant, Hafedh Zanina, paid a visit to Schooling Plus on Sunday, February 22. He met with Access administrators, teachers and students.
They all highlighted how the Access program helped them acquire English Language skills and a good understanding of American culture, and how it contributed to their personal development by boosting their self-confidence, self-esteem and creativity.
On Sunday, January 25th, His Excellency the US Ambassador to Tunisia, Jake Walles, paid a visit to Schooling Plus to meet the 2013-2015 Access students.
He visited Access classes and interacted with students who were working on their “I have a dream” speeches. Their dreams were inspired by Martin Luther King Junior, but rooted in their local reality.
January, students told the Ambassador, was important for both Americans and Tunisians.
Americans celebrate MLK ‘ Day and remember his dream for an inclusive America and Tunisians celebrate a day when they asked for change and made it happen, showing that both of our peoples embrace the universal values of equality dignity and freedom memorably expressed by the founding fathers of America that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed with their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and he pursuit of happiness”
Access students at Schooling Plus pay a visit to “Arrafik” orphanage.