Tunisia aims for better basic education and more children in pre-primary

Tunisia Students At A French Class In Sejnane
Tunisia students take a French class at Sogman primary school in Sejnane district (World Bank / Arne Hoel)

Early childhood development, Teachers and learning

It already spends big on education - but a new project will help over one million students get improved learning at pre-primary and primary levels.  

In many ways, Tunisia is a great example of a country striving to provide quality education for all of its children. Every child is enrolled in primary and secondary school – and pre-primary and university programmes have expanded.

For more than 15 years, Tunisia has been spending 20% to 30% of its national budget on education. That’s well above average for a middle-income country – but so are its teachers’ salaries. 

The result is that over 90% of education spending goes on paying teachers and other staff, according to the Education Commission. 

Tunisia wants to concentrate on issues such as improving learning in basic education and expanding access to pre-primary. These were targeted in the education ministry’s five-year plan for 2016-2020.

There is also a high dropout rate, with more than 100,000 children leaving school before the age of 16 each year.

“Tunisia has successfully addressed issues of access to schooling, having achieved universal primary education and gender parity more than two decades ago – but the quality of education has suffered and students need to be supported in developing strong foundational skills,” said Michael Drabble, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank.

Teacher training needs to be improved to ensure that our educators are of a high quality. Hatem Ben Salem, Tunisia's education minister

The bank has just approved a $100 million investment loan to support the Tunisian government’s efforts to improve the quality of primary education and expand access to preschool in disadvantaged regions.  

The money will help to improve the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders and, in targeted districts, to expand access to preschool and enhance the primary school environment. The Strengthening Foundations for Learning Project is expected to benefit over one million children.

Investing in high-quality early childhood development programmes and pre-primary education is one of the best ways of giving children the groundwork they need to succeed at school – especially for disadvantaged children.

The project will directly help an estimated 1,144,000 students at public preschools and primary schools and 64,000 primary school teachers, who will get more opportunities to develop their skills and learn new methods.

Tunisia’s education minister Hatem Ben Salem says the system needs to reform to improve quality.

“Teacher training needs to be improved to ensure that our educators are of a high quality,” he told Oxford Business Group. “There are 190,000 teachers in Tunisia and it is important that they are all held to higher standards.”

He said 500 schools urgently need maintenance work and more technological skills have to be taught to prepare children for the jobs of the future.

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