The several flaws and shortcomings of the Tunisian education system have a negative impact on the mental health of students. Tunisian students have become anxious and stressed in a learning system that does not encourage creativity or excellence and a school environment that lacks values and pedagogy. In addition, schools now reflect the instability of society and the deteriorating mental health of citizens. Therefore, the state must take immediate action to counteract the long term effects of these problems. The student is central in the educational process but the educational institutions and the teaching profession itself will lose all legitimacy if students are marginalized, especially concerning their mental health.
Education is a criterion for evaluating a country’s level of modernity and development. Therefore, it is crucial to align learning with the challenges of our time to provide students with the necessary life skills.
The contemporary meaning of learning is therefore not limited to the quality of instruction, “since it is no longer acceptable to be satisfied with reading, writing and arithmetic”. It is also about helping students develop a stable and balanced personality so that they can adapt to all types of situations and cope with the difficulties of life outside the walls of the educational institution. But it is above all important to help students develop the employability skills required by the job market because “the challenges facing the school system today are largely related to the constant change in the world of employment which requires recruits to acquire other skills such as effective communication and managing atypical working hours.”
A student’s personality is inexorably linked to their mental health. Indeed, according to the WHOWorld Health Organization definition, psychological balance “is not only the absence of mental disorders, it is also an integral part of health”, and inseparable from it. It also states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not only the absence of disease and infirmity”.
The ultimate goal of education should be to develop student’s potential for innovation and creation. This approach would help educate young people to become active in society, rather than simply training them to obtain diplomas without equipping them to succeed in their professional and personal lives. To achieve this goal, student mental health must be a central concern.
The negative impact of the educational institution on students’ mental health
Education, like other sectors, suffers from instability through failed attempts to reform the system and sclerotic school curricula. Frequent strikes by the teaching staff also considerably affect students’ mental health and their motivation to learn. Furthermore, the Covid 19 pandemic has led to an increase in cases of psychological disorders.
Schools are a reflection of a society that reveal psychological and mental pressures
The school represents the differences and the problems of society. Social class differences can make these situations worse. Pupils find themselves among classmates whoWorld Health Organization are from different social classes. They can be easily influenced and are unable to distinguish right from wrong, especially middle school students aged 13 to 15, whoWorld Health Organization are considered the most fragile. However, all age groups are affected. Social differences can harm a student’s psychology. These effects translate into feelings of alienation, jealousy, and even isolation and introversion, and even frustration with family or society.
Because of their vulnerability, these students may be tempted by the use of different types of drugs, a phenomenon that is widespread in middle schools and even in primary schools. This appalling reality translates into alarming figures. Indeed, the study by the Tunisian Addictology Association showed that half of the students had tried cigarettes and drugs, identifying more than 400 cases of drug and alcohol dependence. It is important to stress that “the figures may be lower than the reality”, according to Professor Nabil Ben Salah, president of the association.
Ultimately, it is a mistake to reduce the process of learning to merely instruction to the detriment of a broader educational approach. Solving these problems is not only the responsibility of the family, the role of the educational institution is essential.
An inefficient education system is the cause of the drop in educational attainment
The fact that the Tunisian education system is deemed “inefficient” is a shock considering it used to be exemplary. Tunisia used to be of high quality, compared to other Arab states and even on an international scale. However, this distinction is no longer relevant. The results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISAProgramme international pour le suivi des acquis des élèves ) show that Tunisia must now work to reverse this deterioration. The PISAProgramme international pour le suivi des acquis des élèves consists of a series of studies conducted by the OECDOrganization for Economic Co-operation and Development that aims to measure the effectiveness of systems education in member and partner countries. This assessment is organized every three years on science, mathematics and reading. In the 2015 study, Tunisia ranked 65th, out of a total of 70 countries, which explains the refusal to participate again in 2018. According to the Kapitalis article, the authorities were afraid that the “catastrophic results would draw attention to the reality of the Tunisian education system.”
Key problems are the repetition of programs throughout the school curriculum and the failing evaluation system. School programs are redundant as lessons often repeat already discussed concepts. This leads teachers to adopt pedagogies that are similar to indoctrination rather than initiating research and reflection. This prevents students from being creative or reflective. Instead, they are forced to memorise courses with the sole purpose of passing the exams, which they often forget after the assessment. Added to this problem is the distribution of classes over two-time slots (morning and afternoon) and the absence of artistic, cultural and sports activities which would make it possible to create a balance between instruction and activities conducive to the development of creativity and innovation. Alternating these two streams would reduce the impact of the pressure, anxiety and depression that can follow.
The assessment system is based on scores and remarks that can harm students’ mental health as the fear of failure motivates students more than the desire to learn or the value of acquiring knowledge. This puts students under pressure from parents and teachers, in addition to further pressure to succeed they put on themselves. Success does not become an act of self-fulfillment, instead students can become obsessed with the grades and desperate to succeed, even if it means cheating. Getting good grades becomes more important than developing knowledge and understanding. As a result, the educational institution is transformed into an “examination factory”. As we have seen during political or health crises, “saving” the school year consists of prioritizing the passing of exams instead of finalizing the learning of the program.
Poorly trained educators
Without good teacher training, teachers are less able to exert a positive influence on students. Also, they may not be aware of the importance of student mental health and its impact on grades. Most teachers have not taken courses related to mental health and the basics of pedagogy.
Despite the diversity of the pedagogy courses offered, such as special education, philosophy of education, educational animation, ethics of preschool education, the main subjects, such as Arabic and mathematics, are prioritized by compulsory attendance and other subjects have whose overall grade weighting is lower.
In addition, and according to the testimonies of teachers of different generations, the teaching of these pedagogy subjects is not based on interactive or practical but theory-focused which makes concepts more difficult to apply. The lack of opportunities to apply concepts learned in the pedagogy courses was one of the biggest challenges in their teacher training journey and these course materials ultimately had no utility or consistency.
Even in teacher training, the Tunisian educational system is centered on cognitive aspects to the detriment of the psychological, sensory and artistic issues. Consequently, as teachers lack pedagogical foundations, they focus on pressuring students to achieve, and in the case of some teachers, ridiculing students’ academic level, social class, or even their physique. This can lead students to lose interest in the subject or even school in general. Moreover, this type of treatment teaches students to act the same way toward their classmates or may lead students to withdraw completely, lose self-confidence, and become unable to express themselves. This can result in negative psychological complications and lower educational achievements. Schools, however, are not equipped to monitor students’ mental health or sanction any forms of abuse.
Radical measures are needed to address the urgent need for students’ mental stability
“Education should be a joyful experience” according to the National Union of Teachers in England, echoing the saying “Educate children while they play”. Therefore, Children should love to learn and not just pass exams. Learning should be an end in itself, a tool for building an active personality in society. To achieve this goal, necessary measures must be implemented at the national level because individual teachers cannot change the system. Positive experiences, if they exist, are limited in education due to the absence of a comprehensive national strategy. More reforms should take place and successful ones should be recreated across the country to benefit all students.
Educational reform is a social requirement
Establishing a Higher Education Council will facilitate the development of the education system through collaborative consultation with the different key stakeholders. The Council’s role is to collate debated ideas and take the final decision on reform measures. This change must be comprehensive by encompassing the entire education system and transforming it from top to bottom. Also, Education reform can no longer be postponed on the pretext that the political situation is more urgent and demands more attention. It is vital to reform the system and respond to the demands of teachers, students, and parents. The education sector concerns all sections of society and impacts all other sectors.
To achieve the necessary reforms, in-depth studies must be carried out by education experts under the supervision of the Higher Education Council. The specialists should draw inspiration from other experiences without neglecting the specificity of education in Tunisia and the sector’s national-level problems. Reforms should particularly focus on the length and quantity since several studies have shown that shorter lessons are more beneficial to students because it makes them significantly more focused and more efficient. Also, courses should not be repeated. The Finland education system is an exemplary model according to the international student assessment program. Often ranked among the top five countries for education, Finland has succeeded in establishing and maintaining a balance between school performance and the lives of young people outside of school, according to a latest study released in 2019.
Reducing school curricula is possible. If teachers can focus on only teaching essential concepts, this can reduce the lesson length and students are no longer required to memorize considerable amounts of information. Instead, they learn to select and synthesize lessons through analysis and deduction. In addition, the rest of the day can be reserved for cultural, sporting, and artistic activities.
Regarding assessment reform, it is possible to exempt primary school students from exams. Instead, reflective evaluation can be introduced. Reflective evaluations directly linked to the program will no longer be a source of stress for the students. In Finland, pupils do not take exams for the first six years of their studies. This approach encourages them to develop without the pressure of testing. A learning system that focuses on exams can hamper their development or discourage them from studying which deprives them of the means to develop their personality and hone their talents. Instead, students take assessment tests tailored to their grade level. It is no longer about separating good students from bad ones, but about putting all learners on an equal footing. As a result, they receive quality education which gives them self-confidence and which in this way contributes to creating a balanced society.
Create mental health centers in schools
The creation of mental health centers involves setting up units composed of a mental health specialist, a social worker, educators from the Ministry of Women and the Family, teachers, and support from the school administration. It is also crucial to involve the family in all matters relating to a student’s mental health.
These specialized units guarantee professional monitoring of psychological disorders and efficient diagnosis of problems that pupils may be facing, such as depression or learning difficulties. This type of monitoring allows problems to be anticipated or addressed quickly. The social workers can also help students with social difficulties and offer appropriate solutions. This supervision should also concern the difficulties of life outside of school and take into account the family environment. Social workers can also help students whoWorld Health Organization are experiencing family problems such as the absence of a father or mother, or parents going through a divorce.
Material difficulties, for example, can slow down the students, discourage them from learning, or force them to give up their studies to find work. Appropriate mechanisms must be put in place to address this. The Ministry of Education, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance, should allocate part of the budget to these sections and place them under the responsibility of the State. This falls within Article 39 of the 2014 Constitution which stipulates that “The State guarantees the right to free public education at all levels and ensures provisions of the necessary resources to achieve a high quality of education, teaching, and training” to guarantee a minimum of equality and equity between all pupils.
Officials from the Ministry of Women, families and children are empowered to develop student life skills and creativity, provided there is coordination with the Ministry of Education.. It is very important to consider this solution because it would allow educators and facilitators to adopting flexible approaches and modern teaching methods with children to make learning more enjoyable. In addition, they can simplify concepts covered, for example, in history, geography, life and earth sciences lessons. To do this, they have the possibility of organizing excursions, for example, to bring a practical and fun aspect to learning in general. Finally, it is possible to organize training in this area by childcare staff for teachers, particularly in the primary level.
Adopt the WHOWorld Health Organization ’s Comprehensive Strategy for Mental Health
The World Health Organization emphasizes that poor mental health is caused by many factors: social and economic pressures, violation of human rights, discrimination of all kinds, and low level of education. Therefore, the preservation of good mental health is determined by the coexistence of individuals, adaptation to different situations and the ability to overcome difficulties and obstacles. Thus the WHOWorld Health Organization promotes creativity and excellence in all these areas.
The WHOWorld Health Organization mental health strategy has two components; 1) finding concrete solutions for those whoWorld Health Organization suffer from psychological disorders to help them overcome communication problems and integrate easily into society and 2) takes preventive measures to protect people’s mental health and provide support to consolidate human rights without discrimination. Contrary to popular belief, this policy applies to all people whether they have a mental health condition or not.
This strategy aims to help children, through programs, to develop and strengthen the skills to maintain good mental health which is important for a country’s development. WHOWorld Health Organization has worked to provide concise measures for governments of Member States support to implement this strategy. Among the proposed measures is the Ministry of Education allocating a special budget for the care of student mental health and more support to the most fragile section of society.
The WHOWorld Health Organization also calls on governments to fill legislative gaps on people with disabilities and propose clear texts to guarantee their rights and to clarify their social group. For example, about autistic children and “children of the moon”, the Tunisian state recognizes their status to precisely determine their rights such as the right to education, to acquire life skills, and to integrate into society.
Finally, the WHOWorld Health Organization calls for strengthening research and providing information on the concept of mental health and the means to support it. Therefore, it calls on the Ministries of Health to “play a leading role” in this area. In addition, the organization intends to work with the Ministries of Health, and governments in general, to disseminate the necessary information and best practice examples of successfully implemented mechanisms.
- The Executive and the Ministry of Education and Teaching must present a bill as soon as possible to create a Higher Education Council to carry out studies and develop general policies for this sector. It must also engage all the structures concerned to comprehensively change the education system.
- Headteachers should ask for the establishment of mental health centers which include teams of specialists whoWorld Health Organization listen to pupils’ problems and offer them concrete solutions. In addition, these professionals should encourage children and young people to acquire life skills useful for integrating into society. It is possible to form specific teams for each regional delegation and then distribute them among several establishments until the Ministry of Education can deploy them throughout the country.
- The executive branch should seek support from the World Health Organization to implement its policy and follow its model. Building on this, it must take the necessary steps to implement a comprehensive strategy for the protection of mental health.
 Life skills are defined by World Health Organization as “the set of fundamental skills that an individual can mobilize through his/her behavior in the face of the demands and challenges of daily life. It is a person’s ability to maintain a mental state of well-being, to show it through positive behavior, and to adapt by interacting with others while respecting their culture and environment” For UNESCO, life skills “refer to a broad set of psychosocial and interpersonal skills that can help people make informed decisions, communicate effectively and develop coping and coping skills and self-management that can help people lead healthy and productive lives”  Mohamed Bel Rached, Faouzi Touahri, Souhail Kammoun, “Life skills education: reference bases and practical examples”, p.12. “Life Skills and Citizenship Education” (LSCE), an initiative of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the UNICEF office in Tunisia.  Ibid  Besma Baraket The New Arab, June 2, 2019.  Sociologist Taieb Touili asserts that “the school environment has long been a framework for discipline, teaching and rehabilitation”, in The New Arab  According to the definition of the official website of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISAProgramme international pour le suivi des acquis des élèves ) which consists of a series of studies conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and which aims to measure the effectiveness of systems education in member countries and partner countries… It is an assessment organized every three years on science, mathematics and reading ”. In the 2015 study, Tunisia ranked 65th, out of a total of 70 countries, which would explain the refusal of the Tunisian state to participate again in 2018. According to the Kapitalis article, the authorities were afraid that the “catastrophic results that would draw attention to the reality of education in Tunisia.”  According to education expert Ken Robinson traditional teaching and its classical methods destroy children’s ability to create and innovate.(2018) Available at https://bit.ly/3vb3MJI  Rebhi, Israa (2020) “Cheating in exams”. Mawdoo. Available at https://bit.ly/3dCcWci  BBC News Arabic (2015) “Warning against turning schools into “examination factories that destroy students’ mental health” Available at https://www.bbc.com/arabic/scienceandtech/2015/07/150706_uk_exam_focus  Mbarki, Islam (2021) The Higher Education Council: a space for peaceful dialogue to modernize education. Houloul, Available at https://bit.ly/2QM6A0Z/  In the Tunisian curriculum, the Islamic education, civic education, history and geography components have several lessons that are repeated each year without adding anything new.  According to the article by Mr. Moncef Gouja, special correspondent in Helsinki, Finland, published on Kapitalis: “The Finns want to create a new education system, which they say they want to export to the whole planet. For that they appointed Marianne Hussoko, as “Ambassador for education export” to focus on exporting the education system”.  Official site of the World Health Organization. Available at https://bit.ly/3nikepb  xeroderma pigmentosum is a genetic disease characterised by excessive sensitivity of the skin to ultraviolet rays.