The national president of the Tunisian Association of the Future of Sciences and technology (ATAST), the biggest STEM foundation in TUNSIA, Hatem Slimaneis the general director of (IFEST²) the international projects competition in Tunisia and the general secretary of MILSET Africa and recently BRISECC member. He is a multiple medal and award-winning individual at the national and the international level. An innovative and passionate Tunisian Educator, he started many initiatives in the field of education. Hatem’s qualifications include a Masters degree in GPPM field. He believes that an educator is much more than a teacher. He has been invited at many big events in the national and international level to share his vision.
Education, the main pillar on which the future of an entire generation is based, depends on several factors, all cogs in a well-oiled machine, which have been affected by circumstances and unforeseen events that we could not prepare for.
COVID-19 changed everything in the world in record time, forcing everyone into self-isolation in their homes without a clear plan in sight. The severity of COVID-19’s impact on a certain country depended on its ability to adapt to this dire situation with few resources available.
If we look at the statistics and the evolution of the suspect case curve, the Tunisian experience has been somewhat unique, in that the pandemic’s effects were much less severe than in other countries Thankfully, the government’s reaction was swift, where full containment was imposed just a week after the first few reported cases.
Schools shut down despite the fact that the total number of cases did not surpass 1050, at the rate of 17 cases per day, the maximum of which was fifty cases in one or two days. Tunisian families found themselves in an unconventional situation when it came to schools being closed since this is a society where education is sacred, where its importance is imprinted in children from a young age.
Before doing an analysis, it is important to mention that education in Tunisia is predominantly public despite the number of private establishments that is steadily rising. This is a determining factor especially in terms of means, flexibility and number of the target audience.
We can divide the behavior curve of the learning operation during this pandemic into four phases:
Observation Phase: from the first hours of total confinement, nearly everyone arranged their priorities: Health and Safety in the first place, then comes everything else, even the education of children was in question: what to do, how to react, how to be safe. We spent our time following the statistics and observing what is happening elsewhere through the screens of televisions, PCs or smartphones. Our favorite activities and pastimes were practiced to occupy ourselves, not for the purpose of acquiring any new knowledge. It was a period of doubt and fear that lasted a week.
Followed by a rest period that did not drag on very quickly, everyone quickly began asking about the way to learn without putting anyone at risk? And what should be done about national exams in 6th grade, 9th grade and baccalaureate? It was time to begin the search for an adequate solution.
Learning and Adaptation Phase: Due to the large use of online education; some of private schools make this choice, others are following the path but the rest did it to because parents asked for it. Finally, a large number of students follow planned and structured online courses
Although the availability of technological solutions which are sometimes free. The result depended on the skills of the educator, because of lack of practice. The Ministry of Education appealed to educators to produce digital lessons. The objective was the development of a free educational platform for the benefit of learners as well as educators.
Regardless of the quality and impact of the platform; this step was essential to move to digitalization and pooling of resources. This was also an opportunity to discover talented and innovative teachers with a futuristic vision, especially that they made a great effort as volunteers
A marathon of interactive courses has started,: Webinars to train the trainers and parents, Startups of free and paid educational platforms was there, exchange of courses; televised lessons which have been specially made and broadcast on the national channel to offer more chances for everyone, it was new challenge to enter.
A Favorable Ecosystem
Even if the conditions are not adopted totally with the needs; willingness and ability to adapt has given excellent results. This is due to the existence of an ecosystem that promotes volunteer work and values the role of NGOs that organize training and run programs to help the government.
Social Media Impact
Social networks, was a strong tool allowing rapid circulation of the information, sharing of experiences and the classification of expertise and skills in groups
Optimization Phase Post COVID
With zero new cases and patients hospitalized for almost one month; the government made the decision to end containment, now in Tunisia life is almost normal.
The Ministry of Education decided to restart school for the final grades before taking the national Baccalaureate exams. Severe precautions and safety measures have been taken like the daily control of students as well as teachers, wearing masks etc. The classes were planned for two groups. It does more work for the teachers, but less risk for everyone.
Although the BAC classes found their path, the other levels are still looking for ways to finish their lessons. During this pandemic, the educational ecosystem went through difficult times. At the same time, the educational staff showed adaptability and learning skills with the new techniques.
Some schools have helped in the fight against COVID with the realization of protective equipment, even with simple visors; but the social side of the school is still important to give it more importance. The online course was the go-to solution during the Corona, but research is needed to optimize impact and profitability; to make it an excellent choice, not an obligation.
At the same time and to fill the training gaps of this year, some schools have chosen to work on scientific projects, where STEM allows them to get out of it perfectly. The lessons to be learned from this experience: Education, scientific research and the development of educator skills will be the challenge of future years.