Integration and inclusive education
The Ministry of Social Affairs, Solidarity and Tunisians Abroad (MASSTE in French) (2003) states that the "integration" of children with disabilities and special needs into mainstream schools "involves developing their skills in relation to learning, communication and socialization. [...] To this end, schools are called upon to adopt a specific approach and to implement measures to facilitate their integration and prevent any form of discrimination in the classroom or in social, cultural or recreational activities between students with and those without disabilities."
Special educational needs
MAASTE does not define "special needs". Instead, it notes that all learners reflect the natural diversity of humanity, including children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, persons with disabilities and other groups.
The "integration" of students with special needs into the mainstream school system is a priority according to the Tunisian policy on the advancement of persons with disabilities. The aim is for them to continue their studies in mainstream classes. To achieve this, the National Programme for the Integration of Children with Disabilities launched in 2003–2004 shifted the focus from placing these learners in special schools to integrating them into mainstream schools.
According to the Tunisian Government report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2019, "Disability associations attend to the running of educational institutions for the habilitation and vocational training of persons with disabilities" and "are subject to the joint sectoral agreement for the staff of associations for the care of persons with disabilities, issued under a decree of the Minister of Social Affairs on 4 January 2014." The same source states that "[A] total of 290 disability associations and branch associations attend to the running of 310 educational institutions for the habilitation and vocational training of persons with disabilities. In the academic year 2016/17, those facilities were attended by 16,496 students with disabilities."
It should be noted that the existence of a disability is determined by interdisciplinary committees composed of medical and social security experts. Once they have been assessed, students can obtain a certificate of disability and a disability card that gives them access to services.
The Constitution, particularly in chapters 23 and 47, describes the role of the State in "protecting the dignity of the human being". It seeks to "guarantee the dignity, health, care and education of, and provide all forms of protection to, all children without discrimination and in the best interests of the child." Tunisia has signed several international conventions for the protection of the rights of refugees, women, children and persons with disabilities, and is party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Act No. 2002-80 stipulates that education is compulsory from the age of 6 to 16 and that "education is a fundamental right guaranteed to all without discrimination." Finally, Act No. 2008-10 aims to integrate people from all social and professional backgrounds into working life, including young people who are at risk of failure or exclusion.
Various laws provide a framework for inclusive education for this group. Acts Nos. 89-52, 2005-83 and 91-65 state that persons with disabilities have the right to suitable education, rehabilitation and vocational training. Chapter 4 of the Directive on Education and Schooling No. 80 of 23 July 2002 stipulates that "the State shall guarantee the right to free education at public educational institutions to all students of school age and shall provide equal opportunities for all students to enjoy this right. It shall make suitable arrangements for children with special needs to enjoy the right to education." All citizens with a disability have the right to benefit, based on the nature of their disability, from all measures required to guarantee their full integration into society and into mainstream classes and their protection. The Act of 23 July 2002 stipulates that the State must make appropriate arrangements for children with special needs to enjoy the right to education. As regards policies and action plans, the Ministry of Education set out plans to reduce the number of students per class, including children with disabilities, in the Circular of 18 September 2003. This circular governs the introduction of individual education plans which set out the arrangements for educational support services and serve as a tool for communication and monitoring progress with the family. The strategy for the Educational Integration of Children with Disabilities, established in 2003 by a national commission, provides for the gradual integration of all children with disabilities into mainstream schools and establishes the principle that all children with disabilities should be enrolled in the school closest to their home.
In August 2005, Tunisia adopted Act No. 2005-83 on the advancement and protection of persons with disabilities. Chapter VI, article 19 guarantees the right to education, teaching, rehabilitation and training for children with disabilities and seeks to provide them with the opportunities to enjoy this right. Circular 03797 of 2010 governs both the additional time to be granted for in-class and homework exercises, and the special arrangements for assessing these learners.
In July 2019, the Ministry of Education announced that from the start of the 2019/20 school year "children with special needs aged between 5 and 8 years (born between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2014), and exceptionally children aged 9, will benefit from educational integration." "Educational inclusion in preparatory classes within primary schools will be mainstreamed, starting from the 2019/20 school year. It will affect children with disabilities aged 6 to 9 years (born between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2013) and exceptionally, based on an examination of their case, children with disabilities aged 10." Secondary schools and colleges must also make provisions for these learners.
In practice, the State has taken various measures to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools (article 11), such as providing physical and psychological resources, budgetary allocations, organizing cultural and sports activities, using information and communications technology (ICT), and opening a library with audio resources and Braille books. Various efforts have also been made to promote a culture that respects the rights of persons with disabilities to education, including the publication of the Convention in Braille and sign language and the wide circulation of the Convention. The Tunisian Project for the Educational Integration of Children with Disabilities aims to provide each child with a tailored educational experience and to enable them to succeed on their educational pathway, as defined by their individual education plan. The Tunisian Organization for the Defence of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (OTDDPH) organizes workshops to consult, conduct analyses and share experiences on inclusive education, brings together different partners, and offers training courses, seminars, forums and visits. Lastly, the Inclusive Education project of the Tunisian Federation of Disability Associations (FATH) and the French Development Agency (AFD), the project titled Education for Children with Disabilities at the Heart of Regional Development in the Maghreb, and those of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Humanity & Inclusion aim to strengthen the inclusion of children with disabilities in school. Since 2011, Humanity & Inclusion has been working to promote inclusive schools through a number of initiatives, including the Inclusive Local Development and Universal Accessibility project in Bizerte and the Independent Living and Participation in Society project in Kebili. The Ministry of Education, in partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Humanity & Inclusion, has also been running an inclusive education project in nine pilot schools in the governorates of Bizerte, Siliana and Kebili since March 2014. Lastly, the Tunisian Organization for the Defence of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in partnership with the Ministries of Education and Social Affairs, implemented a school integration project for children with disabilities under the slogan "Equal Rights and Opportunities" between January 2017 and December 2019. The project aimed to increase participation and reduce differences in order to respond to the needs of children with disabilities and thereby effectively guarantee their right to education.
Article 46 of the Constitution guarantees women's right to education. To this end, educational programmes have been launched to empower women, particularly in rural areas. Previous initiatives have focused on women's entrepreneurship, inclusion in public and political life, and addressing school dropout and violence. More specifically, a programme led by the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women aims to build the capacity of human rights professionals to increase gender mainstreaming in legislation, strategies and policies, particularly in the area of education. However, it is difficult to identify other specific ongoing initiatives and their respective scope.
In 2012, the Ministry of Health, in partnership with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, created the Psychological Support Centre for Women and Children Survivors of Violence. This open space is designed to provide educational and health services, mainly in the areas of listening, counselling, awareness-raising and psychological support for women and children who have experienced violence or been exposed to violence within their families.
Ethnicity and languages
The Constitution guarantees "openness to foreign languages, human civilizations and the dissemination of a culture of human rights." However, few programmes seem to directly address the educational inclusion of linguistic and ethnic minorities in the country.
The Constitution enshrines the principle of equality of living standards between regions and asserts the need for equitable regional development. With this in mind, the Ten-Year Plan for Children 2002–2011 aimed to reduce regional differences and thereby realize the principle of equal opportunities for learners. Since 2000, the Ministry of Education has also identified priority education areas for the allocation of additional human and material resources to education and the implementation of remedial programmes. Learners also receive support for school transport in priority rural areas.
The Act of 23 July 2002 stipulates that the State must provide assistance to students from low-income families to ensure they can enjoy their right to education. However, there is no policy governing the educational inclusion of this particular group.
The Department of Education is expected to legislate in 2015/16 to allow gifted students to skip grades. Whether a policy has been adopted in this area is unknown.
Illiteracy and school dropout
The Ministry of Education has introduced a national programme for the education of adults deprived of an education by special circumstances and a pilot project on civic education for illiterate Tunisians. The impact of these projects is unknown.
Moreover, at the initiative of the Ministries of Education, Social Affairs, Women and Health, a framework for the prevention of school dropout and failure (M3D) was launched in December 2018, in partnership with UNICEF, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and the UK Embassy in Tunisia, in seven schools out of 20 targeted educational institutions in the country. The project is based on three dimensions: setting up a mechanism for remedial education, pedagogical support for students and the establishment of listening and support offices within educational institutions.
Within the Government, several ministries are responsible for various aspects of inclusive education: Women's Affairs; Education; Higher Education; Vocational Training and Employment; Social and Religious Affairs, etc. The higher institutes of special education and the Tunisian National Commission for Education, Science and Culture are also involved in this issue, as are other NGOs (OTDDPH, Humanity & Inclusion, the International Institute for Sign Language Research in Tunisia (ICHARA), FATH, etc.). However, there does not appear to be a central official responsible for coordinating inclusive education.
In this regard, sources note the diversity of bodies with responsibility for oversight in several areas, including the rights of the child, which falls to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Women's and Family Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health, to name but a few, are all responsible for the field of disability. This diverse range of supervisory bodies "raises many issues for governance due to the lack of coordination between administrative bodies and the lack of coherence of the programmes and projects implemented."
At the regional level, the Regional Rehabilitation Unit, the Regional Commission for Persons with Disabilities and the Regional Education Commissioner's Office interact with schools, teachers, inspectors, social workers, special educators, school doctors and care and rehabilitation staff, as well as parents.
Infrastructure and services
The Act and the Strategic Plan for Education 2016–2020 provide for the arrangement and outfitting of classrooms in mainstream schools for students with special needs. Funds were set aside in 2011 for this purpose in Tunis and Bizerte. Thirty adapted vehicles are also available to students with disabilities in Tunisia.
Curriculum and teaching materials
The Government is working to promote sign language through various measures. Circular 21972 of 2013 provides a framework for the use of modern technological tools during the training and assessment of students who have difficulties with writing and mathematics. Finally, the curricula include courses on human rights. According to its 2019 report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Tunisia has also begun work to extend a human rights culture further, including by developing appropriate measures to adapt all curricula and textbooks at different stages of primary education.
Few training initiatives whose impact has been assessed have focused on inclusive education. The FATH and AFD Inclusive Education project was aimed at teachers, inspectors, special educators, school psychologists and guidance counsellors. The impact of this ongoing project will be assessed at a later date. A first international symposium on inclusive education for students with special educational needs in the network of French lycées [colleges] abroad was held in 2018 by the organization Aider les Enfants en difficulté d’Apprentissage Scolaire [Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs – ALEDAS].
The European Union cooperation programme for the economic and social integration of persons with disabilities covered a series of elements related, among other things, to the rehabilitation of special education programmes and the support and supervision of staff at special education centres. It also aimed to develop an in-service training programme for educators and management teams at mainstream schools and to publish a teaching guide for special educators. The programme proposes that a mechanism to network the various institutions where interventions are taking place be implemented by developing information-exchange processes (accredited education centres, mainstream schools, primary education agreements, etc.).
Finally, according to the 2019 report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a three-year cooperation and partnership agreement had been signed with Italy from 2018 to 2020 to implement the provisions of the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This agreement addresses three aspects of the development of an operational programme for the National Strategy for the Advancement and Integration of Persons with Disabilities in Social and Economic Life. It therefore aims to increase the capacity and skills of people working on the ground, such as social workers accredited by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the staff of associations working with persons with disabilities.
Tunisia has had a national monitoring report on education since 2014. A database on the special needs of students in school is also being developed. However, Tunisia lacks standardized tests to determine the nature and severity of learners’ special needs. Finally, various indicators are used to measure inclusion, including the promotion, repetition and dropout rates. According to the 2019 report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the partnership agreement with Italy also aims to build the capacity of the people responsible for collecting statistical data on persons with disabilities.