Tunisian schools’ behavioural programme boosts student performance with EU backing

By Nihan Koseleci Blanchy and Olivier Radelet

In an economically and socially disadvantaged suburb of Tunis, students at the El Omrane Supérieur High School transformed an old storage room into a school radio station. They painted garbage left in the courtyard in different colours, so that people would stop discarding drink cans on the floor.

“I feel this is best thing I have done in my life,” says Ghofrane, one of the students. “I even started to display my paintings.”

Ghofrane and his friends are part of a broad campaign, backed by the European Investment Bank, to improve conditions in Tunisian schools. As well as building new schools and refurbishing old ones, an important element in the campaign is education about violence and bullying in a country where school violence has hit worrisome heights. In 2015, nearly 30% of students reported being bullied at least a few times a month. Many students have discipline problems such as disruptive behaviour and vandalism. Yet the El Omrane principal reports a drop in the number of fights since the EIB-funded programme started.

Tunisia schools target violence

As the world begins to implement the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, no country can achieve the vision of this agenda while children are not learning in school or are physically and psychologically hurt. The inclusion of SDG 16.2 in the UN goals to end all forms of violence against children highlights how every youngster has the right to live free from fear and abuse.

Percentage of students expelled in Tunisia in 2016

>@Education Ministry, 2016
©Education Ministry, 2016
>@EIB
©EIB

In 2015, Tunisia ranked last among 72 countries in a survey that measured how frequently the following events happened in school classes:

  • Students did not listen to the teacher
  • There was noise and disorder
  • The teacher had to wait a long time for students to quiet down
  • Students could not work well
  • Students waited a long time to start working after the lesson began

Positive reinforcement

In 2014, the EIB made a EUR 70 million loan to Tunisia’s Ministry of Education to modernise schools across the country. In 2017, the country set up a pilot Positive Behaviour Support programme to improve the educational climate in 80 secondary schools.

The programme, which received EUR 1.5 million from a fund supported by the EIB, is built on the idea that an entire school can define and live by a set of positive values, instead of using harsh punitive measures, to improve children’s performance. School administrators and teachers across the country were trained to implement these positive values.

Once schools adopt the values, they can experiment with different methods, and document their efforts to see what works. In Jendouba, a city in northwestern Tunisia, La Liberté High School chose a set of core values that encouraged all students to be respectful and responsible citizens.

School staff are responsible for teaching the behaviour expectations and providing consistent positive feedback to students. The entire school, including the classrooms, corridors, canteen, school gates and buses, is considered part of the learning environment.

Back at El Omrane High School, Ali just passed his exams. “Before, I had serious problems communicating with others and focusing on my lessons,” he says. “After participating in the programme’s activities, I feel my relationship with other people has improved. I have become more organised in my daily life.

>@EIB
A wall painting in Jendouba to help children cope with stressful situations. ©EIB

These small victories build upon one another, from student to student, lifting the whole class. The Positive Behaviour Support Programme offers Tunisia an opportunity to improve education but also give children good values they will keep their whole lives. This programme could do wonders across the world.