Private bac lessons burden Tunisian parents
By Mona Yahya for Magharebia from Tunis -- 22/04/09
With only a few weeks to go before the baccalaureate exams, Tunisia is swept up by bac fever. Tunisian students are racing to review all their course materials. And to do that with the least stress and greatest effectiveness, many students opt to hire private tutors.
High exam grades are needed to secure a place at a good university and, eventually, to get a decent job, students say. The class lectures alone may not be enough to prepare for the difficult exams, young Tunisians and their parents agree.
Originally, private lessons were designed to help weak students catch up on the material. The ministry of education put rules and restrictions on private lessons; the teachers are allowed to tutor a maximum of 12 students, they cannot teach their own students and they should be licensed.
But with the fierce competition - more than 138,000 students will take the exams this year - most of the students are encouraged by their families to seek tutoring sessions.
"For the Tunisian family", said Zahra Murad, "passing the baccalaureate exam is very important for the kids’ future. Competition is tough in the labour market and unemployment is on the rise. Unless one is brilliant, they have no chance in getting a good job."
Private lessons pose a burden to families, however, especially those with limited incomes. The cost can be anywhere between 30 and 90 dinars per lesson. To cap that, some teachers practice pressure on students and their parents to direct them into private lessons, students and parents said.
Nora, a Bac student, complained that one of her teachers was not doing his best to explain the syllabus in the classroom. She had to join one of the teacher's private lessons at his house to be able to understand.
"When we are in his house, where he has designated a small room for private lessons, he does his absolute best to make sure we understand," she said.
The system is beneficial to the instructors as well. Teachers need the additional income to supplement their low wages.
In Le Bardo, Tunis, one physics teacher turned a storage room in his house into a classroom. Noureddine is one of the students in that class.
"We are a group made up of 10 students, in the seventh year in secondary school," Noureddine explained. "We take one lesson in physics a week for 60 dinars. We have no choice but to take lessons to improve our performance in this tough subject."
"Some parents insist that teachers give private lessons," said Khaled Kanoun, an English language teacher. "Some are ready to sign up their children for private lessons in nearly all subjects for more than 300 dinars a month."
Minister of Education Hatim Ben Salim acknowledged the problem at a recent press conference. However, he said, it is not all the ministry's responsibility.
"Parents have a role to play and a responsibility to shoulder," the minister said.
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