Mathematics in North Africa After the Arab Spring

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Wilson C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Lotfi Hermi, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Tunisia - The Travails of Sisyphus: “Educational Reform” in a post-colonial developing country undergoing an “Arab Spring”. Tunisia seems to have done almost everything right since it overthrew its dictator on January 14, 2011: Two mathematically exact parliamentary elections, and a presidential one, all hailed by the international community, and a new constitution—the most liberal in the Arab world—enshrining post-independence gains. The icing on the cake came with the awarding of a National Quartet that assured a peaceful transition to democracy of a Nobel Peace Prize in December 2015. The collaborative spirit that brought about political change was adopted when the country launched in April of the same year a “National Dialogue for Restructuring and Reforming the Educational System”.

Two separate national dialogues were running in parallel. The first focused on K-12 and high school education, and sought the input of Ministry of Education experts, umbrella teacher associations’ advocates, human and child rights advocates, parents, and the students. It resulted in a document which was announced in a national conference in September.

The second part of the two-pronged process is focused on higher education, and is still undergoing, with another “white paper” laying out a framework: “Strategic Plan for the Reform of Tunisian Higher Education and Scientific Research 2015-2025”. Issues such as “academic freedom” and the “nature of the school to come” are threatening established interests, and delaying progress of the debate.

We will discuss the proposed changes, in the context of previous reforms undertaken by the Tunisian government, and shed light on the reasons for the renewed protests, sparked by the January 19 death of yet another university graduate who committed suicide, adopting the same slogan that gave birth to the Tunisian Spring: “Jobs are our rights, oh band of kleptocrats!" (Joint work with Hamdi Zorgati, University of Tunis El Manar)