Hundreds of School Principals Quit over Colleagues’ Firing

A protest by unemployed teachers in the Bab Bnet neighborhood of Tunis demanding to be recruited. Photo by Chahd Lina Belhadj, October 10, 2022.

On Monday, July 10, the Ministry of Education issued a statement announcing it had fired 350 primary school principals and was withholding a month’s wages for 17,000 teachers who had been on strike by refusing to submit students’ grades.

In response, regional teachers’ unions began meeting and announcing mass resignations of school principals in solidarity with their fired colleagues. In Kairouan, the regional teachers’ union announced on Monday that 150 school principals had resigned in protest to join the 38 from the region whom the government had fired, or a total of 188. Kairouan governorate has 313 primary schools in total. The same day, the regional branch of the teachers’ union in Kasserine announced the resignation of 89 school principals.

The teachers who were fired for withholding end-of-year grades had been protesting delayed salary payments, low wages, and poor working conditions.

“The teachers’ demands are mainly financial. Assistant teachers have not been paid for a year. Some teachers were only paid a small portion and are still waiting for the rest of their payment,” Omar Ben Brahim, a primary school teacher in Tunis, told Meshkal. “As for the [senior] teachers, they demand an improvement of their salaries, as what they’ve been receiving is much less than what they deserve. And there are other demands related to providing suitable working conditions.”

“If the ministry continues its intransigence, there will be no start of the 2024 school year as most of the primary school principals all around the country are signing collective resignation petitions in support of their fired colleagues,” he added.

Following the resignations, Education Minister Mohamed Ali Al-Boughdiri was quoted by media as insisting that “teachers that did not deliver the grades will be held fully responsible and will be resisted through law. There is no room for underestimating the state and the people.”

“It will cost us what it will cost us,” he was also quoted as saying.

Boughdiri also reportedly denied that the resignations were coordinated, instead claiming that some school principals were resigning as individuals. He also insisted that the resignations would not interrupt the start of school in the fall. He reportedly made the statements in Tunis on July 10 on the sidelines of a conference held at the public Science City complex.

The same morning, the Ministry released a statement claiming that it had met the demands made by the teachers union, including increasing recruitment and increasing regular salaries beginning in 2026. In its bid to secure a loan from the IMF, which has consistently conditioned loans on austerity policies that cut the budget deficit, the Tunisian government had proposed freezing public sector salaries from 2022 to 2024.

In response, the General Committee for Basic Education, the main teachers’ union, posted its own statement calling the Ministry’s statement “slander and deception”, adding that the goal of the statement was to “incite public opinion against teachers.” They noted that the recruitment figures included in the Ministry’s statement was a recruitment drive that had taken place after previous rounds of demands from the union.

The union’s statement also noted that many other demands made by school principals, including funding for school cafeterias, and an internship program among others, had not been met by the Ministry.