Tunis — Unregulated schools teach extremist programmes and indoctrinate children, specialists warn.
Education professionals and parents are increasingly concerned about illegal kindergartens, private schools and Qur'anic schools in Tunisia.
A video titled "Dedication from Children of Unification in Tunisia to Mullah Omar" recently spread on social networking websites, sparking a broad controversy.
Children at one religious school were heard repeating words dictated by a teacher, praising Osama Bin Laden and describing him as "Commander of the Faithful".
The children are seen chanting to bin Laden: "We sacrifice our souls for you, O emir!"
"One of the biggest problems is that some private schools are not subjected to regulations," education inspector Ammar Lammouchi told Magharebia. "They don't apply the Ministry of Education's curricula and, as a result, violations take place.
"Some of these schools teach extremist programmes and a certain type of indoctrination to children," he said. "This is dangerous to children's mentalities" the inspector added.
Nabiha Kammoun Tlili, head of Tunisia's National Kindergartens' Chamber, confirmed that many Qur'anic schools are not under any supervisory authority.
"Women's affairs and education ministries must shoulder their responsibilities and put an end to religious chaos at Qur'anic kindergartens," she told Magharebia.
Tunisian Family Affairs Minister Siham Badi has vowed "to take the necessary legal actions to protect children against religious extremism by establishing regulations and closing the kindergartens that insist on violations".
"The kindergarten system has been around in Tunisia for about 100 years," said Ellissa Azizi, a psychologist at the General Children's Directorate. "However, after the revolution, we noticed other influences, such as religious extremism in some kindergartens."
"The concept of Qur'anic kindergartens wasn't in Tunisia previously," she added. "At the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Family, we're trying to study this new phenomenon by reviewing the regulations which govern this sector, and which have been in place since 2002."
Azizi warned of the psychological effect on children.
"This will undoubtedly affect children in a negative way because they are not subjected to scientific or pedagogical criteria," she explained
Other countries in the region are experiencing a similar phenomenon.
"Based on my own long experience in this field, I think that the most important problems facing us in Morocco is the training of male and female educators in spite of the high demand on these pre-school kindergartens," Mohamed Rmili, an educational inspector in charge of running a group of private schools in Sale, Morocco, told Magharebia.
Rmili added that though Morocco remains committed to the teaching of the Qur'an and of tolerant Islamic values, abuses could "help create an extremist generation".
"The Moroccan state has noticed this issue and started to monitor such schools, but this monitoring was not enough. The government decided to close some of these schools," he added. Meanwhile, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) on November 26th organised a sub-regional meeting in Tunis on pre-school education programmes.
At the three-day conference, officials from Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Algeria discussed the modernisation of pre-school education in member states and establishing an executive working plan.