A UGA delegation headed by engineering professor Takoi Hamrita and consisting of experts from the College of Education, the Georgia Center for Continuing Education and the board of regents spent a week in Tunisia to present workshops as part of an ongoing partnership between UGA and the University System of Tunisia.
The project, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, supports Tunisia’s higher education reform efforts and provides UGA a unique opportunity for global outreach at a critical juncture in the course of United States and Arab-Muslim relations.
The government of Tunisia has identified its own list of challenges in higher education and is mobilizing to meet them. A coming surge in the college-age population over the next few years will mandate an increase in capacity to serve them, and the Tunisian government plans to use the opportunity to reach an ambitious goal: 20 percent of university-level curriculum accessible online by 2006.
The partnership highlights the new cultural and societal norms emerging in today’s world.
“One of the university’s primary concerns should be to evolve its objectives and its work, its form and content, so that it keeps up with these societal changes,” said the minister for higher education, Lazhar Bououny, in his opening-day remarks.
L’enseignement á distance, as distance learning is termed in Tunisia, is bringing a fresh focus both to pedagogy and to public service, and the partnership with UGA touches on issues that make the university a conduit for lifelong learning.
The expansion of distance learning capability will introduce changes not just in teaching and designing courses for the online environment but in university management and technology. UGA expertise with these issues is proving invaluable to enthusiastic colleagues in Tunisia, who are striving to make the learning experience an open, two-way endeavor.
“The UGA team worked very effectively on a flexible training program that evolved in real time to accommodate the needs of participants,” says Hamrita, the project director and a native of Tunisia. “The outcome was outstanding, as the participants developed a detailed national action plan for reaching Tunisia’s 20-percent-on-the-Web objective.”
The workshops included many Tunisian faculty who came to UGA for three weeks of training in spring 2004 as well as 30 new professors, the former assuming leadership roles in the direction and assessment of the training, as they themselves become trainers.
“It was a privilege for us to have been there, at the right place at the right time,” Hamrita says. “Everything we presented fits in exactly with what Tunisia is trying to do at the moment.”