Text: Amel Meziane and Erik Altorfer
In spring 2019, the first network meeting of SINAN – The Swiss-North African Academic Network – took place at PH Zurich (PHZH). Lecturers and professors from colleges and universities in Tunisia, Egypt and Switzerland met during three days at the launch event of a project that was to last two years with more meetings in Tunisia in autumn 2019, Egypt (spring 2020) and a concluding symposium in Zurich (November 2021).
In addition to the scheduled meetings, participants had to form duos or trios with other Tunisian and Egyptian fellows in order to jointly work on topics related to teacher education. The aim of these international collaborations was to foster academic exchanges, share teaching experiences and identify similarities as well as differences in professional practices.
The Importance of Creative Writing in Teacher Education Programmes
Lecturers with similar interests, backgrounds and the desire to make new experiences met. That is how Amel Meziane, a lecturer in English language and didactics at ISEAHZ (Higher Institute of Applied Studies in Humanities of Zaghouan), University of Tunis and Erik Altorfer, a staff member of the writing centre at PHZH embarked on a journey with the purpose to promote the importance of creative writing in teacher education programmes.
The two lecturers held creative writing sessions for pre-service teachers. On one hand, Amel Miziane organized an informal creative writing club composed of eight pre-service teachers and six English language students, who met six times for one hour once a week. On the other hand, Erik Altorfer worked with his students in the German didactics module for secondary school students. The two lecturers jointly prepared two writing workshops – one on inner monologues and another one on aesthetic perceptions. Both workshops were based on writing creatively using pictures as a source of inspiration.
The Power of Creative Writing
Once the creative writing sessions were over, both researchers collected relevant data based on reflective accounts which students had to fill in. They were most interested in asking the participants five questions about their feedbacks on the experiences, more specifically the impact these had on the personal, professional and academic levels. Although the data collection took place in two countries, both researchers decided to look at the similarities as well as the differences identified in the collected corpora without any interpretation based on the ground of cultural or geographical disparities. To begin with, most participants from both groups acknowledged creative writing as a way of communication which gives writers a voice to reflect upon private and life matters in a unique way. The power of creative writing to ensure psychological relief was mentioned by both groups as a very strong characteristic of creative writing. Also, its flexible artistic nature (emphasis on expression, perspective of narration, form and style rather than on more formal criteria) was seen as an asset that puts writers at ease, increases their motivation, lowers their apprehension and encourages them to overcome the difficulties they encounter in other more formal writing experiences. Both groups mentioned the effect of creative writing on developing writing skills, communication and creativity. Such findings corroborate to a great extent the literature on the benefits of teaching creative writing. Most importantly, the authors of this article strongly believe that the techniques taught in creative writing can enrich writers’ language, the style and the dramaturgy of their texts. It can also be transformed and made fruitful in other writing genres including academic writing.
Slam Poetry Competition
Another equally interesting part of the joint endeavour was the Slam Poetry competition, that was held in both countries, yet on different dates. The Sea Between Us was chosen as a common title. Although the title hints at the sea as a barrier that stands between Tunisia and Switzerland, many candidates looked at it from various perspectives, thus yielding a variety of texts. With regard to the Tunisian call for participation, all three languages were welcomed.
Two judges, who are also university language teachers with a great mastery of English, French and Arabic, read the texts and watched the performances with the aim of selecting the texts which achieved creativity, accuracy, relevance and depth of content. As for the competition that took place in Zurich, a jury consisting of a student, who is a tutor at the PHZH writing centre and two poetry slam authors selected eight texts. In Switzerland, the criteria for text pre-selection were content, language and performance quality. The publication of the booklet received an encouraging response.
The six winning texts, three of which were composed by Tunisian candidates and the remaining were written by Swiss candidates were published in a booklet (along with links to videos of the author’s performed readings) to celebrate the talent of those writers.
Everyone Can Write Creatively
It is worth mentioning that creative writing has long been mistakenly considered as a skill that only people born with a natural talent can master. The fruitful and enriching experience which took place in teacher education universities in Tunisia and Switzerland questions such an assumption. Also, this unusual collaboration paved the way to a second edition of a Poetry slam competition which takes place in 2022. This time the chosen topic is «True Colors». Students, staff members and lecturers from both Zaghouan and Zurich are currently submitting their texts. As it was the case last year, a publication of the winning texts of both countries along with the QR-Codes to the performance videos is planned.
The project «Swiss North African Academic Network» (SINAN), organized by the Department International Projects in Education (IPE) of the Zurich University of Teacher Education (PH Zürich), aimed to facilitate dialogue and exchange between teacher training universities in Egypt, Tunisia and Switzerland. Four meetings were held in Zurich, Zaghouan/Carthage and Cairo between March 2019 and November 2021.
About the Authors
Amel Meziane is a lecturer in English language and didactics at ISEAHZ (Higher Institute of Applied Studies in Humanities of Zaghouan), University of Tunis.
Erik Altorfer is a staff member at the writing centre at PH Zurich, Switzerland.