The educational system of a society is fundamental to the development and ultimate advancement of the entire community. Educators and governments all over the world have acknowledged that the educational structure and practices adopted can have a significant effect on the education of the population leading to a significant impact on the economic and social outcomes of their citizens. An effective educational system that yields high results is therefore seen as being essential for a nation’s well-being. Most countries have developed varied educational systems which are as a result of the various cultural backgrounds or even religious orientations of the particular nations.
The Iranian educational system is one of the education systems that exhibit profound differences in structure and governance from most western country educational systems. These differences are a result of the religious and cultural realities of the country. This paper shall set out to discuss the Iranian educational system so as to demonstrate the implication of the nation’s school practices to a global society. The paper shall begin by exploring the structure and governance of Iran’s education system. The paper shall then discuss various components of Iranian education such as finance, use of technology, teaching methods, and the impact of culture on education. All this shall be in a bid to provide a deeper understanding of Iran’s education system.
Structure and Governance
Iran’s current Educational System can trace its roots to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which resulted in tremendous changes being enacted to Iran’s school system. Mehralizade notes that following the 1979 Revolution, Iran laid strong emphasis upon human development and in particular the education of the population. The revolutionaries saw education as being key to the wellbeing of the people as well as a means through which the values of the revolution could be institutionalized into the society
The Iranian Embassy documents that Iran’s school system falls under the jurisdiction of the “Ministry of Education and Training”. This ministry approves the curriculum followed by the students and also accredits the national examinations that are required before a student can move from one level of education to the other. A notable attribute of Iran’s education system is that it is highly centralized in nature and the overall supervision is done by the Ministry of Education This ministry is also charged with the training and subsequent employment of the teaching staff. The number of teachers within the education system is 1 million making teachers the country’s highest number of civil servants.
The Iranian constitution stipulates that primary education is compulsory for all. To make this a reality, the British Council reports that the Iranian government provides free primary and secondary education for its citizens. As a result of these efforts, the literacy levels in Iran have risen significantly since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Peckham documents that while literacy stood at approximately 45% prior to the revolution, the literacy levels had risen to a remarkable 80% by 1996. Considering the fact that Iran has a high youth population, increased literacy levels are a positive attribute and point to great promise in the future.
The school education system in Iran is divided into a number of distinctive cycles which a child goes through progressively. The first cycle is the pre-school cycle which caters to children under the age of 6. This cycle is not compulsory and a child automatically moves on to the next level on attaining the age of 6 years. The next cycle is primary education which lasts for five years. During this stage, the children are given a broad range of general education and at the end of the period, they are subjected to an exam with is accredited by the Ministry of Education. Passing the exam makes one eligible for the next level which is the Middle (Guidance) cycle which lasts for 3 years. The Iranian Embassy reveals that in this stage, children are prepared to decide on which option they will take in the secondary education state. The fourth level is the Secondary education level. This level has two distinct branches namely “theoretical studies and technical & vocational studies”. A student selects the applicable branch and on completion, they are awarded the High School diploma.
Students who wish to enter higher education institutions take a Pre-university education at the end of which the student sits for the Konkur which is a highly competitive entrance exam that is mandatory for admission to the university. Entry into Iranian Universities is very difficult as a result of the country’s stringent entry exam, the Konkur. The Konkur serves as the “general National Entrance Examination for admission to university”. This Konkur results in only the most capable of students being afforded a chance at the university and as such, a large number of Iranians miss out on opportunities to continue their education at the university level. The pressure for places in universities is therefore very pronounced and as it currently stands, the available places are not capable of satisfying the demand.
A large teaching force is required to deal with the more than a 16milion School-aged students that the country has. The government of Iran has therefore invested in teacher training since teachers make up the highest number of civil servants in the country. School teachers in Iran are trained from a number of institutes depending on the level at which they teach. Before a person can train to be a teacher they must meet the minimum requirement of having achieved a High school diploma. There are special teacher Training Institutes that can be attended by people who wish to join the teaching profession after high school. Teachers who go to these special training programs which last for 2years are only eligible to teach at primary school levels.
Teachers who teach secondary school students on the other hand are required to have attained a degree at institutes of higher learning. In addition to this, one is required to undertake a one-year teacher training program. The British Council notes that there are significant discrepancies between the standard of education offered in urban and rural areas. This difference has been blamed mostly on the prominent shortage of teachers in rural areas. In order to deal with this predicament, the government ministry in charge of education has set up Rural Teachers Training Centers which train teachers who are then commissioned to serve in the rural areas.
The teaching methods employed by educators in Iran have undergone profound changes through the years as a result of the increased development of technologies and the informational revolution that we are currently experiencing. Morteza states that while in the past educational innovations were hugely a matter of chance and accident, these innovations are now viewed as non-accidental and organized in manner. Iranian teachers emphasize circulation and participative or group learning in the class.
As it currently stands, Iran’s teaching methods are of a traditional nature with the education being memory-centered. As such, the students are expected to memorize theories and other educational content. Teaching methods are therefore aimed at ensuring that students memorize the content taught by the teacher even if they do not understand or see the application of the same. Morteza proposes a shift from the memory-centered education system that is currently operational in Iran to a more problem-solving approach. This move would result in the creation of students who are not only more motivated to learn but are more creative and innovative.
Morteza reveals that there is a move away from teacher-centered methods of teaching to more student-centered methods and in some cases, the use of personalized education which takes advantage of new technology. These new moves involve the use of learning centers that can be viewed as a method through which learning is individualized and personalized. Israel reveals that learning centers are designed to “enable individuals or small groups of students to interact with course content after the teacher has taught the focus lesson or while the teacher is leading small-group sessions”.
Iranian school teachers do not use corporal punishment to instill discipline in the students. Instead, students are inculcated with strong Islamic values from the lower grades through high school up to tertiary education levels. Islamic classes which are compulsory for all the students are the avenues through which moral values and discipline are instilled to students. While these measures are effective, they are undesirable in a globalized society where people do not necessarily share religious beliefs. Iran has a non-Muslim population who are forced to take part in Islamic classes despite the fact that they do not share the faith.
The Iranian government is committed to the provision of education to its population. A report by the British Council on Iranian education reveals that as a general rule, all education (starting from primary to higher education) is provided free of charge by the government. While the provision of free education by the government is worthy of applauding, the feasibility of the same has become questionable as demand for education grows. Mehralizadeh states that the high demand for education from the country’s youthful population has put an enormous strain on the ability of the government to provide education. For this reason, there has been a need for private entities to come into play.
These private players are allowed by the government to charge tuition fees and they operate in line with the government regulation. Mehralizadeh documents that in the higher education circles; the need for private players was necessitated by the rapid expansion of higher education and the stagnation of government funding. This situation resulted in fears that the quality of learning could fall to unacceptable levels due to a lack of funding for investment in laboratories and equipment. The government, therefore, introduced tuition fees to help support university financing by shifting responsibility for funding to students and parents. This development was positive since Iranian universities could now retain qualified staff who had been moving to other countries as a result of poor resources and low pay in the Iranian universities.
Iran has utilized technology in its educational system. A very significant undertaking was by the Payaam-e Noor, which was established in 1987 as the country’s first distance-learning university. This university utilized the technologies available at the time to assist teachers and civil servants continue with their education while still working. The university now utilizes the internet infrastructure laid by the government of Iran to provide distance learning courses to its students. The exploitation of technology in Iranian education has increased the effectiveness of education as students can now work in a collaborative environment. This has placed Iranians in a favorable position in a world that is increasingly relying on technology.
Culture and Beliefs
Culture is defined as “a system of values and norms that are shared among a group of people and that, taken together, constitute a design for living”. Iran has a well-established culture that traces its roots to prehistoric times. Ashlock et al. quip that “Iran’s glory has always been its culture” and as such, it is necessary to take Iran’s culture into consideration when discussing any significant aspect of Iranian life. This is because culture dictates specific aspects of Iran such as business norms, education, and even the gender roles adopted.
The educational institutes in Iran are driven by cultures and Mehralizadeh notes that following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, major changes were implemented in the country’s institutes of learning so as to institutionalize the values of the revolution into the society. In particular, the education institutes were structured to conform to Islamic values. Ashlock states that as a result of the religious tenets to which Iran prescribes, “physical contact between members of the opposite sex is assiduously avoided except between relatives”. This explains why all schools in Iran are single-sex.
Family plays an important role in Iran and the influence of family ties is prevalent in all circles of social life. Strong emphasis is placed on the education of the children by the family. This is because children with high education bring about great benefits for the family. For this reason, many families push their children to pursue courses in desirable professions such as medicine and engineering; both of which have great social rewards. Ashlock et al. reveal that it is typical for a young person to pursue a first degree in the field of medicine or engineering just to placate the family and they proceed to undertake a completely unrelated career.
While Iran offers equal opportunities for men and women, cultural forces result in men being the major beneficiaries. Peckham reveals that as a result of culture, while the educational opportunities availed to women compete favorably with those presented to men, women are still restricted to working inside their homes or to low-level position work. Men still maintain a monopoly in senior positions and in some professions such as engineering. This status quo negates the equality that Iran’s education purports to practice in theory.
Reforms in Iran’s System
The highly centralized structure of Iran’s education system results in significant setbacks in the provision of education. A new reform aimed at decentralizing education at the University level promises to offset these setbacks. Mehralizadeh reveals that new reforms aimed at transitioning from a centralized to a decentralized University management system will enhance the management of Iranian universities as well as allow for the institutes to be more independent and self-regulated. The reforms shift accountability and autonomy towards the universities, therefore, avoiding the inefficiencies that were a result of the high centralization previously exhibited. These reforms have resulted in increased quality in the university of services offered by the university. As a result of these reforms, internal evaluation by the university has been made possible with improvements in curriculum design, content, and organization being high on the agenda of university management. This combined with the inculcation of monitoring and quality control groups has increased the quality of education offered by Iran’s universities.
Perhaps one of the more significant reforms in Iran’s education system has been in the emphasis on female education. The gender gap in education has been significantly closed and as of 2005, the enrollment rates for boys and girls in higher education institutes showed a change in favor of girls. According to UNESCO statistics, “adult literacy rates in Iran have increased from 63.2% (72.2 male and 54 female) in 1990 to 76% (83 males and 68.9 female) in 2000, pointing to significant progress in female literacy over the last decade”. The significant closing of the gender gap exhibited in Iran is credited to the changing role and responsibility of women in the Iranian community. Mehran documents that the role of the woman has changed significantly from the immediate years following the Revolution where the ideal woman was “the mother who raised pious Muslims and revolutionary soldiers”. In present-day Iran, women are recognized as independent entities who are entitled to basic human rights and the right to an education in order to improve their own lives.
The last few years have been turbulent for Iran following the disputed elections of 2009 which resulted in violent demonstrations and unrest in the country. As a result of these actions, there have been ongoing moves towards overhauling Iran’s education system so as to fortify the government’s position. A report by Erdbrink states that “Iran is overhauling its education system to rid it of Western influence”. These reforms which are said to begin in September of 2011 are aimed at fortifying Islamic values in the increasingly secularized middle class of the country. New courses such as “political training” which will be meant to warn the students against western ideals will be put in place and Western theories in subjects such as sociology and psychology replaced with Islamic ones. Such moves will undoubtedly undermine Iran’s education system on the international ground and greatly diminish the academic standards of the country.
Peckham reveals that the education system of Iran is challenged mostly since the system aimed to fulfill a dual role; educate the population as well as act as a tool for the propagation of fundamental beliefs and propaganda. While it is true that the propagation of fundamental beliefs results in commitment which may foster cultural stability, it acts as an inhibitor to development and leads to Iran not being able to compete favorably with educational institutes in other countries.
This paper set out to give an in-depth analysis of the Iranian educational system so as to demonstrate the implication of the nation’s school practices to a global society. To this end, the paper has reviewed the structure of the Iranian system and the various attributes which influence the school system. From this paper, it is evident that the Iranian system has been successful in increasing the literacy level of the population. However, this paper has noted that the use of educational institutes to propagate fundamental beliefs may be detrimental to the well-being of the otherwise effective educational system that the country has developed.
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