Written by Uzair Ahmad Saleem
Iran has a rich cultural heritage and a long history of educational excellence, dating back to ancient times when it was known as Persia. However, the country is currently confronted with various issues in the education sector that jeopardise its ability to provide high-quality education to its citizens.
Around 7 million children lack access to education, and an estimated 25 million illiterates are in Iran.
Education is considered compulsory in Iran for children aged 6 to 11. However, access to education remains a significant barrier in Iran, particularly for pupils from low-income families.
One of the main barriers to education is poverty, particularly in rural areas, where access to schools, qualified teachers, and transportation is limited.
Over the past three years, fewer students have been attending college. According to Iranian state media, this decrease is due to poverty, the absence of free education, and the lack of government support for college students. The total number of college students fell from 4,811,581 in the academic year 2014–2015 to 3,616,114 in the academic year 2017–2018.
Additionally, Iran’s educational system still struggles with gender inequality. Girls are still underrepresented in higher education, despite the fact that their enrolment in primary and secondary education has increased dramatically over the previous few decades.
According to the World Bank, the literacy rate for adult girls in Iran is 85%, compared to 92% for adult boys. Many families still prioritise early marriage over their daughters’ education.
Because of this, female students encounter substantial obstacles while wanting to pursue education beyond the first grade, and gender segregation in schools restricts their ability to pursue further education.
Another threat to Iran’s educational system is a lack of capital, which leads to a dearth of trained teachers, inadequate facilities, and antiquated equipment.
Many educational facilities are subpar and unsafe, with a scarcity of teaching areas. In fact, one-third of Iran’s schools are so flimsy that they must be demolished and rebuilt.
The city council chair in Tehran, Ray and Tajrish, Mohsen Hashemi, said that “700 schools in Tehran will be destroyed in case of a severe storm, let alone earthquake.”
Despite the government’s efforts to enhance educational investment, Iran’s educational expenditure remains low compared to other countries in the region.
According to the World Bank, Iran’s education expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 3.6% in 2020, much lower than the average education expenditure in other upper-middle-income nations.
While Iranian Constitution states, “The government is obliged to provide free elementary and high school education for all members of the nation and facilitate free higher education for all until the country is self-sufficient.” In contrast, Rouhani has ordered to shut down many schools in rural communities and to cut down the budget in the past few years.
An assistant professor at Allameh University stated that Iran’s percentage allocation of money to education is much less than the United Nations’ recommendation.
In addition, the school system cannot keep up with technological improvements due to a lack of resources. The lack of technology investment has led to outmoded equipment and a lack of teacher training, which has limited the use of technology in education and hampered Iranian students’ acquisition of digital skills.
Adding on, digital inequality is a problem that students have faced in recent years. A 2017 survey showed that 28% of Iranians had no internet access or only minimal internet access. While those with internet access, 80% of the users lived in cities and only 20% in rural areas.
During the coronavirus pandemic in 2019, when online learning was prioritised in Iran to reduce the virus’s spread, a considerable number of students dropped out. This was due to their inability to buy an internet connection and limited internet access in their area.
Additionally, in Iran, the educational system is greatly influenced by the government, which has resulted in the politicisation of education and the promotion of a specific ideology.
The Iranian government strictly controls the curriculum, textbooks, and instructional materials used in schools and universities. School curricula are frequently linked with the government’s political and religious ideas, emphasising promoting Islamic values and the government’s version of Iranian culture and history.
The Iranian government’s influence on the educational system extends beyond classroom content.
It also affects the hiring and firing of teachers and university professors and the appointment of administrators. This can result in discriminatory hiring practices and the exclusion of individuals who do not align with the government’s ideologies, limiting the educational system’s diversity of perspectives and ideas.
Moreover, the Iranian government actively monitors and controls academic research, publications, and activities within the educational institutions.
Scholars, educators, and students who express opposing viewpoints or engage in critical thinking undermining the government’s narratives face restriction, intimidation, and even persecution. This generates fear and self-censorship among educators and students, restricting academic independence and the sharing of varied ideas and opinions.
As a result, the politics of education in Iran may impair students’ ability to think critically, question, and consider alternate points of view. It can limit their exposure to different points of view, limit their academic independence, and hinder their capacity to acquire critical thinking abilities, which are necessary for personal growth, societal progress, and fostering an open and inclusive intellectual environment.
Depletion of talent
Finally, brain drain is another educational challenge that Iran is currently confronting. Many talented and educated Iranians are fleeing the nation for better career prospects and higher pay.
According to the IMF, which studied 61 nations, Iran has the highest rate of brain drain, with 150,000 educated Iranians leaving their native country each year. The annual economic loss from brain drain is estimated at $50 billion or higher.
This brain drain deprives the country of its brightest minds, reducing the country’s potential for economic growth and progress.
Addressing these challenges requires significant reforms and investment in the education system.
The Iranian government must prioritise education by boosting funding in schools and universities, hiring and training qualified teachers, and upgrading curricula to emphasise critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.
Furthermore, the government must address educational challenges experienced by female students, particularly in rural regions, and promote gender equality in education.
Investing in technology is also essential for developing Iran’s educational system. The government must offer the most up-to-date technology to schools and institutions and invest in training teachers to use it successfully in the classroom. This will not only help students build digital abilities, but it will also prepare them for the demands of the twenty-first-century labour market.
By doing so, Iran can overcome these challenges and build a more prosperous and successful future.