EDUCATION IN IRAN
Primary education in Iran is compulsory under the Iranian constitution. As a general rule, primary, secondary and higher education is free, although private schools and universities do exist and are permitted to charge tuition fees. According to government figures, over 95% of Iranian children currently receive primary and secondary education. All schools are single-sex. There are over 113,000 schools throughout Iran, teaching over 18 million children. It is estimated that there are almost 1 million teachers within the education system.
More than 50% of the country’s 66m population is under the age of 25, which creates huge demand within the education system. In particular, admissions to post-secondary courses are highly competitive and university places are won through the National Entrance Examination (Konkur). There are currently well over 1 million students pursuing courses in Iranian universities, over half of these at private universities. Iran has 52 state universities and 28 medical universities, as well as a significant number of government research institutes. There are 25 private universities, including the Islamic Azad University, which has branches all over the country.
The academic year runs for 10 months (200 active days) from September to June. There are three terms: September–December, January-March and April-June.
Direction: Ministry of Education
School education in Iran is divided into the following cycles. There are qualifying examinations to pass from one educational cycle to the next and national exams are conducted at the end of each grade of the secondary cycle. Special provision is made within the educational system for gifted and special needs children, as well as for minority groups, refuges and for non-formal education.
Pre-school education: This is non-compulsory and children proceed automatically to primary education at the age of 6.
Primary education: Children begin primary education aged 6 and are given a broad-ranging general education. There is a national exam at the end of the 5 years, which students have to pass to enter into the Guidance cycle.
^ : This three-year phase also provides students with general education, and encourages them to think about the options for secondary education. Students must sit a regional exam at the end of the Guidance cycle in order to proceed to secondary education level.
^ : Secondary education is divided into two branches: ‘theoretical’ studies and technical & vocational studies. The academic or ‘theoretical’ branch comprises four subject areas: literature & culture, socio-economic studies, maths & physics, experimental sciences. The technical branch is more vocational in structure and is divided into the following three sectors: technical, business & vocational, agriculture. National exams are conducted at the end of each academic year during this secondary cycle. Students complete a number of units during their three years of secondary education, and must obtain 96 units within this time in order to be awarded the High School diploma (Diplom-e Mottevasseteh).
^ : Students wishing to enter Higher Education must take a one-year pre-university course, at the end of which they may obtain a ‘Pre-University Certificate’. This certificate then qualifies students to sit for the highly competitive National Entrance Exam (Konkur), success in which is imperative in order to gain a place at university.
There are other technical and vocational paths into further education. Non-formal training comes under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
It should be noted that there are discrepancies between the standard of education provided in urban and rural areas, as well between the different regions of the country. There has been a shortage of teachers in rural areas: to ease this problem the Ministry of Education established specific Rural Teacher Training Centres, as well as conscripting teachers to be sent to non-urban areas.
A Literacy Movement, affiliated to the MoE, has been very successful in reducing illiteracy amongst the Iranian population over the last 25 years.
Figure 1: The Educational System of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ministry of Science, Research & Technology
Ministry of Health, Treatment & Medical Education
Ministry of Education (Teacher Training – primary/guidance level)
(Higher Institutes of Technical & Vocational Education)
Admission to state universities is based on successful placing in the competitive National Entrance Exam (Konkur). (There is a separate Konkur for entry into the private university system). The total number of students enrolled in higher education in 1998-9 was 1,308,150 including 47.6% at state institutions and 52.4% at private institutions. 92% of these students were studying at undergraduate level and 8% were taking postgraduate courses. The first degree (Licence/Kar-Shenasi) usually takes four years and is awarded on a credit system (153 units and an overall score of 12 or more out of 20). Masters degrees usually take two years to complete, and Ph.D students may study for a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 6 years.
Table 1. Enrolments by level of education in public and private sectors (1998-99)
A total of 347,722 students were admitted by universities and higher education institutes in Iran in 1998-999 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). The male/female ratio of admissions is relatively balanced: the proportion of female students was 42.3% in the public sector and 44.5% in the private sector, although unofficial estimates claim that female admissions actually outweighed male admissions in 2001-2. (NB National service of 18 months is obligatory for males aged 18, but is deferred until completion of formal education). The most popular field of studies was Humanities (48%), followed by Engineering (22%), and the least popular Arts (3%).
Iran has a significant number of divinity students (approximately 23,000) studying in centres of excellence in Qom and Mashad, as well as in theological faculties of major universities.
Further statistics about graduates, faculty members and fields of study are available at http://www.mche.or.ir/English/index.html
Table 2. Enrolment by field of study in public and private sectors (1998-99)
The pressure for places on post-secondary courses is very pronounced and demand far outweighs supply. However, moves have been taken to combat this problem. In 1981, the Islamic Azad University was established. Students are charged tuition fees, so the university is self-funding and not reliant on government funding. Branches of Azad University have now been established throughout Iran and today thousands of students are taking part in courses run by the various branches of this private university.
Another measure taken to tackle the huge demand for higher education was to set up distance-learning universities, such as ^ , which was established in 1987. It charges tuition fees and principally aims at providing teachers and civil servants the opportunity to continue their education. Like the Open University in the UK, courses are given through television and by correspondence. Students take exams at local university offices.
Government statistics indicate that these policies are working and the proportion of applicants entering higher education is increasing. Figures for 1990 showed that of the 750,000 applicants, only 1/12th gained places at higher education institutes. However, more recent government figures indicate that of the 1.5 million students who took the Konkur last year, places were available for approximately 27% of candidates.
Primary and secondary school teacher training is undertaken under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. Teachers may train at special ‘Rural Teacher Training Centres’, at or at specialist primary or guidance level institutes. Training for secondary level teachers - who must have obtained their High School Diploma and successfully passed the Konkur - is undertaken at several major universities, at Colleges of Education (for vocational/technical teachers), and at Tarbiat-e Mo’allem, (a specialist teacher training university in Tehran).
English as a second language is introduced from Grade 7 (for children aged 12) within the secondary school system.
Private schools (including language schools) were permitted to re-open in 1988 as ‘non-profit institutions’. It is estimated that over 1 million students (both children and adults) are currently enrolled in private English Language institutes, the most renowned centres being the Iran Language Institute and Kish Language Institute. These two bodies are self-funding but government-affiliated, and account for approximately half the total enrolment nationally. There are very few native English speakers permitted to teach within Iran and the methodology and resources available to English teachers is very limited. UK ELT textbooks are commonly used in language schools, with ‘Headway’ being the most popular. The majority of the books used are pirate copies.
The teaching of English is not currently permitted by foreign bodies such as the British Council. However, two IELTS examination centres (including the British Council) are now operating within Iran.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for curriculum development and for providing textbooks for all pre-university educational courses. It prints over 100 million books per year. The Centre for Educational Technology, part of the Organisation for Research & Educational Planning, produces and distributes supplementary audio and visual materials for schools. The CET is also responsible for developing the Roshd national intranet for schools.
The administration of the curriculum and facilities within Medical Universities is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.
Useful web links:
Ministry of Science, Research & Technology:
Iran School Net: http://www.schoolnet.ir / http://www.iranschoolnet.com
Iran Student Net: http://www.iran-student.net/universitylinks/iranuniv.htm
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