Whether you’ve watched classic Iranian movies and seen schoolgirls in uniform or heard about university students nowadays in Iran, you may wonder how Iran’s educational system is.
Are school and university teachings good? Are women many to follow secondary education? And in the end, how different is it from what you have experienced yourself in your own country?
Iran’s primary and secondary education
Iran’s primary and secondary education is similar to most western countries’. Education is compulsory and accessible for all children aged from 6 years old. Some parents enroll their children one year earlier in pre-primary care, which is optional. Otherwise, primary school (“dabestan” in Persian) starts from the age of 6 years and lasts until the age of 12. Currently, 99,8% of Iranian children between 9 and 12 attend school.
Parents can choose between free public schools, private schools (with high tuition fees), and another institution called “nemuneh mardomi”, believed to be better than public schools, while cheaper than private ones, and they are accessible only after a competitive entrance exam that aims to identify the best students.
Note that classes are not mixed, and boys and girls are separated (not during the break). Yet, in villages, where the amount of students is low, boys and girls can have classes together for the first years. Also, Iranian students are required to wear a uniform.
After primary school, children enter secondary education, divided into two three-year phases: lower secondary education and upper secondary education. Both steps are free, yet only the first one is compulsory. It means that children are no longer compelled to attend school by the end of the 9th year grade (around 15 years old).
Students must pass an exam at the end of the lower secondary education phase. Based on their results and, to a lesser extent, on their preferences, students will choose among one of the three different paths to follow during upper secondary education: academic, technical, and vocational.
What do Iranian students learn?
The Ministry of Education and Training supervises Iran’s educational system. Thus, its curriculum is highly dependent on political and religious orientations. That is one reason why many Iranians complain about the quality of the teaching in their school books. However, the overall level of training in Iranian schools is good. It covers the same large topics as what is taught in western schools.
Iranian students are taught Persian language, literature, mathematics, science, history, geography, art, physical education, religious studies, and Quranic studies. They also learn about physical sciences, humanities, and foreign languages from secondary education. English is usually the second language taught in Iranian schools, while they can, later on, choose a third language, usually between French or German.
Access to universities and the challenge of the “Concour”
Most students finishing their secondary education will try to enter university. But in Iran, this is not an easy task. Entrance to Iran’s public universities is based on the result of a very competitive examination known as the “Concours” (“Konkur”). To prepare for this exam, students can follow an optional one. Year (“pish-daneshgahi”), during which they will specialize in a field of studies among mathematics, experimental sciences, humanities, art, or Islamic culture.
The Concours takes place every year in June. It’s a 4.5-hour multiple-choice exam that is extremely challenging. Only 10% of the students that take the test find a placement in a public university (determined by their score at the Concours). Students who fail are allowed to repeat the exam until they pass. And the ones getting the best results will be admitted to the best universities, usually into the engineering and medical fields.
Universities in Iran
Iran counts a great number of universities and university students. There are 46 universities, 60 post-secondary technical institutes, and about 200 colleges and professional schools. 58% of Iranians between 18 and 22 years old are enrolled in post-secondary institutions, and women represent more than half of these students.
Iran has both public and private universities. Public universities usually have the best reputations, and most are free. The University of Tehran, founded in 1934, is ranked as one of the top 400 universities in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Two other universities located in Tehran are pretty famous and prestigious. One of them is Amir Kabir University of Technology, and the other one is Sharif University of Technology.
Note that these rankings are negatively affected by the low number of international students (due to the difficulties of studying in Iran); without this criteria, these universities would probably rank even higher in international ranking as the quality of their teaching is unquestionable. Many famous Iranian expatriates now working in successful companies in Silicon Valley were Sharif and Amir Kabir University students.
Because if having a university degree is a prerequisite to getting hired in a well-paid job for Iran, it is not enough, though. For many years, Iran has been suffering from an “over-education crisis”, with a higher number of college graduates than the positions available. In 2011, only 6% of master’s degree students and 4% of Ph.D. students could secure a good position at the end of their studies. That situation, unfortunately, led to an important “brain-drain,” with high-educated profiles emigrating to find better job opportunities.