In my last blog post, I talked about several problems in Iranian educational system. In this post, I want to clarify some of my points.
The first problem regarding to admission process for college studies in Iran is high inequality of opportunity in the system. As the country becomes richer and developed after the end of Iran-Iraq war, inequality increases in the country. One of the aspect of inequality which is harmful for economic growth and development of a country is inequality of opportunity. Inequality of opportunity means inequality in outcome due to circumstances beyond individuals’ control. For instance, inequality in outcome due to gender of individuals is unjust.
The university entrance exam (Concur) is one of the institutions in Iran education system which causes improvement in inequality of opportunity. Based on “Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) test (which is again a standard test but at least it gives us a measure to compare students worldwide!) Iran has great index of inequality of opportunity (IOP) in education outcome in the Middle East. This exam is held for students in eighth grade both in mathematics and science and Iran’s score in IOP is one of the largest one in the region. Although we don’t have access to data of Concur, the education system mechanism stimulate IOP in education outcome as students move forward in education system from one grade to upper grade. I try to explain the intuition behind that mechanism here.
All families and students know that if they want to be successful, they should be good in multiple choice exam and they should understand all high school materials in a way to answer entrance exam questions in the shortest time. So having a good skill in taking an exam with lots of multiple choice questions is vital. In addition, if a student gets admission from top ten university, she/he can be hopeful to get good job after graduation or have a chance to continue her/his education abroad. So those students who have educated parents or their parents can support them financially to go to good private high schools have more chance to be successful in Concur. While we know parental income or parental education is beyond an individual’s control and as a result it causes IOP.
The second problem related to Concur system is killing innovation and creativity among high school students. Those talented and diligent high school students prefer to study as much as they can during high school to get good points in Concur. At the end of the day, they will rank based on their scores in Concur, so there is no incentive among high school students to be creative, do innovative research, or be active in sport, art, and other extracurricular activities. I don’t want to say that high school students do not do these activities at all, my point is, ranking students just because of one score, give them a signal to be prepared for that exam only rather than doing other activities where they don’t have any point in their college admission.
The third problem is due to inefficient resource allocation due to this system. Part of this problem as I described in previous post is due to cultural problem but the other part is because of education system. When the system gives a signal to high school students that engineering and medical science is good, and then most of good students prefer to go to engineering school or medical school. Since each student can register and take Concur in only one field (Math, biology, Humanities, Art) even if the student finds engineering or medical studies boring and beyond his/her interest, he/she has long and hard time to change his/her major. If the student wants to quit the engineering college for instance and studies in sociology in the middle of his undergraduate studies, he should take Concur again in humanities field which is very risky and stressful. So if a person becomes disappointed by his undergraduate studies, most of people will decide to finish their undergraduate studies and earn a bachelor degree and continue in a field he really likes in graduate school (in Master’s level) which means that person loses at least 2 or three years of his life and his precious youth time. In addition, some of excellent universities in Iran do not offer courses in all fields. For instance Sharif University which is one the most prestigious and well known universities in Iran, is a polytechnic university and courses are offered only in Math, Physics, Chemistry and engineering fields, so if a student is in Sharif University, which means that student is really talented and diligent, s/he does not have any chance to be familiar with sociology, law, political science or even biology and business majors. As a result, that student might be very successful if s/he had a chance to study in business majors, but due to education system, s/he ends up with mediocre outcome!