Category Archives: Iran

Iran Education system needs a huge reform-2

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!


Filed under education, gedivt, Iran

Iran Education system needs a huge reform-1

As an Iranian who was born during a huge baby boom after the revolution, I have experienced how wasteful and useless is the standardized test.  The university entrance exam in Iran was held since 1969 and it continues till today. Iran education system suffers from lots of deficiencies. The education system in Iran mostly copied from France and it faces few reforms since early of twentieth century. In my opinion, Iran education system needs a revolutionary change. It wastes time and energy of students in a most ineffective way!  Here in this post I try to describe some of the problems of this system and how the university entrance exam kills creativity and innovation in my country.

The first problem in this system came back to tracking. As of lots of other countries such as Germany, France, China, Hong Kong and so on, Iranian students also tracked in different branches when they finish 9th grade. Students should choose between academic track and vocational track. In academic track there are four theoretical branches: Mathematics and physics, Biology, Humanities, and Art. In vocational track there are lots of applied branches which have a goal to provide technicians for country. The government tried to encourage more students to choose vocational track back to early 90s but the reform program in high school at that time was totally failed. Students who choose to go to vocational track could get vocational diploma and they only can take associate exam and earn associate degree. Although after they earn associate degree, they can attend in another exam and if they earn good points at that exam they can enter to college to earn bachelor degree, the total process is both time consuming and risky. In addition, traditionally, more talented students choose the academic track since they will have chance to go to the best colleges of the country. Families don’t like their children choose vocational track because they think it is risky, time consuming, with less social prestigious as well as lower peer effect during high school. As a result all reforms have been made to improve the situation of vocational track has been failed.


At the beginning of grade 10, student should have chosen their field. Again, another sorting happened among students and it causes lots of troubles for them in future. Most families in Iran have a desire for kids to be either engineer or medical doctors. The situation is much better now due to high unemployment rate among engineers and doctors in Iran but in my time, lots of families forced their kids to choose either mathematics or biology branch in high school to have a chance to be either engineer or medical doctor. I have seen this phenomenon among lots of my friends and later on in university they faced with depression, having a reluctant feeling to continue their education, wasting their times and energy and so on. Other than families’ forces, there is not enough clear information regarding to different path of that important decisions. Teachers in high schools encourage talented students, especially those with higher grades in mathematics, to choose mathematics and physics branch. Those who are good in math and biology encourage choosing biology, the rest of students choose either humanities or Art. Because of this sorting, the resources (students) may allocate inefficiently during high school. Even if a student is free to choose the branch based on his/her own interests, since s/he faces with weaker peer groups in humanities or Art, s/he may prefer to choose mathematics in high school and then take art or humanities entrance exam for college. These cultures along with the system itself cause wasting time, energy, incentives, and resources.

The second problem of the system came back to national university entrance exam. Best universities in Iran are public universities and the private universities (where Azad University is the largest of them) are not as good as public universities. The problem I try to explain here is not as severe as my time because the student population declines drastically due to family planning run since end of 1980s. In my time, more than 500,000 students participated in mathematics exam and less than 50% of them would be eligible to choose major/college and among those 50% qualified students, less than 50% of them went to college. For instance in 2003, the year I took that exam, about 1,400,000 students participate in entrance exam in all branches and less than 250,000 were admitted for college (about 17% of them). As a result, lots of students would take the entrance exam again or go to job market. Those who went behind the exam would not have good situation. For boys it is not good because they should go to military service and put two years of their lives for that task. For girls, it is not good because few job opportunities are available for them as high school diploma. It is essential to note that in general women face with lower job opportunities in Iran than men and in addition, whiles lots of unemployed women with bachelor degree are in job market, the situation for those with high school diploma is even worse. High competition in this exam causes lots of social problem. One problem came back to rising inequality of opportunity. The second problem is related to killing of creativity and innovation among high school graduates and high school students. The third problem is students again sorted based on one number and if you were a good test taker specially performed well in multiple choice exams, you would be the winner: you can choose the best university and the best majors. If not, you will end up with the worst results. Since this post is already too long, I would like to explain in details in next post.


Filed under education, gedivt, Iran

Iran Nuclear Deal: Physics, Politics and Diplomacy

The Middle East Working Group at Virginia Tech organized a panel discussion on the Iran Nuclear Deal on September 15. Along with Professor Djavad Salehi-Isfahani of the Economics department, Professor Paul Avey of the Political Science Department, Professor Patrick Huber of the Physics Department spoke to an audience of over hundred students and the general public about different aspects of the Iran Nuclear Deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the Western powers and Iran. Dr Bettina Koch of the Political Science Department was the moderator of the panel.

Dr. Avey kicked off the panel by explaining why countries may seek nuclear weapons – to increase their national power and to secure themselves from invasion by other countries.
He pointed out that with Pakistan and Israel in possession of nuclear weapons Iran has strong incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. In addition, since the 1979 revolution US has threatened Iran with regime change. After 9/11, President Bush put Iran on his axis of evil list, along with Iraq and North Korea. North Korea, which developed nuclear weapons has not been overthrown while, Iraq which did not, have been overthrown. Given these outcomes, developing nuclear weapons seems like an obvious choice to any rational actor.

The next speaker, Dr. Huber first explained the science of nuclear energy, noting that the knowledge required for producing electricity from nuclear energy is the same as that required to build weapons. In fact, the physics of nuclear energy for civilian use is the same as for non-civilian use! He primarily pointed out that the Iran nuclear deal severely reduces the ability of Iran to make a bomb since uranium enrichment is restricted to below 5%.

The last speaker, Dr. Salehi-Isfahani, explained how much of the controversy surrounding the deal is about the nature of Iran’s society and its politics. He argued that Iranians are divided over the economic benefits of the nuclear industry as well as over the value of projecting national power in the region or beyond. He said that the election of the moderate president Rouhani signified the preference of the average Iranian to win in what he called the “Quiet Game” rather than victory in some “Great Game.” [He borrowed this term from the wonderful book written by Peter Hopkirk on the geopolitics of Central Asia).
He said that nearly half of Iranians are now middle class; they want good schools, good health care, economic prosperity, and jobs. Dr. Salehi-Isfahani asserted that most Iranians would prefer to live in a country like Turkey that has a healthy economy but no nuclear weapons, than a country like Pakistan that has nuclear weapons but an ailing economy. Dr. Salehi said also that Rouhani administration needs to do lots of economic reforms to improve economy which is stagnant since 2011. For doing that, he needs money to inject to economy to bring back hope and economic prosperity to voters who will vote next February in Parliament election. This deal is a starting point for Rouhani to bring back economy to growth and prosperity path.

After Dr. Salehi’s talk, the audience asked their questions from the panelists. Audience questions ranged from the politics of the region, to what happened if Iran cheats? Also, Students are very curious about physics of nuclear energy that Dr. Huber addressed them. Another question is about difference of Europe vs. US in relation to the Iran nuclear deal. Dr Salehi pointed out that since Europe bares all the costs of the chaos in the Middle East, such as refugee crisis, its condition is different with US and Europe welcomes to the Iran nuclear deal very quickly.

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