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

8 Responses to Iran Education system needs a huge reform-1

  1. Xiang

    A little different from your critical tone towards the educational system of Iran, I think Iran’s education system is pretty “good”. Of course, the word good is in quotation marks because it is not really good, just in a relative sense. As a matter of fact, I even think Iran’s education is a miracle compared with its general social structure.
    Iran is still a theocratic regime and fundamentally opposes the separation of state and church which is already a common practice of modern societies. Iran is one of the very rare countries (along with Saudi Arabia) which still officially enforce the veiling of females. Iran’s Civil Code article 1041 stipulates men can legally marry a girl as young as nine (9) years old. Iran is also a country where stoning adulterers is said not to be supported by the government anymore but is actually secretly carried out in some regions… I am afraid I have to say, as far as its official institutions are concerned, Iran is a country trapped in the middle age.
    However, paradoxically, Iranian society is relatively more vibrant than its theocratic regime. In Iran, more girls go to college than boys which is a miracle among all Islamic culture dominated societies. As you said, this country tried to fabricate French education, which by itself already proves the Iranian people down deep appreciate delicate cultures. They say every Iranian household has two books, one is Koran, the other is Hafez’s romantic poems, but only one book is actually read (and you know which one). If you have seen the movie A Separation, you will know a typical middle class family in Iran would be happy to familiarize their children with foreign cultures and languages, like the French!
    Speaking Iranian middle class, they had zealously taken part into the 1979 revolution which made out the Islamic Republic. Their original goal is no more than overthrowing the old corruptive Pahlavi dynasty. As a matter of fact, under the Pahlavi regime, Iranian society had been pretty modernized and young girls could wear miniskirts in Tehran. However, out of the Iranian middle class’s imagination, the new Islamic State finished everything and girls simply had to put on veils since then. At least to a large part of the people, it is already too late. This regretful mood is typically reflected by the Iranian movie Circumstances.
    My point is, Iranian society had once been on a modernizing cause in its history but that cause is interrupted by the Islamic revolution. However, some of the establishments of modernization are preserved and Iran’s education system is one of them. Precisely because of its relatively modern education under a theocratic regime, Iranian people can keep a heart of rebellion, and in 2009’s protest, they almost succeeded to terminate the Islamic republic.
    So brother, give some sympathy to Iran’s education system, and if there should be any revolution at all, it should be an overall revolution to topple the regime in the first place!

    • Milad

      Thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it and I am surprised with your knowledge about Iran. I agree with your post totally. However, you said something weird: “Iran is also a country where stoning adulterers is said not to be supported by the government anymore but is actually secretly carried out in some region”.
      How do you know that? I never saw and even heard about it in Iran.

    • Xiang,
      Thanks for your long comments. I agree with part of your comments but I found myself most in opposite side. I try to clarify my points here:

      I think you mostly look at my country through the lens of media which they are totally biased. I don’t want to say that there is not any problem in political system of Iran. In fact I am some kinda one of the victim of that system. But the way you describe the society is far from the reality. For example, you mention stoning adulterers but It is not something that government does it secretly very common. They are few cases (maybe less that 5-6 since the revolution) while the media tries to enlarge this issue to destroy and demolish the regime. You said girls are put under hejab and lose their freedom. Firstly, I don’t agree that freedom is equivalent to not to have Hejab! I myself wear hejab and I don’t think ever that I am not free or my clothing restricted me! Yes, forcing hejab is opposite of freedom but having hejab per se is not something that we want to stick it to lack of freedom! In addition, as I explain below, I think mandatory hejab and gender segregation in some sense helps women to improve themselves in Iran. I myself prefer to have education right rather than a right to choose my cloth freely if I should choose only one of these rights!

      As an economics student, I have worked a lot with Iranian micro data and I want to let you know Iran is not just limited to Tehran and Tehran by itself is a large city with over 10 million population so definitely Tehran is also so varied and diverse and not limited to north part of that.

      Yes, There is a theocratic government in Iran and it tries to limit some of social and political freedom of people. Yet, Pahlavi government in this sense did the same. After revolution I think people loose parts of their social freedom such as freedom in clothing (the government enforces Hejab) or freedom to drink Alcohol, … but people gains more political freedom as well as independence.

      As far as I know, in some direction the Islamic republic helps women in many ways. Although it intervenes in their clothing and I totally oppose with this law, they prepare more opportunity for women education. Iran is an Islamic country with strong tradition and culture. There is a powerful patriarchal culture in Iran. We could not compare this country with some secular modern European countries such as Sweden! Although you may think that school gender segregation is a limited policies, I think this policy helps girls a lot to go to school. Most of girls in Iran would not find a chance to go to school if we had coeducational schools!

      My critique to education system comes from the reality and the outcome of the system. It has nothing to do with advocating of death penalty by government! I think you mix different issues and as a result I think you lost my point.

      As I said in my post, education system at the beginning copied from French education system and it turned back to more than 150 years ago. The whole system is not updated and suffer from lots of flaws. So in my opinion, having an educational system that does not consider cultural and context of a country will not be helpful even it copies from most advanced countries.

      In addition, I think Iranian prefer political reform rather than political revolution. Yes, I agree with you that some part of the society is unsatisfied and they want to have more freedom both politically and socially but I think young generations pursue this want through political reform and people understand that how revolution can be devastated. Reform is slow, it takes lots of time but at the end of the day it has better result. People during green movement in Iran in 2009 protested to election result and the way they deprived of their freedom but they don’t move forward to change the nature of those protest to a revolutionary movement. Just take a look at today’s Middle East: five years after several revolutionary movements in the region so-called the Arab Spring, the situation of people in those countries are much worse compare to 2011.

      In my view, if Iran’s education system faces with deep reform and change, it can help the civil society to follow up their reformist wants but the reverse direction where we put our energy to change the political regime to get more freedom does not necessarily end up to democratic and secular political system!

  2. Xiang

    Just a little correction for my previous comments: by “veiling female” I mean enforcing the wear of scarfs over their heads, not the covering of faces. But you can get the meaning, sorry:-)

    • Maybe I need to change my post’s title to “Iran education system needs a reform change” instead of revolutionary change! 🙂 and by the way, about your question about every Iranian has two books in their home Koran and Hafez, I should tell you as far as I know, people read more Koran than Hafez! Just want to clarify you since I guess you think differently!

  3. Milad

    Atieh, thanks for your post. I have experienced all of the negative sides you mentioned above. I also am not a fan of the education system in Iran. However, I have some concerns.
    You criticised a lot of aspects of the education system in Iran such as the standardized tests. Everybody in Iran knows (at least in recent years) that the entrance exams to universities are not fair. However, what is the better way? What are your solutions? I know some people are trying to revise the entrance exams (As you know, they are putting weights to students GPA in schools). However, I think they are making it more terrible than what it is now. With all respect, in this situation, I think standardized tests are best “practical” ways for entering to universities in Iran.

    Also, some of the problems you mentioned are not the educational system. They are more cultural problems. For example, as you said: “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”. So, this is definitely a cultural problem.

    Thank you again for your post.

    • Milad,
      Thanks for your comments and your point.
      In my time (early of 2000) maybe the university entrance exam was the best practical way for choosing college students. But nowadays when we have more resources in higher education with sharp reduction in student population, is Concur still the best option? I doubt about it. What is the best option? I think a person who is expertise in education majors should answer that. the only thing I can say is, limiting choice of college students just by their Concur rank is not efficient anymore. All students know that at the end of the day, multiple choice skills matter and they need to be the best in Concur and catch skills which is useful for Concur, then why should they acquire other skills? Why should they try to be creative and innovative? There is not ant rationale behind being creative or innovative. And in my view, in long run, in today’s global economy continuation of this system will pull back Iran and cause lower economic growth and welfare for people!

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