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.