By Peter Tase
I had the privilege to interview a teacher of public schools in Iran whose name is not revealed due to possible repercussions in his home country. The main focus of this interview is the education policy and other social challenges that affect the Iranian society. The following is the content of our full interview.
Q1-What are some of the challenges encountered in the school infrastructure in Iran and what is the level of resources towards alleviating these serious challenges?
A1: Unfortunately, many schools in Iran are in poor conditions. According to the head of the School Renovation Organization (Rakhshani Mehr), currently, 30% of the country’s schools are not safe in terms of earthquake resistance and need to be demolished and rebuilt. Given that Iran is earthquake-prone with several major earthquakes per year, this puts the lives of students and teachers in these schools in a serious danger. Of course, this figure does not include the 5,000 schools that are made of inappropriate containers and the 160 schools that are established in huts and tents.
The mullahs do not allocate enough funds for the education system and compared to international standards of 14% of the country’s budget, Iran allocates less than 9% of the budget to education. While education’s share in the world’s GDP is 4.7 percent, in our country it is less than 2%.
Looking at other countries, the difference becomes even clearer. In Singapore, for example, 28 to 30 percent of the country’s budget is spent on education. And the annual per capita education budget per student is $ 11,000. Or in South Korea, the ministry of education is the most important one and a high percentage of gross national income in this country is allocated to the education system, the annual per capita education budget per student is $ 12,370.
In Japan, the annual per capita education budget per student is $ 10,000. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average student per capita in the world is $ 9,313. Whereas the annual per capita education budget for Iranian students is only $ 600.
The main challenge of solving these problems, however, is not the financial and budget problem. It is the institutionalized corruption of the ruling system, which embezzles even the existing little budget in bureaucracy and fraud of directors of the Ministry of Education. The result is that in the 42 years since the revolution, Iran’s educational situation has been pathetic compared to other countries.
Q2- The current government of Iran, is focused on strengthening the Engineering Programs and STEM Research?
A2: After the mullahs came to power in Iran, the situation of Iranian universities deteriorated because the mullahs, in general, are not on good terms with knowledge and see it in the face of their backward ideas. One year after coming to power, Khomeini described universities to be worse than cluster bombs, shutting them down for almost two years under the pretext of the cultural revolution, during this period many experienced professors and students opposing mullahs’ backward ideas were fired and expelled from universities. The Mullahs’ regime has paid the most attention to religious schools, to the extent that the budget allocated to religious centers is 5 times the budget allocated to non-religious educational centers. Today, the University of Tehran, the most important university in Iran, ranks 57th in Asia and 379th in the world.
In engineering and research programs, due to the expansionist policies of the regime, most attention has been paid to military and nuclear industries, and large budgets have been allocated to them, which, of course, are confidential. But in other fields of engineering, Iranian universities are far behind other countries and most of the experienced professors leave Iran for political or economic reasons to seek work in other countries. In 2019, with the migration of more than 180,000 people with university education, Iran in terms of brain drain ranked second in the world.
While Iran now produces long-range missiles, it still does not have the ability to build a proper car, and Iranian-made cars are not comparable to modern cars in the world and are not allowed to circulate in European countries.
Q3- How is the preparation of elementary school students and what are some of the obstacles that hinder them from excelling academically?
A3- Currently, due to the huge class differences in society, most students do not have access to quality education, while in private schools, which are much more expensive for ordinary people to afford, all kinds of educational facilities are provided for students. In the last two years, due to the coronavirus pandemic schools were only held online 3.5 million students were forced to drop out of school because their parents were unable to provide online education facilities such as tablets, smartphones, and the Internet.
Of course, this issue does not go back only to the era of the COVID pandemic. According to statistics published in the media, unlike other countries in the world, student numbers in Iran are declining. While in 2011, there were more than 19,400,000 students (young people between 7 and 19), this number has now reached 14.5 million.
The main reason for dropping out of school is poverty. Instead of continuing their education, children have been forced to work to help support their families. Of course, this means either peddling on the streets of cities or collecting recyclable materials among the garbage. According to regime officials, there are currently about 3 million working children on the streets.
In other words, the main obstacle for Iranian youth to continue their education is poverty. But given that Iran is one of the richest countries in the world with the third-largest oil reserves and the second-largest gas reserves, it is clear that the main reason for this poverty is a corrupt regime that plunders Iran’s resources or sending Iranians’ money to its proxy groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemeni Houthis, and various groups in Iraq and Syria to expand their influence in the region.
Q4 – What are some pressing issues that affect Universities in Iran today?
A4: Iranian universities are currently facing two main problems. The first one is economic, which, as I explained earlier, the government does not allocate sufficient funds to universities for professors’ salaries and for research. At present, the salary of an experienced university professor with benefits is less than $ 1,500 per month, which is not comparable to the salaries of American and European university professors. The second issue is the control of universities by security and intelligence forces. Freedom has been taken away from the universities, even though universities have always been centers for free intellectual and political exchanges. Now if a professor or a student speaks against the rules set by the security forces, he will be audited with consequences of expulsion from the university or even prison term. These issues caused 900 university professors to emigrate abroad only last year.
Q5- . How is the cooperation between Iranian Universities and other world universities in the fields of social sciences and natural sciences?
A5: Unfortunately, due to the regime’s policies and behaviors, many prestigious American and European universities, which in the past were associated with Iranian universities and in addition to exchanging professors and students were providing scientific assistance to Iranian universities, have cut off their cooperation. As a result, Iranian university students and professors have been deprived of such assistance.
At present, there are memoranda of understanding with some less important universities, such as UPM and USM in Malaysia, WARVIK and SHEFFIELD in the United Kingdom, MALARDALEN in Sweden, and IMC in Austria with the aim of improving the quality of academic-educational exchange. However, this is not comparable to the past. In 2019, before the Coronavirus pandemic, 19 doctoral students and faculty members under Erasmus Plus Fund participated in specialized training courses at the Austrian University, and 7 Austrian university professors traveled to Iran and held specialized workshops.
Q6 – What is the training capacity in engineering and social sciences, within the universities of Iran, over the last five years
A6: The statistics in this regard are very deceptive. If we only look at the statistics, there are currently 2,640 universities in Iran, while according to the Spanish Institute (CISC), China, with a population of more than 1.5 billion, has 2,418 universities, and India, with a population close to China, has 1,620 universities. And most developed countries in the world have less than 500 universities. For example, Germany 412, England 291, Canada 229, Italy 236 etc…
As a result, looking at these statistics, one might think that Iran in terms of higher education facilities is more advanced than the developed countries of the world. But the fact is that these universities, which are mostly established in small towns, have no educational value because they do not have experienced and literate professors and do not have the necessary facilities for higher education. They are mostly set up to make money, and with the huge tuition they receive, they practically send out a large number of graduates each year who do not have the knowledge and literacy of a university graduate.
Q7 – Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran support initiatives of Iranian students who are interested in studying abroad in Europe and the United States?
A7: At present, the government provides financial aid and scholarships in other countries only to those who are among its close circuit. That is, they are either relatives of the regime officials or affiliated with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Talented students who are not affiliated with the mullahs’ regime are not eligible for scholarships outside of Iran, and their families must provide for them if they can. Therefore, due to the deplorable economic situation, the number of Iranian students abroad is much lower than before, and many of these people drop out of school due to financial inability.
Also, in line with the regime’s expansionist policies, about thirty foreign students, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, are currently studying in Iran in various fields and at university levels with Iranian government scholarships. These students are in fact selected in accordance with the propaganda and expansionist policies of the Iranian regime.
Q8 – What are the living conditions of elementary school, high school and university teachers and professors?
A8: The situation of primary and secondary school teachers is far worse than that of university professors, as most of them live below the poverty line. If you follow the news in Iran, you would hear a lot about the gatherings and protests of teachers, which are held almost weekly in different cities due to their very poor living conditions. Many of these teachers have second and third jobs in addition to being teachers in order to be able to support their families. For example, driving a taxi, etc …
By a simple comparison of the salaries of Iranian teachers with other countries, one can understand their situation.
For example, while teachers’ average annual salary in Canada is $ 67,000, in Japan $ 51,000, in South Korea $ 56,860 in Singapore $ 34,800, a teacher’s salary in Iran is less than $ 2,000 a year, with inflation now above 50%. The earning of a dentist for 3 hours of work is equal to the monthly salary of a teacher in Iran.
Q9 – Can you elaborate further on the education partnerships that exist between Iran and Armenia?
A9: As far as I know, there is an agreement with the EUA University of Armenia for the exchange of information and scientific achievements, but I do not know how it is carried out.