As the Preamble to UNESCO’s constitution reads, the States parties believed “in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge.”

A quality education helps a child to develop his or her mind to maximum potential. Not only does education provide a pathway for a child to understand and interact effectively with the world around them, it also helps children grow into productive adolescents and adults. Those who obtain a good quality education enjoy improved access to the job market, and their children show improved health-related outcomes. Education is therefore considered to be a fundamental human right.

Official monitoring data from Iran’s 2004 Millennium Development Goals report (the most recent available) indicate that Iran is well-positioned to meet the broadly defined education targets (definitions can be obtained below in the “international standards” section):

1) The net enrolment ratio officially stands at 97 percent in 2002, having risen from 85 in 1990. This change is likely to be statistically significant, though statistical significance has not been calculated here.

2) The proportion of students starting grade 1 who reach grade 5 was 89.1 in 2002, essentially unmoved from 87.1 percent in 1990. These figures indicates both that at least 10 percent of children are not completing their primary-level studies, and that little has been done over the course of twelve years to ameliorate the conditions that prevent primary school completion among school-aged children.

3) The literacy rate for 15-24 year olds has improved for both sexes, and stands at fairly high levels. The literacy rate for men rose from 92.2 percent to 97.6 percent between the years 1990 and 2002, while the literacy rate for women increased from 81.1 percent to 94.7 percent during the same period.

Despite the attainment or near-attainment of several international development goals, it must be recognized that the MDGs are measuring the progress of Iran on the same metric as a country like Niger. For a country with the wealth, infrastructure, and human resources of Iran, a focus on attaining the MDGs sets a rather low bar for performance.

Not all school-aged children have the same access to education, and not all available education is of good quality. This page goes beyond the broad indicators of the MDGs to critique the educational system in Iran as a whole by examining the inequities that prevent all children from obtaining a quality education. It should be stated here that although we look at these inequities as if they are discretely experienced, the lived reality of these children is that many of them experience simultaneous oppressions. For example, a child could suffer from poverty as well as from discriminated against because they are a girl child from an ethnic minority. While we cannot do justice to addressing the effects of these interactions of oppressions on children, the reader should try to keep these interactions in mind.

Obstacles to childrens’ attainment of a quality education


Picture an educational system whose main purpose is to propagate a system of religious beliefs, those beliefs including the imposition of the veil on little girls and adolescents, and the implementation of sexual apartheid. You have a snapshot of the Islamic education system in Iran.
-Azam Kamguian, Stifled Steps: Islam and Education

In Iran, the impact of religion on education is absolute, pervasive, and inescapable. Kamguian (2002) describes the implication of this for girls succinctly:

Religious teachings regarding women are one of the most devastating aspects of the Islamic educational system in Iran. They teach children that:

– woman are inferior to and equal to only half of a man
– women belong to men
– men have the right to punish their wives if they do not obey them
– women are the potential source of corruption in society so the hijab should be imposed on them
– the veil is a woman’s legitimate physical boundary to protect men and the community from any possible moral and social danger
– the main duty of women is considered to be taking care of the home and children.

Teaching about the effective suppression of women and male dominance as something natural, necessary and desirable is an essential theme in school education. Women are considered only as mothers and housekeepers. In school, children learn the traditional male-female gender roles. The segregation of women and sexual apartheid are seen as a desirable state for women in society.

Kamguian’s assertions are supported by the findings of a recent >study of the content of Iranian schoolbooks. Funded by Freedom House and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, sociologist Saeed Paivandi conducted a comprehensive analysis on indoctrination within the Iranian school system. Key findings included unchallenged discrimination of women, who are presented only as they relate to men. Independent women are not mentioned, and women are presented in 21 percent of images related to a professional setting, but are in 77 percent of images depicting traditional female roles, such as housework and childcare. The study viewed over 3,000 images. Even in terms of authorship of the texts, male authors outnumbered female authors ten to one.

image courtesy UNICEF

“My mother didn’t let me continue my education because she told me I had to work at home,” says 15-year-old Asma Aboos, as she sits cross-legged in her one-room, mud-brick home. “I went to primary school but was not allowed to continue into secondary school. I wash dishes, clean the vegetables, cook, sew and collect water. I wish I could go back to school and become a teacher.”
-UNICEF, Opening up education to girls in Iran’s poorest province

This kind of anti-female indoctrination, where female subordination is presented as though it were the will of God, is dehumanizing and in contravention of all human rights standards. The educational system in Iran does not provide equal conditions for the intellectual and social growth and development of girl and boy children. On this basis alone the Iranian educational system should be condemned, and then fully reformed in accordance with international standards of quality and equity.

photo provided by Children First Now

In addition to the gendered and religious indoctrination that schoolchildren in Iran are subjected to, there are other forms of indoctrination that the Islamic Republic of Iran engages in to further its own ends. Blogger Homylafayette reports that a senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) official has announced that the Basij militia will soon be established in approximately Iranian elementary schools for the first time since the Islamic revolution.

– Baha’i: Discrimination against Baha’i in pursuit of higher education goes here.
– Sunni Muslim minority (Sistan-Balochestan)
Percentage of population age 15 and older who are literate, by province, Iran 2004 (click to enlarge)

– non-Persian minorities (Kurds, Azeris, etc) – not allowed to learn in their mother tongue

– Afghan refugee children
A 2005 statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern about the Iranian government’s classification of Afghan refugees as illegal migrants, thereby making it more difficult for them to stay in the country and for the children to attend school. Local NGOs dedicated to the refugees reported claims that children were unable to attend school or were forced to pay $150 USD, which is an exorbant sum to the often destitute refugees, who depend on government aid and services. UNHCR reported that they were seeking “assurances from Iran that…[refugees] will not be put under pressure to leave,” by being denied education and health services.

By classifying the Afghanis as illegal migrants, Iran is able to deny them the protection guaranteed under the UNHCR’s 1951 Refugee Convention. Under Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) children are afforded an education which must be free at the primary level. Iran formally ratified the UNCRC on 13 July 1994 and is required to provide refugee children “appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance,” as well as the right to be raised by their parents or traditional family unit.

As discussed elsewhere on this site, poverty is a condition that permeates every aspect of a child’s life, including their educational experience. Not only do impoverished children frequently go to school hungry, but in Iran there are no school feeding programs. Further, school infrastructure and student services are frequently insufficient to serve student needs:

There are no meals served at Iran’s schools, some schools don’t even have a cafeteria to buy meals. Many parents can’t afford to give their kids money to buy snacks. Many students don’t eat breakfast, head to school & starve until 5-7 hours later. A child coming from a poor family would starve at school and there isn’t a single piece of snack ever served by the schools. However, there may be a snack shop in school that the kids could buy normally expired and overpriced snacks if their parents could afford during lunchbreaks. Classrooms are normally packed with 30-50 students inside a 20’x30′ classroom causing the spread of many illnesses.
Cyrus S, an Iranian in New York

Summary and recommendations
All children regardless of sex, religion, ethnicity, poverty status, or geographical residence must have free and equal access to quality education (which includes not only age-appropriate lessons but also appropriate services and school infrastructure) from child care through to university. Yet they do not, despite the wealth of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The government of Iran must immediately rectify these savage inequalities if it hopes to come into compliance with both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international norms and standards.

excerpt from work of naseh andarzgoo

International Standards:
Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that signatories to the Convention “recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular”:

(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; and
(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

Education constitutes the second Millennium Development Goal. The MDG target for education is to ensure that all children, boys and girls alike, complete a full course of primary schooling. There are three indicators for this target:
1) the net enrolment ratio in primary education;
2) the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach the last grade of primary school; and
3) the proportion of 15-24 year-old women and men who are literate.



  1. In this you already are granted the type of education is provided as good. And even when there is some doubt about it you state that is there equality for all cultural, religious, Background sect in Iran. I do not agree with this way of looking at educational problem in Islamic Republic at all. In Islamic Republic education what they actually teach children is under question. Other oficially accepted religions can not just come about and teach kids whatever in their religion is. That is wrong. If start point is right then and then we can think about all those statistics is needed. The last but not least Children Have NO Religion, and we have to accept that till they are in certain age like 19 years old when they are mature enough to deside about such a abstract matter as having religion or not having religion. Doing otherwise, it would be completely abusive, brainwashing way to look at children education.

  2. I have no idea why a 19 year old is defined as “mature enough” to decide on his religion

    • @Bob Roony
      19 years old is an example and maturity age and in practice, it must be defined based on different measures and consideration based various studies by qualified researchers and also based on public opinion, not simply because the government is Islamic , a 7 years old child should be force fed by anything they suggest benefit their political goals.
      for example considering the Sunni, Christian, Jewish, Zoroasterian, Bahai, etc and even many Shiite Muslim parents who do not see Islamic teachings necessary or even healthy for their children.
      Religion is something personal and religious teaching must be up to the parents, not a state education requirement.
      It’s a nature of human being, humans resist what ever is forced to practice against their will, specially Iranians are very pro-modernity and investigative people, when instead of letting them explore religion on their own, they simply ignore all the good and bad in it and instead start to explore other non-religious cultures or non-Islamic religions.
      The result from such policies is a post-Islamic revolution generation w/o religion, either atheist or worse hates religion, the opposite results of what the regime funders had expected.
      My predictions, if this regime remains in power for another decade, world will witness the bloodiest genocide, this time an ANTI-ISLAMIC one by EX-MUSLIMS who blame Islam for all their cultural, social, finacial, political and even personal problems and I think many of the Mullahs have already predicted that, they know they will be the #1 targets if this system continues and now even they are demanding the separation of religion from government.

      at least one fifth of a child’s education time is spent in Iran to memorize Arabic verses they can’t even pronounce, don’t know the definitions and they can’t really catch their messages or anything. That is not a problem still, but when they mix religious books with their political agendas and don’t even teach pure form of religion. When there is little indication of simple general human values and instead filled with hatred, jihad, considering dogs, pigs and non-Muslims as the dirtiest of all creatures, etc there is not much positive outcome even if brainwashing work on a child with smaller brain capacity (based on my experience , most Basijies are the least intelligent children at school or from uneducated and very poor families, attracted to the Mosques just because they cant compete with the rest of their age children, after the brainwashing completed, most of them recruited by the Basij, many of the smarter ones upgrade their careers to IRGC employment, most of them see Basij & IRGC as a way to take REVENGE from the society that has long ignored them.

  3. i think that the whole women are only good for house keeping and sexual cravings to their husbands and that there not equal to men is so wrong and disrespectful to women we are jsut as equal to the men as they are to us and to hit ur wife because they disobey you is wrong women are there own person and can do and say wahtever they feel like.
    i jsut think its wrong and highy diagree with it all.

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