Are Iranian primary schools very different from UK ones? Samira Hazari, a primary school teacher in Iran, gives us a glimpse of school life for Iranian children.
Rojan, like other Iranian school girls, gets up early for school. Classes start at 7.30 a.m. and finish around 1 p.m. When she arrives, she joins lots of other girls playing in the school yard. Some are bright and full of energy, others are sleepy. There are no boys around. In Iran, all schools are single-sex.
The education system in Iran is divided into two main levels: primary education and high-school education. All children spend six years of their lives at primary level from ages six to 12 and attend high school from ages 12 to 18. Primary education is compulsory in Iran. There are many free public schools as well as private schools with high tuition fees. There are also schools called 'Nemuneh Mardomi', which are believed to be better than public schools and more affordable than private schools.
Getting into one of these well-known Nemuneh Mardomi schools is tough. All schools have an entrance exam to identify the best students, and the competition for places can be intense. Not surprisingly, this can be a stressful time for students and parents alike.
In addition to the entrance exam, there is a national exam at the end of primary school based on the school subjects. These include mathematics, science, Persian literature, social sciences, and theology. The results of the exams are not determined by numerical scores but use the terms 'excellent', 'good', 'satisfactory' and 'needs further improvement'. For parents, the entrance exam is even more important than the national exam, because they believe that getting their children into a good school will secure a bright future for their children. For this reason, most teachers are strict about setting lots of supplementary books for students to work on preparation for both exams, in addition to the books they study at school.
Other subjects studied at Iranian schools include art, sports, work and technology, thinking and research and, most importantly, study of the Quran, the holy book. These subjects also form part of the school curriculum.
If we were to ask Rojan what she thought about subjects such as work and technology or thinking and research, she'd probably say they weren't very exciting. She might explain that teachers don’t take these subjects very seriously and that a class on work and technology is mostly theoretical rather than practical, and doesn't offer the chance to work with computers. But she'd probably say how much she enjoys sports and art since these involve swimming, volleyball, basketball and the chance to work on art projects in groups. There are also competitions between schools and the chance to win prizes. Other fun things she might mention would be school trips to museums, cinemas and theme parks.
But what do parents think about the school system in Iran? This is what Rojan’s mom says:
'I don’t like a system where the students come home with no homework, no dictation practice. I’d like to see my child doing extra practice on what she has learned at school. There are plenty of published supplementary books out there in the market, which I’m sure the other parents are buying, and I feel stressed if I don’t get them for my child. She needs to work hard to get to a good school and be successful in the future.'
Rojan’s mother’s view is fairly typical of how parents view education as a whole in Iran. It is highly competitive, and parents spend a lot of time and money on their children’s education. Another example of this is the university entrance exam Konkur; parents often forego holidays and don’t attend family or social engagements because their child is preparing for the exam. This has been coined as a Konkur quarantine.
In Iran, therefore, both primary and secondary school students work hard to reach the next level of education.
Samira Hazari is a Hornby scholar who graduated from the University of Warwick and specialises in English language teaching of young learners. She is a teacher and young learner teacher trainer in Iran.
UK primary school teachers, introduce your pupils to Iranian culture by downloading our education pack today.
The education pack was designed and distributed to UK schools as part of the British Council's UK-Iran Season of Culture, which has been taking place between January and April 2015.