A group of girls attend the first day of school in Tehran.
Feb. 11 marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran—and an opportunity for more unrest in the country. Following the controversial presidential election in June, the opposition Green Movement has been at constant odds with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On Feb. 2, the Financial Times reported that Iran’s fundamentalists charge the Green Movement with being “restricted to the educated middle class,” and failing “to convince the poorer sections of society to back the unrest.”
In response, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, leader of the Green Movement, is trying to soften the group’s radical message and extend its reach.
“The fate of the movement should be tied up to the fate of all walks of life, in particular the two groups which are in charge of economy and education, meaning labourers and teachers,” Moussavi said in an interview on his Web site, Kaleme, according to the Financial Times.
How have Iran’s teachers and students fared since the disputed election? In September 2009, Shervin Malekzadeh of Time Magazine spoke with teachers on the first day of class in Iran. “For many, school will be the first time to confront in a formal social setting what has happened to the country,” Malekzadeh wrote. He also cautioned that “there can be no moving on, not yet, because what has happened is not over.”
The Iranian Students’ News Agency provides photos of Iranian students and teachers in the school setting, and the British Council, the United Kingdom’s international organization for education and cultural relations, links to an overview of the education system in Iran.
But as Malekzadeh points out, “Without access to the daily lives of teachers and their students, studies on Iranian schooling have proven to reveal more about their authors and our shifting preconceptions of Iran than any sort of reality on the ground.”
Malekzadeh contends that the “country’s public schools face many of the same challenges as U.S. schools”: urban schools that are overcrowded and operate in shifts in order to serve too many students, teachers that are underpaid and demoralized by a constricted curriculum and students that are stifled by a lack of creativity and constant testing.
There seems to be more than these woes plaguing Iran’s schools, however. In 2007, part of a girls’ school collapsed, killing a 12-year-old and injuring five others, Shirzad Abdollahi reported for Payvand Iran News. Many of Iran’s schools are old and in disrepair; in Tehran, Abdollahi writes, “seven out of ten schools are more than 35 years old,” and “[f]acilities at girls’ schools are especially flawed, with poor provision for sports and recreation.”
Still, Iran’s political unrest may be the most immediate threat to its schools right now. In November 2009, the Associated Press reported that “Islamic religious authorities have begun tightening their grip on Iranian public schools.” Officials announced plans to place a cleric in every school, while Ahmadinejad “criticized Western influence in school curriculum.”
For a look at how politics shaped one Iranian girl’s childhood during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, read “Persepolis.” The autobiographical novel, written by Marjane Satrapi, uses stark black-and-white illustrations to tell her story of living in Tehran from ages 10 to 14.