History of Education in Iran


Ebrahim Khoshraftar Somee Sofla

Department of Social Sciences, Payam Noor University of Bonab, Bonab, Iran




Education in Iran is highly centralized and is divided into K-12 education and higher education. K-12 education is supervised by the Ministry of Education and higher education is under supervision of Ministry of Science and Technology. 85% of the Iranian adult population is now literate, well ahead of the regional average of 62%. This rate increases to 97% among young adults (aged between 15 and 24) without any gender discrepancy. By 2007, Iran had a student to workforce population ratio of 10.2%, standing among the countries with highest ratio in the world.


KEYWORDS: Education, Modern Education, Teacher Education.


The first Western-style public schools were established by Haji-Mirza Hassan Roshdieh. Amir Kabir (the Grand Minister) helped the first modern Iranian college establish in the mid nineteenth century, and the first Iranian University modelled after European Universities established during the first Pahlavi period. There are both free public schools and private schools in Iran at all levels, from elementary school through university. Education in Iran is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education is in charge of educational planning, financing, administration, curriculum, and textbook development[2]. Teacher training, grading, and examinations are also the responsibility of the Ministry. At the university level, however, every student attending public schools is required to commit to serve the government for a number of years typically equivalent to those spent at the university, or pay it off for a very low price (typically a few hundred dollars). During the early 1970s, efforts were made to improve the educational system by updating school curriculation, introducing modern textbooks, and training more efficient teachers. The 1979 revolution continued the country's emphasis on education with the new government putting its own stamp on the process. The most important change was the Islamization of the education system. All students were segregated by sex. In 1980, the Cultural Revolution Committee was formed to oversee the institution of Islamic values in education. An arm of the committee the Center for Textbooks (composed mainly of clerics), produced 3,000 new college-level textbooks reflecting Islamic views by 1983. Teaching materials based on Islam were introduced into the primary grades within six months of the revolution[6].


Modern Education:

Primary school starts at the age of 6 for a duration of 5 years. Middle school, also known as orientation cycle, goes from the sixth to the eighth grade.


High school, for which the last three years is not mandatory, is divided between theoretical, vocational/technical and manual, each program with its own specialties. The requirement to enter into higher education is to have a High school diploma, and finally pass the national university entrance examination, Iranian University Entrance Exam (Konkur), which is the equivalent of the French baccalauréat exam. Many students do a one (or two-year) pre-university course known as Peeshdaneshgahe, which is the equivalent of GCE A-levels and International Baccalaureate. The completion of the pre-university course earns students the Pre-University Certificate. Universities, institutes of technology, medical schools and community colleges, provide the higher education. Higher education is sanctioned by different levels of diplomas:


Fogh-e-Diplom or Kārdāni after 2 years of higher education, Kārshenāsi (also known under the name licence) is delivered after 4 years of higher education (Bachelor's degree).


Kārshenāsi-ye Arshad is delivered after 2 more years of study (Master's degree). After which, another exam allows the candidate to pursue a doctoral program (PhD)[1].



Each year, 20% of government spending and 5% of GDP goes to education, a higher rate than most other developing countries. 50% of education spending is devoted to secondary education and 21% of the annual state education budget is devoted to the provision of tertiary education.


Education reform:

The Fourth Five-Year Development Plan (2005-2010) has envisaged upgrading the quality of the educational system at all levels, as well as reforming education curricula, and developing appropriate programs of vocational training, a continuation of the trend towards labor market oriented education and training. With the new education reform plan in 2012, the Pre-university year will be replaced with an additional year in elementary school. Students will have the same teacher for the first 3 years of primary school. Emphasis will be made on research, knowledge production and questioning instead of math and memorizing alone. In the new system the teacher will no longer be the only instructor but a facilitator and guide[3].


Other more general goals of the education reform are:

Ø  Making the education more global in terms of knowledge.

Ø  Nurturing children who believe in the one God.

Ø  Providing a socially just education system.

Ø  Increasing the role of the family in the education system.

Ø  Increasing the efficiency of the education system.

Ø  Achieving the highest standard of education in the region


Teacher Education:

Farhangian University is the university of teacher education and human resource development in Ministry of Education. Teacher Training Centers in Iran are responsible for training teachers for primary, orientation cycle, and gifted children’s schools. These centers offer two year programs leading to a Fogh-Diploma (associate degree). Students that enter Teacher Training Centers, have at minimum, completed the orientation cycle of education; most have a High school diploma. A national entrance examination is required for admission. In order to teach 9-12 grades, in theory, a bachelor’s degree is required however due to a shortage of teachers in Iran, schools have been compelled to use teaching staff with other educational backgrounds. Teachers are trained in universities and higher institutes. There are seven teacher training colleges in Iran[7].


Foreign languages:

Persian (Farsi) is officially the national language of Iran. In addition to English, students are interested in learning other foreign languages such as Arabic, German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Nevertheless, English continues to be the most desired language. Kanoun-e-Zabaan-e-Iran or Iran's Language Institute affiliated to Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults was founded in 1979. Persian, English, French, Spanish, German and Arabic are taught to over 175,000 students during each term[4]. English language is studied in rahnamaei (literally meaning, guidance or orientation), an equivalent for middle school in other countries. Middle school is a period of three years and it covers grades 6-8 for students aged 11 to 13 years old. The government is now considering teaching English language from primary school level. However, the quality of English education in schools is not satisfactory and most of students in order to obtain a better English fluency and proficiency have to take English courses in private institutes. Presently, there are over 5000 foreign language schools in the country, 200 of which are situated in Tehran. A few television channels air weekly English and Arabic language sessions, particularly for university candidates who are preparing for the annual entrance test.


Internet and distance education:

Full Internet service is available in all major cities and it is very rapidly increasing. Many small towns and even some villages now have full Internet access. The government aims to provide 10% of government and commercial services via the Internet by end-2008 and to equip every school with computers and connections by the same date. Payame Noor University (established 1987) as a provider exclusively of distance education courses is a state university under the supervision of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.


Higher education:

As of 2013, 4.5 million students are enrolled in universities out of a total population of 75 million. Iranian universities churn out almost 750,000 skilled graduates annually. The tradition of university education in Iran goes back to the early centuries of Islam. By the 20th century, however, the system had become antiquated and was remodeled along French lines. The country's 16 universities were closed after the 1979 revolution and were then reopened gradually between 1982 and 1983 under Islamic supervision. While the universities were closed, the Cultural Revolution Committee investigated professors and teachers and dismissed those who were believers in Marxism, liberalism, and other imperialistic ideologies. The universities reopened with Islamic curricula. In 1997, all higher-level institutions had 40,477 teachers and enrolled 579,070 students. The syllabus of all the universities in Iran is decided by a national council as a result the difference of the quality of education among the universities is only based on the location and the quality of the students and the faculty members. Among all top universities in the country there are three universities each notable for some reasons. The University of Tehran (founded in 1934) has 10 faculties, including a department of Islamic theology[5]. It is the oldest (in the modern system) and biggest university in Iran. It has been the birthplace of several social and political movements. Tarbiat Modares University (means professor training university) also located in Tehran is the only exclusively post-graduate institute in Iran. It only offers Master's, PhD, and Postdoc programs. It is also the most comprehensive Iranian university in the sense that it is the only university under the Iranian Ministry of Science System that has a Medical School. All other Medical Schools in Iran are a separate university and governed under the Ministry of Health; for example Tehran University of Medical Sciences (commonly known as Medical School of Tehran University) is in fact separate from Tehran University. Sharif University of Technology also located in Tehran is nationally well known for taking in the top undergraduate Engineering and Science students; and internationally recognized for training competent under graduate students. It has probably the highest percentage of graduates who seek higher education abroad. K.N.Toosi University of Technology and Amirkabir University of Technology are among most prestigious universities in Tehran. Other major universities are at Shiraz, Tabriz, Esfahan, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Kerman, Kermanshah, BabolSar, Rasht, and Orumiyeh. There are about 50 colleges and 40 technological institutes. In 2009, 33.7% of all those in the 18-25 age group were enrolled in one of the 92 universities, 512 Payame Noor University branches, and 56 research and technology institutes around the country. There are currently some 3.7 million university students in Iran and 1.5 million study at the 500 branches of Islamic Azad University. Iran had 1 million medical students in 2011.


Students in higher education

Field of study



Engineering and construction


One of the highest rates in the world.

Social science, business and law



Humanities and the arts







Women in Education:

In September 2012, women made up more than 60 percent of all universities’ student body in Iran. However, the numbers were not always this promising; this high level of achievement and involvement in high education is a recent development of the past decades. The right to a respectable education has been a major demand of the Iranian women’s movement starting in the early twentieth century. Before the 1979 revolution a limited number of women went to male-dominated schools and most traditional families did not send their girls to school because the teachers were men or the school was not Islamic. During the 1990s, women’s enrolment in educational institutions began to increase. The establishment and the expansion of private universities. Daneshgah-e-azad-e islami.also contributed to the increasing enrollment for both women and men [8]. Under the presidency of Rafsanjani and the High council of cultural Revolution, the Women’s social and cultural council was set up and charged with studying the legal, social, and economic problems of women. The council, with the support of Islamic feminists worked to lift all restrictions on women entering any fields of study in 1993. After the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his new regime prioritized the Islamization of the Iranian education system for both women and men. When Khomeini died in 1989, under president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, many but not all restrictions on women’s education were lifted, albeit with controversy. The right to education for everyone without discrimination is explicitly guaranteed under Iran’s constitution and international documents, which Iran has accepted or to which it is a party. Some scholars believe that women have poor access to higher education because of certain policies and the oppression of women’s right in Iran’s strictly Islamic society. However, Iranian women do have fair access to higher education as seen by a significant increase in female enrollment and graduation rates as women university students now outnumber males, Iranian women emerge to more prominent positions in the labor force, and the presence and confidence of professional women in the public sphere. The opportunities for women education and their involvement in higher education has grown exponentially after the Iranian Revolution. According to UNESCO world survey, Iran has the highest female to male ratio at primary level of enrollment in the world among sovereign nations, with a girl to boy ratio of 1.22 : 1.00.


Schools for Gifted Children:

The National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents (NODET), also known as SAMPAD maintains Middle and High Schools in Iran. These schools were shut down for a few years after the revolution, but later re-opened. Admittance is based on an entrance examination, and is very competitive, especially in Tehran. Their tuition is similar to private schools, but may be partially or fully waived depending on the students financial condition. Some NODET alumni are world leading scientists. Another schools are Selective Schools which are called "Nemoone Dolati". These schools are controlled by government and have no fees. Students take this entrance exam alongside with NODET exams.


Organization for Educational Research and Planning (OERP):

OERP is a government affiliated, scientific, learning organization. It has qualitative and knowledge-based curricula consistent with the scientific and research findings, technological, national identity, Islamic and cultural values.


OERP's Responsibilities:

Ø  To research on the content of the educational,

Ø  To study and develop simple methods for examinations and educational assessments,

Ø  To write, edit and print text-books,

Ø  To identify and provide educational tools and the list of standards for educational tools and equipments,

Ø  To run pure research on improving the quality and quantity of education,

Ø  To perform other responsibilities issued by the OERP Council.



Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, the educational system of the country has gone under qualitative and quantitative changes. As far as quantitative changes are concerned, this education profile provides an overview of the Iranian education system. A critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Iranian education system requires an in depth analysis of its structure, which goes beyond the scope of this profile. This profile, nevertheless, seeks to provide basic information about the education system in Iran for those who are interested in becoming familiar with this system, particularly those post-secondary institutions abroad, which have admitted many Iranian students in recent years. According to the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, there are approximately 50,000 Iranian students currently studying abroad. This profile, thus, describes the structure of the education system in Iran which is basically divided into five cycles namely, pre-school, primary, middle (or guidance), secondary and post-secondary. Three outstanding characteristics of the Iranian education system must be mentioned at this point. First, elementary education is mandatory under the Iranian constitution. Secondly, due to increasing number of applicants, admission to post-secondary institutions is through a nation-wide entrance examination and thus only the most talented students can enter universities. Finally, in general, education (in primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels) is free of charge though private schools and universities authorized by law are allowed to charge tuition fees.


1.       Darvish, Vahid. (2002). Modern Education, 1st edit, Tabriz, Niya Publishment.

2.       Eghbal Ashtiyani, A. (2001). History of Iran, Tehran: Tehran University Publication.

3.       Ghrachdaghi M.(2005).Raising good children, Tehran: Tehran University publication.

4.       Henning, WB. (1954). The Ancient Language of Azerbaijan. Transaction of the Philological Society, London.

5.       Philip, Whitten. (1976). The study of Education, New York.

6.       Shamim, A. A. (2000). Iran in the Qajar Dynasty. Tehran: Modaber publications.

7.       Saidiyan, A. A. (2004). people of Iran. 1st edit. Tehran: Science and Life Publishment.

8.       Vahidi, Naser. (2006).Women in education. First edit, Tehran, Ney Publishments.



Received on 02.03.2015

Modified on 11.03.2014

Accepted on 19.03.2015

© A&V Publication all right reserved

Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 6(1): January-March, 2015, 45-49

DOI: 10.5958/2321-5828.2015.00008.X