Education is critical to growth, no doubt about it. But when its purpose and practicality are lost to prestige, you know the system is faulting. That’s how I see the current Iranian academic education system and the subculture surrounding it. In this post, I intend to describe its flaws and their underlying reasons in hope of enlightening the participants, if not the people responsible.
Who Am I to Criticise?
Getting into University
A Brief History of Schools in Iran
The Dreaded Konkoor
Choosing an Academic Future
The Schools’ Trends, Then & Now
A university degree is something to be proud of. After all, you’ve learned 140 credits worth of courses and passed them successfully. But it’s not just you who’s proud. The family love to remind people their child is a graduate and show off. That’s why the title the major brings with it is important. It’s much cooler (and easier) to be called doctor and engineer than marine biologist. Believe it or not, that’s actually a major factor. It’s joked that many medical students start calling each other “doctor” from the very first semester. Unfortunately, it’s true. Talk about an inflated ego.
Valuing doctors and engineers has another implication. It devalues other groups, at least in the eyes of many concerned parents. One look at a paycheck is enough for a father to sit his son down and explain to him why he shouldn’t pursue art. The significance of a midwife’s work may fade when a mother insists to her daughter that if she studies “a bit more” she can be a doctor. Passion and talent don’t play much of a role. Schools are to blame too. For instance, NODET (National Organisation for Development of Exceptional Talents) only admits students for mathematics & physics and experimental sciences. Can’t you do art and be smart?
My Personal Experience
A Closer Look inside Universities
Too Much Talk, Not Enough Action
Experiments and workshops require equipment or in other words, money. Classes cost much less. Perhaps that’s why the academic curriculum emphasises lectures and barely manages to squeeze a few practical courses in. Most classes consist of 1.5-2 hours of a teacher talking away twice a week and the keener students transcribing it. The lazier ones borrow and copy their friends’ notes shortly before the exam and study the night before. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The lame part is there aren’t enough opportunities to put what you’re learning into practice. Architects and doctors don’t necessarily fit that description though.
Learning to Pass
As the end of a semester draws close, students have one big concern: passing their courses. Even in public universities where students don’t pay for their credits, getting a good mark matters. A 10/20 score will do the job, but if your average drops below 12 you’re put on “conditional” status (+2 for master’s on passing and average). That means you can’t take as many courses next semester, effectively prolonging your study period. So students have evolved to analyse the exam itself and direct their studies at answering the possible questions they may come up against. It’s stressful and detrimental to actual learning.
The Professor Rules Supreme
Trust me, you don’t want to get on a professor’s bad side. While most courses are offered with several professors, some are exclusive to one. Teachers have their unique methods and if you don’t like it, it’s best to bite your lip and keep to yourself about it. Imagine being stuck with a teacher who took a disliking to your critique? If the course is a prerequisite, you’re going to have a hard time convincing him to let you pass.
The Administrative Office of No Return
Iran is generally a bureaucratic country. That means you’ll feel yourself getting older before you get through paperwork for any process. Whether you want to drop/add a course, take a temporary leave or receive your diploma, you’d better prepare yourself mentally. Recently, most institutes are turning to electronic systems which is helpful, unless the nice lady in the administration office is new to it and not too keen to learn. In that case, you’re already past the point of no return and you didn’t even know it.
Life after Graduation
The Efficacy of Education
Long long ago in a magical land, a small village was plagued by dragons. In hope of saving the lives of the village folk, a group of the strongest and smartest set out to find a solution. They came across a dragon-slaying school which promised to teach them all there was about fighting these fire-breathing creatures. After years of training and learning, they returned to their village only to find all the dragons had passed away. What could they do? Let all their hard work and study go to waste? They had only one option: start their own dragon-slaying school.
There Is Still Hope
I don’t want to come off as a pessimist because I’m not. Things aren’t all bad. Schools are less strict than they were back in my time. Even then, they produced some of the smartest students a system could hope for. Interestingly enough, women make up the majority of the student body by 60%. Universities in Iran have a high graduation rate and they’re doing quite well on an international scale too. Every year hundreds of Iranian graduate move abroad to continue learning in European and North American institutes. The end result is acceptable, but there’s room for improvement.
One of the major changes I hope to see is people pursuing what they like instead of what they think will “work.” I know it sounds cliche but if more individuals followed their hearts, we’d have a better society. Instead of going after money and prestige, they’d enjoy striving for something of personal value to them. That might require them to stand up to the old mindset that says “you’re only going to be successful if you become an engineer, doctor or lawyer.” It might mean they’ll face difficulty and uncertainty as an artist, linguistic analyst or some other unconventional career. But it’ll be worth it. We enjoy the ups and the downs when we there’s a purpose behind it.