Fani Grilled, Says MPs Raise Old Issues

Fani Grilled, Says  MPs Raise Old IssuesFani Grilled, Says  MPs Raise Old Issues

At an open session of the Majlis (parliament) on December 21, Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani was questioned and criticized for the third time in the past two years during a formal interpellation (a parliamentary procedure demanding that a government official explain some act or policy) by lawmakers.

Responding to a question on the ministry’s closure of some elementary schools in underprivileged towns and remote areas, he said classrooms have been established for primary school students in all villages across the country, and substantiated by giving statistics. In the current school year (started September 23), there are “110 classrooms with only one student, and over 5,000 classrooms with only 5 students in each,” he pointed out.

“This indicates the importance we have placed on children’s education,” Fani stressed.

In a primary grade classroom, one teacher teaches all subjects. But at the elementary level at least six teachers are needed for one class; therefore some elementary schools with a small number of students were closed in some remote counties, the Persian language newspaper ‘Iran’ quoted him as saying.

“It is not practical to recruit six teachers to teach a single or a few students,” he told the chamber and implied that his ministry cannot bear the cost of such schooling, especially when budgets are tight and cost-cutting measures have been undertaken as oil prices dip on a daily basis -- from $110 a barrel 18 months ago to $35 this week.

  However, during the past school year, nearly 22,765 classrooms were opened in different regions where there were a reasonable number of elementary grade students. Also in the current year, 23,923 classrooms were established for elementary grade students.

 Boarding Schools  

He noted that the establishment of boarding schools in cities and towns nearest to the deprived areas and sparsely populated villages is the most efficient measure taken for addressing the problem. “In the last year, 406,000 students were registered in boarding schools across the country.”

In response to another criticism about employment of “inefficient retired teachers” in the academic system, he said, “Most of our teachers are young and only a few are retirees.”  

Since the beginning of the current year, more than 700,000 school teachers were evaluated and ranked in four categories of basic, senior, expert and superlative and their salary increased by 15%, 25%, 35% and 50%, respectively, he said.

He also pointed to a measure taken for the first time for teachers, the provision of accommodation in three cities: Mashhad, Tehran and Isfahan, so that teachers, (retired or working) who suffer from specific diseases and need to travel to big cities to seek medical treatment, can have a place to stay.

Fani said lawmakers are raising the same questions each time on the same old issues mostly relating to the hiring of allegedly inefficient teachers, lack of attention to the teaching community in terms of wages and other benefits and provision of health insurance, and closing of elementary schools in some deprived and remote areas.

 National Document

However, the critics claimed that the minister had not fulfilled his promises.

Seyed Mahdi Mousavi Nezhad, lawmaker from Dashtestan County, Bushehr Province said the national document on Fundamental Education Transformation which was expected to improve the situation of teachers has not been implemented so far; this has “demoralized” the teaching fraternity.

While some MPs say they are disappointed with the ministry’s performance, other lawmakers say that the problems have not cropped up overnight or during the current government’s tenure; therefore they won’t be resolved anytime soon.

In the past two years, salaries and benefits pertaining to teachers have been paid. The current problems stem from the previous administration’s incorrect policies, Fani said.

The minister was the latest in the Rouhani administration to revert to the controversial polices of the former government (2005-13) that reportedly misused and misspent billion of dollars on questionable projects and filled the government payrolls with thousands of unwanted and unneeded employees.

Published data has it that almost two million people work for the Education Ministry, including 1.2 million teachers and 900,000 admin and other staff.  An estimated 13 million Iranian children are enrolled in schools across the country.

As per official reports, the Ministry of Education in Iran is the biggest state employer accounting for nearly half of the total number of civil servants. The wages it pays has improved over the years but most teachers often say that what they are paid is simply not enough to make ends meet. Many teachers are forced to take up second and may be third jobs, including private tuitions.