Renewed Hope for Compulsory Education

Renewed Hope for  Compulsory Education Renewed Hope for  Compulsory Education

A  law that calls for the prosecution of parents for their children’s truancy will be in effect in the current Iranian year (began March 20), said Deputy Education Minister Ali Baqerzadeh on Saturday.

“Parents who intentionally prevent their children from attending school will be fined 10 million rials ($300), and face imprisonment between three months to a year,” he was quoted as saying by Azad University News Agency (ANA).

Baqerzadeh, who doubles as the head of the Literacy Movement Organization (LMO), said according to law, parents are responsible to make sure their children attend school regularly and school officials should report it if parents fail to fulfill this duty.

“The case (absenteeism) will be treated with higher priority than other normal complaints,” he said.

There are no accurate figures on the number of school dropouts and/or those not attending school, although “we estimate there are four million children who are deprived of education,” deputy head of the LMO Mohammad Mahdizadeh told the government newspaper ‘Iran’ in June.

“The ministry is responsible for removing the existing obstacles to schooling and facilitating access to education for all students across the country. Parents will face legal action if they fail to send their kids to school after the constraints are removed and addressed,” Baqerzadeh stressed.

However, it should be mentioned that getting tough on truancy does not necessarily mean all the children will be in school and the law could unfairly target families at the lower-end of the economic ladder.

In Iran schools are of two types: state-owned and private. Students should pay tuition if they attend the latter. All state-run schools offer free education to every child of school-age. Nonetheless, almost all of these schools charge a small amount, often in lieu of “donation to the school”.

In recent years there have been regular complaints by parents in the mass media about the practice of asking for money by government-run schools.  

Education Ministry officials routinely deny the charges and say school managers who indulge in the illegal practice are prosecuted. But there has been little if any change in the pattern when parents go to register their children every year. School authorities, on the other hand, have often been quoted as saying that costs have shot up exponentially and they have no choice but to “ask parents to help in cash and kind” simply because the ministry is unable to meet all the expenses of the schools, namely rents, teaching material, utility bills and renovation.

 Troubling Numbers

According to official data, over the past two years (2014-2015), 143,000 children did not register in schools at all and last year and estimated 67,000 students dropped out at the primary education level. It was not reported why the children did not register or why they left school at the early stage. But it is generally believed that the kids don’t go to school because of financial problems or neglectful parents mainly in the poor and remote regions of the country.

Case in point, the deprived border province of Sistan-Baluchestan’s share in the number of dropouts at primary school level is a whopping 20% among the 31 provinces.

The Parliament Research Center says three million children in the age group 6-18 in Iran have not been registered in any school or have dropped out for various reasons. Unofficial sources put this number at six million.

Currently, there are more than 12.4 million students in the age group 6 to 18, of whom 7.2 million are primary students, 2 million secondary and 3.2 million are high school students. This indicates that 75% of children have the opportunity to graduate from high school.

Illiteracy has many harmful consequences including unemployment and lower income, reduced access to lifelong learning, professional development, and low self-esteem.

Besides these negative effects, social restrictions on obtaining or renewing driving license, business license and special pension grants for illiterate people who evade literacy classes have also been announced as of this year.

The stigma of illiteracy has been reduced reasonably in Iran over the past four decades as even the old and aged in the rural areas have joined the adult literacy campaign. Parents too, both in the rural and urban areas are now aware of the need for educating their dear ones.  

All said, the progress in good but not enough. Academics and experts have often warned governments of the need to improve and augment the education sector because they insist that this in on social sphere that cannot and should not be compromised. After all, education is one fundamental indicator of the development of a nation and where it is heeded for.