Islamic Republic of Iran

Overview of Education System

Islamic principles and precepts form the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution, which attributes great importance to education. The ultimate goals of education in Iran are grouped into cultural and ethical; scientific and instructional; social, environmental, and life; and economic goals. The structure of the education system in Iran through the upper secondary level is highly centralized.

Iran’s Ministry of Education is composed of several deputy ministries, organizations, and centers with specific administrative responsibilities, including developing goals and strategies, conducting and supervising educational activities, developing curricula and textbooks, publishing and distributing educational materials, planning and conducting professional development and education for teachers, carrying out student assessments and examinations, and defining human resources policies within the Ministry (see Exhibit 1).5

Exhibit 1: Divisions in the Ministry of Education

Deputy Ministries Organizations Centers Offices
Primary Education Educational Research and Planning Human Resources and Information Technology Planning Secretariat of the Central Recruitment Committee
Secondary Education Renovating and Equipping Schools Talented and Gifted Students and Young Researchers Performance Evaluation and Responding to Complaints
Educational and Cultural Affairs Private Schools and Public Participation Department of International Affairs and Schools Abroad Veterans Affairs
Health and Physical Education Students with Special Needs Assessment and Evaluation
Legal Affairs and Parliament Literacy Movement
Development and Management Support Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults

The Literacy Movement Organization, established in 1979 in affiliation with the Ministry of Education, has the mission of teaching reading, writing, and simple calculation skills to illiterate Iranian citizens and of promoting Islamic culture among participants.6 To attain these goals, the Literacy Movement Organization coordinates activities that strengthen literacy skills, promote cultural standards, increase new reader knowledge, expand the writing culture among different groups of society, produce textbooks for those learning to read, and train adult education teachers.7 Some of these activities include:

  • Preparing continuous instruction in class and virtually via multimedia
  • Providing books to rural and public libraries, mobile libraries, and prisons
  • Organizing and supplying book exhibitions
  • Conducting reading games for people ages 10 to 49
  • Publishing monthly magazines for new readers
  • Providing community learning centers with posters, bulletins, and magazines
  • Developing and preparing multimedia packages to empower rural mothers to foster creativity in children
  • Creating a continuing education literacy program

The Supreme Educational Council, an autonomous legislative body, is responsible for adopting and communicating executive policies; designing mechanisms for achieving policy objectives; improving educational structures and processes; updating, amending, and coordinating policies; and monitoring the implementation of programs pertaining to the strategic reform of education. The council is required to provide the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution with an annual progress report on the implementation of the fundamental reform plan and the performance of the Ministry of Education. At the tertiary level, the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology oversees universities offering nonmedical degrees; the Ministry of Health and Medical Education oversees medical schools and paramedical degrees; and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs oversees informal vocational education.

The formal education system in Iran includes six years of primary education. At age 12, children begin three years of lower secondary education followed by three years of upper secondary education (see Exhibit 2). Each school year begins on September 21 and ends on June 21 of the following year. A high school diploma is required to enter university.
Exhibit 2: Overview of the Education System in Iran

Level of Schooling Ages Grades Number of Years Number of Sessions per Week
Preprimary 4–5 2 Varies by institute
Primary (two three-year periods) 6–8
6 25 (45 minutes each)
Lower Secondary 12–14 7–9 3 30 (50 minutes each)
Upper Secondary 15–17 10–12 3 35 (50 minutes each)
Vocational 15–17 10–12 3 40 (50 minutes each)

The optional level of preprimary education prepares children for the mandatory stage of primary education. A one month course in Farsi is required in addition to regular preprimary activities in parts of the country where Farsi is not the primary language. The Organization for Educational Research and Planning and the Welfare Organization are responsible for the supervision and educational preparation of preschool centers. Preschools may be public or private and may cater to only boys or girls, although many admit both. The main objectives of preprimary education are to:

  • Contribute to the physical, mental, emotional, and social growth of children
  • Promote children’s socioemotional development, self-confidence, sense of environmental conditions, and sense of aesthetics
  • Provide children with opportunities to enjoy and be interested in group activities
  • Strengthen religious and ethical values and national identity
  • Promote desired social and individual behavior in children
  • Promote oral language development and communication skills

Primary education, the first stage of formal education, comprises two three-year periods from Grades 1 to 6 for students ages 6 to 11. The main objectives of primary education are to:

  • Create an atmosphere for moral development
  • Develop literacy and numeracy skills
  • Develop social skills
  • Teach students about personal hygiene
  • Develop students’ talents, abilities, and physical strength

The subjects taught in primary school include the Holy Quran, Farsi (reading, writing, and dictation), mathematics, science, religious education, social studies (social studies, history, and geography), art, and physical education. In addition to the above subjects, thinking and inquiry, technology, and occupations also are taught in sixth grade. Typically, one teacher is responsible for teaching all subjects except religion, art, and physical education in Grades 1 to 3. In Grades 4 to 6, mathematics and science are taught by specialist teachers in most schools.

The lower secondary stage of education lasts three years (Grades 7 to 9) for students ages 12 to 14. At this stage, students become familiar with various subjects in the physical and social sciences and in the humanities and art. The main objectives of lower secondary education are to:

  • Develop moral and intellectual abilities
  • Increase general knowledge
  • Strengthen academic discipline and scientific imagination
  • Identify individual preferences and talents in order to direct students toward suitable programs of study

In addition to the subjects taught at the primary level, students in lower secondary school receive second language instruction in a language of their choice (English, French, or German), vocational education, and defense education (boys only).

Upper secondary education lasts three years (Grades 10 to 12) for students ages 15 to 17. At this stage, students choose among three tracks of study: academic, technical and vocational, and Kar-Danesh (or knowledge skill, a flexible vocational branch). These programs have different objectives and are intended for students with different abilities and interests. Academic programs prepare students to enter university; students who select these programs focus on mathematics, natural science, or social science based on their educational backgrounds and career interests. Both technical and vocational and Kar-Danesh programs prepare students for participation in the labor market after finishing high school, leading to a post-diploma (associate diploma) degree or a skill certificate diploma, respectively. Students who complete these programs have the opportunity to continue their education at a vocational college, where they may choose a program based on their capabilities and interests, or to take a university entrance examination after completing vocational college.

Schools in Iran may be public or private at all levels from elementary school through university. Approximately 12.4 percent of primary schools, 12 percent of lower secondary schools, and 18 percent of upper secondary schools and technical and vocational institutions are private, for a total of 13 percent of all schools.8 These schools must conform to the regulations of the Ministry of Education, though they are financed primarily through students’ tuition. Public schools in Iran are free for all citizens.9