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Special Features

Rouhani Dodges School Opening Ceremonies Amid E-learning Chaos

September 5, 2020
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
8 min read
Despite insisting on reopening schools across Iran, President Rouhani opted not to attend the traditional opening ceremonies
Despite insisting on reopening schools across Iran, President Rouhani opted not to attend the traditional opening ceremonies
Up to 15 million students are expected to resume classes this week, two weeks ahead of the normal reopening date in Iran
Up to 15 million students are expected to resume classes this week, two weeks ahead of the normal reopening date in Iran
Millions of students from deprived backgrounds could miss out on their education due to a lack of access to the internet
Millions of students from deprived backgrounds could miss out on their education due to a lack of access to the internet
The government's online "Shad" education system will also be televised, but many poorer families also do not possess a television set
The government's online "Shad" education system will also be televised, but many poorer families also do not possess a television set

The new school year began in Iran on Saturday, September 5 on the insistence of President Hassan Rouhani and despite concerns that coronavirus is still not under control in provinces up and down the country. The elected head of state drew criticism today for not attending the opening ceremonies in person, choosing instead to appear via videolin.

At the same time, Iranian schools have reopened in a chaotic situation of the Education Ministry’s own making. New coronavirus regulations devised by the Ministry cannot be applied in many Iranian regions, cities and villages, leaving millions of poorer students locked out of their mandatory education.

The Education Ministry announced that in areas coded “red” for localized coronavirus, classes will be held entirely online and no pupil will physically attend school. Areas coded “yellow”, meanwhile, will utilize a combination of teaching methods with youngsters going to school only on set days of the week. Schools in “white” areas are obliged to hold classes on school premises in compliance with health protocols, with attendees wearing masks and observing social distancing.

With Covid-19 still not under control in Iran, parents and pupils alike are in a state of high anxiety. Pupils in remote and deprived areas, who do not have access to even the most basic methods of e-learning, have already begun to drop out of school.



This weekend the new academic year began in Iran after a six-month schools shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fifteen million pupils are expected to begin attending classes with week, in accordance with local and national health protocols. While countless families, teachers, administrators and medical professionals remain concerned about the Covid-19 infection risk, President Hassan Rouhani declared that youngsters’ education was just as important as the healthcare system, adding: “Education will not be closed in our country even in the worst situation.”

Despite this, as pupils streamed through the school gates on the morning of Saturday, September 5, Rouhani opted to stay away from the opening ceremonies. In a break with tradition, and even though many other journalists and officials gathered to mark the occasion, he instead appeared on video ringing a bell to mark the inauguration of Nojavanan high school in northeastern Tehran.

Many of those present at Nojavanan’s ceremony were incredulous. In a tweet, the conservative film producer Mahmoud Razavi demanded to know, "How can they expect people to trust the protocols when the president himself does not, and send their loved ones to school?"

The protocols themselves are also badly-designed and cast doubt on Rouhani’s assertion that education is the utmost priority – at least, not education for all. With the start of the new school year, the Education Ministry proclaimed, all schools in the country would be connected to a national online “smart network”. This meant children living in informal housing, slums or in the border provinces, or from low-income families without a home computer, were immediately placed at a serious disadvantage.

Vali Ismaili, an MP for Garmi and Dasht-e Moghan, threatened in a Twitter post to question and even impeach the minister for education over the decision. "Mr. Education Minister,” he wrote, “haste to reopen schools without the necessary infrastructure, especially in deprived areas, is saying ‘Welcome’ to coronavirus. Iran is not limited to Velenjak [a well-off neighbourhood in Tehran], where the children of officials are coddled with the finest facilities; students in deprived areas do not even have water to wash their hands with! Wait for the questions and impeachment."


New Measures ‘Impossible’ for Families Below the Poverty Line

Education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaei has said that because one third of the country does not have access to remote education and the government’s online “Shad system”, part of the curriculum will be aired on four television channels, in broadcasts running from morning ro evening. Weekly educational packages will also be distributed for disadvantaged students in deprived and nomadic areas.

But as Maryam Balasheikh, a teacher at the zero-point border in Sistan and Baluchestan, said: “Who’s got a television set around here?"

"They say they have solved the problem by using TV programs and tutorial packages,” Balasheikh told IranWire, “but this does not solve the problem. Many lower-income families basically do not have a television.

“The tutorial package they give out has another drawback in that they come with an educational CD – and to play the CD, you need a CD player as well as a TV. How can a student who can’t use a CD get help from his or her illiterate mother or father, if he or she has difficulty understanding it?"

Balasheikh has already heard from some students who say they plan to drop out of school. “It’s understandable,” she said. “For those who cannot afford to buy food, it’s not possible to buy the necessary equipment for online education. These households’ shopping baskets run to dry bread and the tools for survival.”


How Can Students in Overcrowded Schools Keep their Distance?

The 2020-21 academic year commenced two weeks earlier than normal in Iran, on September 5. In the rush for schools to organize so as to meet the government’s coronavirus regulations, provinces and cities without access to the Shad platform have not yet had the problem of online access addressed.

Hossein Dehlani is a teacher in a village near Bashagard city, in Hormozgan province. Because the right to free education is guaranteed to all children in Iran’s constitution, he believes the Education Ministry should be obliged to identify students in need, and to provide them with any extra facilities they need to access the curriculum.

“In the border provinces,” Dehlani told IranWire, “people have been fighting for years for the basic human right of ordinary electricity and water. Students are studying in temporary structures or out in the open air. Now, coronavirus has widened the gap even further between rich and poor.”

In Hormozgan, six cities are in the red zone: Jask, Bandar Lengeh, Bandar Abbas, Rudan and Qehsm. Many others are in danger of being coded red in the coming weeks due to rising cases, and a large proportion of youngsters in these areas live well below the poverty line.

 “They say we’re using the Shad application,” said Dehlani, “but they admit that only 14 million students have access to the platform and more than three million do not have access to it. The solution is to distribute education to poor students via tablets and phones. That is, to provide the e-learning infrastructure equally and fairly to all regions."

In addition, Dehlani demanded to know how it is possible to observe social distancing in schools such as one in Bandar Abbas, which has 700 pupils but only one toilet and a shared drinking water facility. “I am a schoolteacher whose children play in a dirt yard and whose only entertainment is climbing over each other,” he said. “They sit on a hot floor and a piece of cardboard is placed under their feet. Even buying pencils, paper and sneakers is difficult for them. Now how can I, as a teacher, teach them how to keep their distance from each other?"

Yesterday, he said, the father of one of the pupils visited him and insisted that he help him install the Shad application onto an old and outdated mobile device. “This father is very sensitive about his daughter's education,” Dehlani said. “He brings her to class in all weathers. He almost cried when I explained that his phone was not a smartphone and did not have the capacity for it.

“Late last year, the father of one of my students – a construction worker – sold his bicycle, his only mode of transportation to work, to buy a tablet for his son. They say that the poor people in the border areas don’t care about their children’s education, but this is extremely rare. These people are poor, and it is because of poverty and deprivation that their children drop out of school."


Middle-Class Families also Buckling Under Pressure

Issues of connectivity and internet access are not limited to poverty-stricken areas. As the school year began on the morning of September 5, the atmosphere was turbulent in provinces coded yellow and white as well. Many parents gathered outside the schools, without their children, in protest against the Education Ministry's decision to reopen them.

One such protest took place at a school in Karaj, in Alborz province. The school’s speaker system briefly cut off the child-oriented, happy songs it was playing to make way for an announcement from the principal, who tried to explain that the edict had come from the Education Ministry and school staff were not to blame. "Parents can avoid sending their children for the first two weeks of the reopening,” they clarified, “but it will be mandatory to attend classes from the beginning of October."

A striking parent named Arezoo at the Karaj school, which is located in a middle-class neighborhood, said that only a handful of pupils had gone into the classroom. They had been seated at separate desks and were all wearing masks.

"There is no proper mechanism for students who do not want to be in school two days a week," Arezoo told IranWire. "Educational files have been said to be sent to these students with a two-day delay."

Although Arezoo is in employment, she says that even she cannot afford to buy a new tablet for her son and last term, she had to lend him her personal smartphone every day until noon. “I had to tell customers that my son was using my phone to stop them making calls or texting the phone in the middle of classes,” she said.

“I went to many stores to buy a phone or tablet and pay for it in instalments. But the prices have almost doubled or tripled and the interest rate is too high. Even for a middle-class parent like me, it’s hard to manage.”



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