A movement to introduce modern primary education into Persia began in 1315/1897, when the newly appointed grand vizier, Mīrzā ʿAlī Khan Amīn-al-Dawla (q.v.), initiated his modernizing reforms. In that year, under his patronage, Ḥājī Mīrzā Ḥasan Rošdīya founded the first modern primary school in Tehran. Rošdīya had already established the first Persian school in Erevan in 1300/1883 and the first modern primary school in Tabrīz in 1305/1888, though in the latter city he had met with continued resistance from conservative religious authorities (ʿolamāʾ; Rošdīya, pp. 23, 31-35). His epithet Rošdīya was derived from a term used for primary schools in Ottoman Turkish (Qazvīnī and Reżāzāda Šafaq; Maḥbūbī, Moʾassasāt I, p. 376). Amīn-al-Dawla also encouraged a number of enlightened figures like Mīrzā Maḥmūd Khan Eḥtešām-al-Salṭana and Shaikh Yaḥyā Dawlatābādī (qq.v.) to form a private educational group, Anjoman-e maʿāref (q.v.), in 1315/1897, with the purpose of establishing and supervising a number of modern schools in Tehran and the provinces. Foreign schools that had been founded in Tehran and provincial cities in the latter half of the 19th century also served religious minorities and a segment of the Persian population during this period (see xv, below).

At first primary and secondary schools were not distinct, and the primary levels sometimes consisted of only four grades. There were no general instructional materials and no uniform curriculum, each school being under the direction of its founder or principal (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, p. 359; Sādāt Nāṣerī, pp. 258-59). Nāẓem-al-Eslām Kermānīcounted forty-nine modern elementary schools established during the period 1315-25/1897-1907 (Tārīḵ-e bīdārī, ed. Saʿīdī Sīrjānī, I, pp. 413-15).

The first primary schools established in Tehran, in 1315/1897, were Rošdīya, with four preparatory and two additional grades(Rošdīya, p. 66); Ḵayrīya (later renamed Fīrūzkūhī), founded for orphans by Mīrzā Karīm Khan Sardār Mokarram Fīrūzkūhī, with Shaikh Hādī Najmābādī as principal; ʿElmīya, founded by Anjoman-e maʿāref with six primary and three secondary grades and Mīrzā ʿAlī Khan Nāẓem-al-ʿolūm as principal; and Eftetāḥīya, founded by Meftāḥ-al-molk. In the following year Šaraf and Moẓaffarīya were founded by Anjoman-e maʿāref, with Mīrzā ʿAlī-Akbar Nāẓem-al-Aṭebbāʾ Kermānī and Shaikh Mahdī Šarīf Kāšānī as respective principals, and Dāneš was founded by Arfaʿ-al-Dawla, with Mīrzā Moḥammad Khan, a graduate of Dār al-fonūn (q.v.), as principal. Not all these schools were financially successful; for example, in 1320/1902 the bankrupt Moẓaffarīya was incorporated into Šaraf as Šaraf-e Moẓaffarī (Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā I, pp. 192-97, 215, 240-41).

There were a number of modern Persian schools in Tabrīz, including Dabestān-e Faḵr-e Rāzī (1309/1891), Dabestān-e mawlawī (later Efteḵār; 1319/1901), Dabestān-e ʿOnṣorī (1289/1901), and Dabestān-e Rūdakī (1326/1908; Amīn Sobḥānī, pp. 8-16, 17, 21, 28). Similar schools were founded in Shiraz, Zanjān, Dāmḡān, and Kermān (Yaḡmāʾī).

The 1910s. The Fundamental Law of Education (Qānūn-e asāsī-e maʿāref) was enacted by the Second Majles in 1329/1911. Among its provisions was article v, which required parents and guardians to have children educated from age seven years. Implementation of the law was entrusted to the Ministry of Education (“Tārīḵča,” pp. 531-32), and primary instruction in all public schools was to be free. Under the law two types of primary schools were established: those in villages (dabestān-e dehkada) and those in cities (dabestān-e šahr), the main difference being the number of years’ attendance required and the qualifications of teachers. In smaller villages there were only four grades, and the teachers had normally attended no more than six grades (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 481-82). The appointment of Mīrzā Aḥmad Khan Bader Naṣīr-al-Dawla as minister of education in the cabinet of Mīrzā Ḥasan Khan Woṯūq-al-Dawla in 1336 Š./1918 was a turning point in Persian primary education. He was responsible for establishing forty primary schools in Tehran and a number in provincial towns, as well as a normal school in Tehran (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, p. 369; Yaḡmāʾī, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 57-59). As a result, in 1336-38/1918-20 enrollment in elementary schools rose from 24,000 to 28,600 (Markaz-e āmār, p. 40).

The national system of primary education. In the 1920s and 1930s a national system of primary education was established in Persia. In March 1922 the Majles granted the Supreme Council of Education (Šūra-ye ʿālī-e maʿāref) authority over all education, and in 1303 Š./1924 the law governing elementary education was revised. The government also undertook to supervise Persian schools in such neighboring countries as Iraq, Turkey, and the Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Turkestan, providing funds and teachers and in some instances even establishing schools (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, p. 370; “Tārīḵča,” p. 533; see below). An article in the supplement to the annual Persian budget for 1933 provided that all state primary schools be free of charge to students. New textbooks, compiled and printed at the order of the Ministry of Education, were sold to pupils at low prices (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, p. 371). On 10 March 1934 the Majles passed an act establishing a secondary school for training primary-school teachers (see xviii, below). Primary schools were thenceforth to be known as dabestān and the teachers as āmūzgār. Previously there had had been a one-year class preparatory (tahīya) to first grade (see viii, above); the Ministry of Education abolished it (Taʿlīm o tarbīat 4/10, 1313 Š./1934, p. 637). In order to encourage foundation of private schools, in 1934 the Majles provided that private primary schools with six full grades and more than 180 pupils would be entitled to government financial assistance in proportion to the number of pupils passing final examinations (Taʿlīm o tarbīat 4/11, 1313 Š./1934, p. 702). In 1935 the first coeducational primary schools were officially recognized in Persia. Pupils studied in the same classrooms until age ten years (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, p. 373).

The Universal Education Act (Qānūn-e āmūzeš o parvareš-e ʿomūmī) was adopted by the Majles on 28 August 1943 at the urging of ʿAlī-Akbar Sīāsī, minister of education (Sīāsī, I, pp. 126-36). By this act the government undertook to extend compulsory primary education to the entire country. It was to last six years, and it was envisioned that the curriculum and textbooks would vary according to the needs of different areas. Under this act the Ministry of Education was authorized to declare fifth and sixth grades optional until sufficient facilities were available. Education in state schools throughout the country was to be free of charge.

In the Municipalities Law adopted under the discretionary power of Prime Minister Moḥammad Moṣaddeq in 1953 5 percent of municipal revenues in each district were to be earmarked for the construction of elementary schools, which led to a great increase in such facilities (Ṣadīq, 1347 Š./1968, p. 376). In order to encourage the spread of elementary education, an act permitting establishment of private four-grade elementary schools was passed in 1956 (Majmūʿa-ye qawānīn, 1335 Š./1956, p. 89). Accreditation standards were set for elementary schools, and measures to encourage private schools were adopted, including assumption of financial responsibility for teachers and principals. Subsequently many new private schools were established, at both elementary and secondary levels, in Tehran and other major cities. In 1958 the offices of primary and secondary education were made independent branches of the Ministry of Education (Sādāt Nāṣerī, p. 272).

Educational reforms in the 1960s. In 1964 a detailed code regulating primary schools was issued. Under its provisions the principal of each elementary school was made responsible for enforcing the regulations (“Āʾīn-nāma”). Beginning in 1966 the twelve years of public education were divided into elementary, middle (rāhnemāʾī-e taḥṣīlī), and secondary phases. Attendance at elementary school was to be both free and obligatory throughout the country; there were to be five grades for ages six to eleven years, and graduation was contingent upon passage of final examinations (Ṣadīq, 1356 Š./1977, p. 231). The curriculum was geared to reading, writing, arithmetic, and general knowledge (“Neẓām-e jadīd,” pp. 45-46). In first grade the curriculum consisted of reading and writing in Persian, elementary science, and arithmetic; in second grade Persian, elementary science, arithmetic, and religion; in third grade Persian, elementary science, arithmetic, religion, and social studies; in fourth and fifth grades Persian, elementary science, arithmetic, religion, social studies, and the arts.

The new elementary-school program was put into effect in 1966 and the middle-school program in 1971, when the first class of elementary-school graduates entered (Rahrow, p. 252; “Neẓām-e jadīd,” pp. 434-42). In 1974 the Act Providing Educational Facilities for Persian Children and Youth (Qānūn-e taʾmīn-e waṣāʾel wa emkānāt-e taḥṣīl-e aṭfāl wa javānān-e Īrān) reaffirmed that all children of appropriate age were to attend elementary school (Ṣadīq, 1356 Š./1977, p. 232).

Quantitative growth of elementary education. The growth of elementary education in the period 1926-92 can be measured by number of schools, number of pupils, percentage of female pupils, ratio of pupils to teachers, and percentage of the appropriate age group enrolled in elementary schools (Table 1). In 1926-37 the ratio of pupils to teachers increased sharply, because there were insufficient teachers to keep up with the increase in enrollment. The generally rapid growth of elementary education slowed in the period 1936-47 but accelerated rapidly in 1946-67. Problems in recruiting sufficient qualified teachers persisted. From 1966 to 1992 acceleration continued, but the pupil-teacher ratio declined significantly.

Laboratory schools (dabestānhā-ye pīšgām). As it became easier to establish elementary schools, many experimental or laboratory schools were founded, especially in Tehran. The Pīšrow School, under the direction of Dr. ʿAlī Jalālī, professor of psychology at Tehran University, and the private Namūna-ye Bāmdād School, under the direction of Badr-al-Molūk Bāmdād, were opened in 1951 (Sapīda-ye fardā 4/7-8, 1336 Š./1957, pp. 51-63). The Raveš-e NowSchool was established in 1955 under the direction of the poet and composer of children’s songs ʿAbbās Yamīnī Šarīf and the Farhād School in 1957 under the direction of Tūrān Mīrhādī (Sapīda-ye fardā 3/3-4, 1335 Š./1956, p. 79; 3/5, pp. 96-106; 4/7-8, 1336 Š./1957, pp. 51-63).

Persian schools abroad. Persian schools have been operated in other countries since before the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.). For example, in 1328/1910 2,750 qerāns (rials) from a total budget of 1,191,540 qerāns were allocated for financial assistance to such schools (“Tārīḵča,” p. 533). As a result of such assistance Persian schools were established in Iraq and Istanbul on behalf of the Persian government (Komīsīūn, II, p. 1205); by 1925 Persian schools were in operation in Baghdad (Šarāfat, established in 1336/1917), Kāẓemayn (Oḵowwat-e Īrānīān, 1325/1907), Najaf (ʿAlawī-e Īrānīān. 1326/1908), Karbalāʾ (Ḥosaynī, 1327/1909), and Baṣra (Aḥmadīya, later Pahlavī, 1340/1921) in Iraq and Ashkhabad and Baku in the Soviet Union (Taʿlīm o tarbīat 1/2, 1304 Š./1925, p. 30).

Early in the reign of Reżā Shah (1925-41) all these schools were brought under the jurisdiction of the Persian Ministry of Education, and their budgets were guaranteed by the government. At the same time groups of interested Persians began establishing private schools abroad. Ḥājjī ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm established the Mortażawī school in Najaf, and Malak-Moḥammad Dezfūlī founded the Aḥmadīschool in ʿAmāra in Iraq (Taʿlīm o tarbīat 1/2, 1304 Š./1925, p. 30). By 1971 more than 9,000 pupils were studying in Persian elementary schools abroad (“Neẓām-e jadīd”; Table 2, Table 3). Owing to strained political relations, however, all Persian schools in Iraq were closed in 1979, and they have not been reopened. Since the revolution of 1979 schools have been opened abroad both by the Persian government and by Persian communities in Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. In 1988 there were thirty-three Persian elementary schools in other countries (e.g., Turkey, Pakistan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, the Azerbaijan Republic, and the Republic of Turkmenia), with a total of 5,980 male and 3,512 female pupils (Wezārat-e āmūzeš,1368 Š./1989, p. 2).


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(Sayyed ʿAlī Āl-e Dāwūd)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 9, 2011

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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 2, pp. 199-205