Despite government intervention in educational matters since the foundation of Dār al-fonūn (q.v.) in the mid-19th century, the initial expansion of modern education in Persia was promoted by foreign missionaries and private individuals, usually philanthropists, who considered that national progress lay in expansion and development of the educational system. In 1315/1898 a group of citizens formed Anjoman-e taʾsīs-e makāteb-e mellīya (Council for the Foundation of Private Schools), later renamed Anjoman-e maʿāref (q.v.). Its efforts led to the foundation in Tehran of a number of private schools, among them Eftetāḥīya, ʿElmīya (q.v.; both 1315/1897), Adab, Moẓaffarī, Sādāt, Šaraf (all 1316/1898), Kamālīya (1317/1899), Eslām, and Qodsīya (both before 1320/1902). These schools were financed by well-to-do individuals, directed by prominent cultural figures, and free of charge to pupils (Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā I, pp. 185-98, 311; Maḥbūbī, Moʾassasāt I, pp. 369-92) .

After the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.) some of these schools were closed, and the others were brought under state management. During the next fifteen years several more private schools were founded, including Enteṣārīya, Tadayyon, Taraqqī, Tawfīq, Dorrī, and Mosāwāt. All were elementary schools, though some also offered two years of secondary schooling. In this period the Supreme Council on Education (Šūrā-ye ʿālī-e maʿāref) issued forty-eight licenses for Islamic, forty-nine for Armenian, seven for Zoroastrian, and thirty for Jewish schools. Although not strictly speaking parochial schools, these establishments offered the curricula authorized by the Ministry of Education while tending to emphasize denominational teachings. The involvement of religious philanthropists helped to provide educational opportunities for pupils from poorer families.

Under Reżā Shah Pahlavī (1925-41), even though the government was active in creating state schools, new private schools continued to be opened. From 1924 to 1940 the Supreme Council on Education issued 214 licenses for private schools (Bīrašk, pt. III, p. 2). Unlike those founded before the end of World War I, these schools charged tuition. Another 226 private schools were established in 1942-55, some of them by private collectives. In 1955 the minister of education offered incentives to private groups to establish new schools; as a result, from then until 1962 1,147 licenses were issued for new private schools; 278 were established in 1955 alone. Between 1962 and 1973 the number of such schools increased by 1,585, 190 percent; the number of pupils enrolled increased 273 percent (Bīrašk, pt. III, pp. 2-7).

On 20 February 1974 the shah declared all elementary and middle schools free of charge, effectively a government takeover. A similar decree by the Revolutionary Council (Šūrā-ye ʿālī-e enqelāb) in March 1980 brought secondary schools under government control, putting a temporary end to private schools. This “nationalization” of the educational system did not, however, yield the desired expansion and levels of quality, and in March 1988 the Majles therefore adopted a new law permitting establishment of nongovernmental schools, paradoxically called “nonprofit” (ḡayr-e entefāʿī).Despite economic difficulties and a slow start, this kind of school has flourished in recent years (see xxiv, below).

In the period 1920-92, despite fluctuations in total enrollment in private schools, the proportion of children in such schools gradually declined in relation to that of children in public education. For example, in 1924-25 about one-third of elementary-school pupils and two-thirds of students in secondary schools were studying at private institutions, whereas by 1940-41 the percentages had declined to 22 and 38 respectively. The extension of universal education to rural areas and further growth in urban areas led to rapid expansion of public schools in the 1950s-70s. In this period less than 10 percent of elementary and less than 20 percent of secondary-school students were enrolled in private institutions, most of them located in Tehran and major provincial cities (Table 1).

Throughout the 20th century private, foreign, and missionary schools have been preferred by middle- and upper-class parents, who have perceived public schools as inadequate. The national system of education has thus been divided into schools for the masses and elite schools that provide more certain access to higher education.

Educational groups. Associations of investors also began to operate schools, sometimes groups of schools, as profit-making ventures. The Hadaf group (q.v.), formed in 1948, was the first. Its success was considered a milestone in Persian education, and it served as a model for other such groups. The Mehr group was established in Ahvāz in 1959 and the Soḵan group in 1960. They were soon followed by others: Ḵᵛārazmī in 1961, with three secondary schools and two elementary schools; Āḏar in 1963, with three secondary schools and one elementary school; and Marjān in 1964, with one secondary school for girls (Bīrašk, pt. III, p. 3). After 1963 educational groups expanded at a rapid rate, reaching more than forty within a decade. Some of their schools were later closed, and the initial interdiction of private schools after the revolution of 1979 ended their operations (see xxiv, below).


Bibliography: (For cited works not found in this bibliography, see “Short References.”)

A. Bīrašk, Kār-nāma-ye 28 sāl ḵedmat-e gorūh-e farhangī-e Hadaf, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Majalla-ye āmūzeš o parvareš, 1317-59 Š./1938-80.

Š. Rošdīya, Sawāneḥ-e ʿomr, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.

ʿĪ. Ṣadīq, Tārīḵ-e farhang-e Īrān, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Wezārat-e āmūzeš o parvareš, Sāl-nāma-ye āmārī-e Wezārat-e āmūzeš o parvareš, 1318-55 Š./1939-76.

(Aḥmad Bīrašk)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 9, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 2, pp. 206-207