A series of articles published three weeks ago (Wednesday May 9, 2012) in Donyayeh Eghtesad (DE) reported on a “shockingly” large number of Iranian children who are “deprived of access to school”. Iran has very serious education problems, but lack of access to school is not one of them. The quality of education is poor and returns to formal schooling below the university level are low, prompting discouraged youth to leave schools after age 14 at alarming rates. At the same time, 99% of children are enrolled in school by age 7 and persist at a high rate until age 14 (first year of high school). This is when the realization sinks in that staying in school will not earn them a place in a good public university or the school officials tell them they are not fit for academic work and must choose between two losing options: vocational education or kardanesh. Why waste three more years of studying when the end result is a high school diploma that has not been of any value for several decades? Trying to get these kids to stay in school, as the articles in DE seem to prescribe, without doing something about job prospects after graduation serves no individual or social purpose. The problem for these kids is not lack of schools, or even boring classes: it is lack of purpose. The education system on its own cannot deal with this problem; it is a problem for the larger economic system.
A recent news item posted on Alef’s site (in Persian) with the provocative title, “33 harmful effects of increase in women’s enrollment in universities,” reported the opinions of “experts” and politicians, including some members of the parliament, on the consequences of the rising presence of women in universities. Expressing concern about the imminent “takeover” of universities by women, and suggesting the need for affirmative action for men, is not new (I wrote a short article on this subject more than three years ago). What is new is the claim that it is not good for women. Affirmative action for men to help women! (more…)
Mehdi Samii, who died in Los Angeles, California, a week after his 92nd birthday on July 30, 2010, was Iran’s most prominent banker of the twentieth century. His career in Iran spanned the period between the second World War and the Islamic Revolution. He was an influential banker and a leading figure among a small group of dedicated Iranian technocrats who helped build the foundations of a modern economy in Iran, one that produced the miracle growth period of the decade before the oil boom of 1973. (more…)
A short article of mine with this tile just came out in the latest issue of the Radical History Review (restricted access). This is an unlikely outlet for me, but then to say anything positive about Iran these days sounds radical. The problem that critics ignore is that, although policies matter greatly, all improvements in living standards, health and education are in the end the achievements of individuals, families, and communities. A rural girls who studies at night derives hope somewhere from a society that says to her you belong and if you work hard we will treat you fairly, but without parents who encourage her, she will probably not go to school. (more…)
This is the concour week in Iran. About 1.3 million hopefuls are competing. Yesterday I wrote something about the concour in this week of political upheaval in large cities for the NYT, which I have posted here already. Here are a few more observations.
Officials claim that there are no losers this year because all 1.3 million will get into some university. This may be technically true thanks to the rapid increase in enrollments in distant education (Payam Noor) and minor private universities in addition to the Islamic Azad university. But it masks the fact that public universities which are more prestigious and free have not really expanded. So the concour competition is not just about getting somewhere, but to get into a top public university. That still is for the lucky 10%.
It is interesting to watch various programs and talk shows about the concour on Iranian TV. In one talk show a deeply concerned mother called in to say that her child was sick and unlikely to get better by this Thursday, June 25, to take the test. I thought the expert from the national testing agency (Sazman Sanjesh) evaded the question. So I still do not know if there a make-up for the concour. In my classes, I always get a few student who get sick and can’t take the test. How is this handled in Iran’s concour?
Another program would seem unreal to a Western reporter here to cover the street protests because it was a long program on Iran’s main news channel on nutrition–for concour competitors! I learned for the first time that eggs are bad for the test day but quick-release sugars like honey jam are good!
I hope the authorities are looking equally deep for fundemantal solutions to the conour probelm: equality of opportunity in education with efficient incentives for learning a wide range of productive skills.
Here is the second installment of my commentary on the election crisis that appeared in NYT’s “room for debate” today.
To follow up on the discussion in my last post about testing regimes, I want to recommend a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about evaluating hard-to-evaluate skills. He describes a football scout named Dan Shonka working in his hotel room carefully reviewing the DVD of a game he has just watched live: “He had a stack of evaluation forms next to him and, as he watched the game, he was charting and grading every throw that Daniel [the quarterback] made…. Shonka had seen all the promising college quarterbacks, charted and graded their throws, and to his mind Daniel was special: ‘He might be one of the best college quarterbacks in the country.’ ” The football industry in the US also collects mountain of statistics on each player. Imagine just going with the objective statistics and losing the subjective evaluation of the scouts. Gladwell says that even with people like Shonka watching rising quarterbacks like a hawk, the failure rate is high. Some productivities are just very hard to assess and predict before the fact. (more…)
There is a large literature on the effect of testing on learning, but as far as I know very little of it has been applied to Iran’s concour. How we evaluate students has obvious effects on the students’ incentives to learn and teacher’s incentives to teach. In market economies where employers have a voice in what is worth learning and what is not, because they have to pay for it when they hire workers, the effect of testing on incentives is not paramount. Teachers may teach to the test, but parents and students know what is important to learn for later life– holding a job with good pay and getting promoted. Not so in Iran. (more…)
I was not able to write on this weblog last week because I was visiting colleges with my daughter to help her choose where she will enroll next year. Having grown up in Iran, it is impossible to have your children go through the US system without thinking about how different they are, even though Iran’s is more or less modelled after the western education system. So, it seems appropriate to write something about the big contrast in the transition from high school to college in the two countries, which happens to be on my mind this week and which is what I do in my research. (See my commentary on concour reform, on women in universities, and a longer paper on Iranian youth.)
There is no greater contrast between the two systems of education than in how they select students for college. We know how this is done in Iran. Students work hard to get good grades, which helps them go into successively more selective schools which is all to increase the chance of getting a high score in the Big Test–Iran’s infamous concour. Iran’s system receives praise for its objectivity (computers not humans grade the test) and for its selectivity (more than a million take the test and the top universities pick from the top 1% (hear a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter visiting Iran praise the concour’s selectivity–past minute 8). What proponents of Iran’s concour miss are the costs of objectivity and selectivity. (more…)