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MP Talks With Rooz: Fifteen Percent Illiteracy in Iran is a Disaster

By Niusha Saremi (source: Rooz Online)

About 10 million of Iran’s 67 million people who are over the age of six can neither read nor write, according to a literacy official. Also, according to UNESCO, Iran’s 86th among the world’s 164 countries in literacy. The head of Iran’s literacy program announced these figures and added, “15 percent of Iranians continue to be illiterate.” Speaking to Rooz Online, a member of the education and research committee of the country’s parliament Ataollah Soltanisaboor characterized the illiteracy situation in Iran as “catastrophic” and said, “The illiteracy movement has digressed from its original goal and has been lost in the bureaucracy of education programs.”

According to Soltanisaboor the illiteracy movement is now confined to just an office in the ministry of education and is facing its death. The lawmaker expressed his concerns in these words, “No accurate numbers on this are presented. The [Majlis] research center says 88 percent of qualified individuals receive education while the ministry of education puts the number at 98 percent. This shows a ten percent difference. If we accept the Majlis’s numbers then 13 percent of qualified individuals have been held away from education which is really painful and sad. If we accept the ministry of education’s figures than only 2 percent of should be students are not being educated, which is not a small and must be reduced to zero.”

File Photo: A literacy class in the southern region of Iran

In addition to illiteracy, inadequate literacy is also an issue in the country. According to published figures by the United Nations in 2010, about 61 percent of women and almost 43 percent of men above the age of 25 have education levels of about middle school.

Ali Bagherzadeh, the head of Iran’s literacy movement recently said that return to illiteracy is a more important issue now than illiteracy itself and added that there are some ten million people with low education in the country, meaning that they have school decrees no higher than elementary school. He fears that they are under threat of falling back into the illiteracy category and says that those who acquire basic skills but do not use them and do not have the means to continue their education gradually lose their basic literacy skills.

Earlier, an education specialist in Iran had told Rooz Online that while literacy rates in Iran are not accurate, officials act weak regarding identifying illiteracy. According to him, while literacy polls or surveys are conducted, many people may not acknowledge their illiteracy. He added that anyone who could just read the Quran was usually considered a literate person even if he could not read a single sentence in any other text.

Illiteracy: A Public Shame

More than three decades have passed since the literacy movement began its programs with the goal of eradicating illiteracy but the literacy situation has yet to pass the critical stage. Again, Soltanisaboor told Rooz Online, “So long as the literacy organization was not an independent agency and did not have its own separate budget there would be no hope for a drop in illiteracy figures.” “Illiteracy is not compatible with the ideals of the Islamic republic. The current number of illiterate people is a catastrophe for us.” And while he believes education policies in Iran must change, he says the most important way to control illiteracy is for the ministry of education to reduce the number of young children who are deprived of education to zero. But he also points to a more fundamental issue and says, “Most families who deprive their youngsters of education have low regard for the education of their children and do not view studying a necessity,” he said.

He views the elimination of cultural poverty to be an effective way to reduce the number of illerates in Iran and recommends that, “The media come into the field in this regard and should help create the incentive and interests among people for this. It is now for a while that there are no special programs at the state-run national radio and television specifically on illiteracy. Because of its reach, this national media can be very influential in this regard.”

According to this member of Majlis’s education committee, incentives for literacy and social deprivations for illiteracy should be enacted. “We treat those who take their compulsory military service equally whereas a cost could be associated for illiteracy such as adding an extra six month period for those are illiterate or a some reward could be provided to those who are literate. Such rewards exist for those who have PhD degrees, but these are not sufficient,” he explained. And he goes even further and says illiteracy should be made a public shame for youth.

According to Shirzad Abdollahi, a specialist on education issues who wrote in an article, age ten is viewed by the literacy movement organization to be the literacy age and the most important age group for its work is the 10-29 age bracket, and then the 29-49 age group. The latter is really the productive age group in the country and in this group the issue is no longer illiteracy. He too attributes one of the problems on literacy to be lack of accurate figures, something that existed before the 1979 revolution as well and has continued. According to him, when the literacy movement was created (from a bureau) in 1979, there were about 14 million illiterate people from amongst a population of some 36 million people. According to the 2006 census, 16 percent of Iran’s population was completely illiterate and could not read or write. This percent does not include those who have low literacy. Specialists believe that despite the work of the literacy movement, some 20 percent of the population is illiterate. So even though the percentages have changes since the revolution, the actual number of illiterates has remained more or less the same, which is about 10 million people.

Soltanisaboor believes that so long as there are no accurate statistics on literacy and illiteracy rates, proper planning and policy making that will have an impact on illiteracy cannot take place.

File Photo: A literacy class in Iran's Turkmen region

Reading and Writing Alone Do Not Constitute Literacy

As society, its needs and ways of life have changed, so has the definition of literacy. In the traditional definition, any person who could read in one language was considered literate. But things are different today. An education specialist explained to Rooz that because of the progress in the way human beings live today, reading and writing alone could not be classified as making a person literate. “Today the standard for a literate person is that in addition to having the ability to read and write, the person must also have some specific skills so that he can effectively participate in public life, progress and improve the quality of his life. In advanced societies, a citizen has he need for greater specialized training and skills, particularly in new information and communication technologies, and also in foreign languages. In some places today, a person who cannot use the Internet is considered to have low literacy skills,” he explained.

Iran seems not only to have a low position globally, but even in its own region lacks behind such countries as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Kuwait. Ironically, Iran’s national plan envisions that Iran would be on top of the regional countries in science and technology by the year 2014, while the government’s fourth development and fifth development plans also envision complete literacy for the country.

File Photo: A literacy class in Persian Gulf

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