Persian-Iranian Education



Figure 1.--The Shah's government with huge oil income made major investsments in eucation following World war II. Here see a group of Iranian boys after school (June 1972). The press caption read, "Seven, eight, lay them straight ..." And then the boys laughed. Youngste at Rey, Iranshow off their Engkish to atrabger from America.

We have very little information about Iranian education at this time. Iran of course is the modern name for Persia. This is an ancient civilization dating back to Biblical times. We know little about schools or the training of children in ancient Persia (the Achaemenid period). There are only a few tantalizing clues. One source during the reign of Darius I (yhe Great) describes Persian boys copying texts. Education unlike in Greece was limited to a narrow strata of scoiety. It is believd Most of nobles and highly placed civil servants were literate. This meas there had to be schools. e know next to nothing about those schools, nut they likely would have been attached to the royal court. THe Persin Empire was, however, a large ivrse state. Thus there may have been schools in the courts od satraps and the royal courts of conquered people. The Ionian Greeks comtrolled by the Persians would have had schools. This means education in different languages. The Persians also used foreign scribes (writing chiefly in Aramaic) in the state chancery. We have been able to find very little information on education in medieval Persia. Aran armies conquered Persial ending the Sasanian Empire (651). Arab Islamization led to the eventual decline of the Zoroastrianism. Court schools continued to be important for the nobility. Here there are some indications that girls might be educated. We believe, however, that the number of such schools were very limited. Other than these schools, education fell into the habds of the mullahs teaching in schools atached to mosques. Literacy rates continued at very low levels. The education ptovidd by the imans in the mosques focused largely on Kranic studies. Thus the Persians like the Arabs did not participare in the revivl od learning and the development of science that occurred in he West, especially with the Rnaisace (14th century). This basic system continud virtually unchanged for centuries. We have on image of schoolboys in Yzed about 1908. We believe that smocks have commonly been worn, primarily by girls. Under the Palavis, especially after the oil industry was developd, substantial resources were devoted to building a modern education system. For the first time modern studies in the sciences and other subjects became an important part of Persian education. It was during the Palavi period that the country's name was changed to Iran. Since the Islamic Revolution (1979), girls have been subjct to strict Islamic dress codes.

Ancient Persia

Iran of course is the modern name for Persia. This is an ancient civilization dating back to Biblical times. Unlike Greek education which is the basis for modern schooling, we know very little about education or the training of children in ancient Persia (the Achaemenid period). The Persian Empire was founded by migrating Iranian herdsmen, a group of Indo-Europeans horse-based steppe people out of eastern Europe and southern Russia (about 1000 BC). They were less culturally advanced than the ares they conquered in Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau. They did not have formal schools, but adopted the advanced institutions of the people they conquered. Education in Persia was a private undertaking. Formative education was carried out by women. Then privlidged boys entered court schools at 5-7 years of age. Secondary and higher education offered training in law to as preparatiom for imperial service. The higher schools offered training in medicine, arithmetic, geography, music, and astronomy. There were also important military schools. There are a few tantalizing clues about Persian education. One source during the reign of Darius I (the Great) describes Persian boys copying texts. Education unlike in Greece was limited to a narrow strata of society. It is believd Most of nobles and highly placed civil servants were literate. This meant there had to be schools. We know next to nothing about those schools, nut they likely would have been attached to the royal court. Greek sources provide some idea of Persian education. Young Persian boys raised by women. They apparently were not allowed out of the women's area and to meet their fathers until they were 5 years old. This of course would have meant the nobility and court civil servants. As the boys emerged from the women's quarters, their education began. As boys they were trained in horsemanship, swordsmanship, archery, and telling the truth. [Herodotus, 1.136] From what is availble on Persian education, academic education was not a primary part of their schooling. Military skills wre stressed in addituin to telling the truth. The boys were taught the written language of cuneiform and how to communicate with it. One source claims tht the boys were expected to run 7.5-10.0 miles in the morning before school. The Persian Empire was, however, a large diverse state. Thus there may have been schools in the courts and satrapies and the royal courts of conquered people. The Ionian Greeks controlled by the Persians would have had schools. This means education in different languages. The Persians also used foreign scribes (writing chiefly in Aramaic) in the state chancery. No one knows what went on in the eastern satrapies. We suspet that formal education was not well developed in many of them. There is some information Mesopotamia and Egypt, areas conquered by the Persians. These were areas in which educatiinal systms were already established. It should be rembered that the Persians themselves originated as a Steppe people without a tradition of formal education. Formal education in Persian-controlled Mesopotamia and Egypt continued with little or no change. Schools were restricted to boys. Boys in scribal schools studied reading and writing, some grammar, mathematics, and astronomy. Some sources report that throughout Mesopotamia, literacy was firly widespread among the non-Iranian population. There was a fair degree of social mobility. There were quite anumber of scribes and they included boys whose fathers were shepherds, fishermen, weavers, and othersof lower social origins. Actual school texts have actually survived. There are Sumerian-Babylonian dictionaries, tablets with cuneiform signs, and collections of examples of grammatical usage and exercises. [Oppenheim, pp. 244-49.] The situation in Egyot was different. The literacy rate was vey high among Persian military colonists in Elephantine, a strateic island on the Nile on the borders of Nubia near modern Aswan. This is known because witnesses to contracts in Aramaic commonly signed their own names. [Naveh, p. 22.] nd we have a hint as to socil mobility, education, and literacy among common Egyptians when Darius I ordered the restoration of the medical school at Sais. The Egyptian dignitary Ujahorresne commented that there were no children of 'nobodies' among the students in this medical school. [Posener, pp. 1-2, 22.] his was before the Hellinistic and Roman period when we believe that euction became more widely available.

Medieval Persia

We have been able to find very little information on education in medieval Persia. Aran armies conquered Persial ending the Sasanian Empire (651). Arab Islamization led to the eventual decline of the Zoroastrianism.. Court schools continued to be important for the nobility. Here there are some indications that girls might be educated (figure 1). We believe, however, that the number of auch schools were very limited. Other than these schools, education fell into the hands of the mullahs teaching in schools atached to mosques. Literacy rates continued at very low levels. The education ptovidd by the imans in the mosques focused largely on Kranic studies. Thus the Persians like the Arabs did not participate in the revival of learning and the development of science that occurred in the West, especially with the Renaissance (14th century). This basic system continud virtually unchanged for centuries.

Modern Iran

One source describes Persian education in the 1890s as little changed from medieval times. Education was still in the hand of the mullahs and continued to be largely focused on Koranic studies. He reports that not only towns, but even villages had some sort of school, meaning primary school. In villages this would be a room set aside in the mosques where children were taught to read and wtite, using the Koran as basic texts. There was focus on mmorizing Koranic verses often without discusion of the meaning. Because of this, most students learn to write, but far fewer master writing to any degree of effiency. The source uses the term 'parrot'. The author explains, "Bythis phrase I mean that they learn to read, I should rather say to pronounce the Arabic of the Scriptures, without the sligtest inkling as to the meaning." [Curzon, p. 493.] Instruction might include some math. The teachers were Islamic mulahs with vitually no knowledge of the outside world or subjects like science and foreign languages. Those who achieve proficeny in reasing and writing use the prefix 'mirza' to their name. And they may have some limited knoledge of Persian poetry, Fees for these village schools are very low, even so many children do not attend them. Secondary schooling was not available even in the larger towns and cities. The only schools available abive the primary level was the madrassas, sometimes called religious colleges. Here those students who desire to pursue careers in Islam, law, and medicine continue their studies and with a heavy focus on Islamic studies even for those not intent on religious careers. The observer quoted above explains about the madrassas, "Here the curriculum is one of a pecliarily straitened character, for, as every Oriental believes that all hunman knowledge is summed up in the obsolete patchwork of Mohammedan science, but litle outer lightis permitted to dawn upon the inquirer's mind." [Curzon, p. 493.] We have one image of schoolboys in Yzed about 1908. We believe that smocks have commonly been worn, primarily by girls. Under the Palavis, especially after the oil industry was developd, substantial resources were devoted to building a modern education system. For the first time modern studies in the sciences and other subjects became an important part of Persian education. It was during the Palavi period that the country's name was changed to Iran.

Islamic Republic

Since the Islamic Revolution (1979), girls have been subject to strict Islamic dress codes. There are now Islamic prerequisites for access to higher education.

Sources

Curzon, Geoge N. Persia and the Persian Question Vol. I. (Frank Cass Punlishrs: 1892).

Herodotus.

Naveh, J. The Development of the Aramaic Script: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Proceedings 5/1 (Jerusalem: 1970).

Oppenheim, A.L. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization (Chicago: 1977).

Posener, G. La premieÓre domination perse en ╔gypte (Cairo, 1936).









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