Demands for education to be taught not only in Persian but also in the mother tongue of the many communities within Iran, has gone viral on social media.
Sparked by International Mother Language Day, February 21, some speakers of Iran’s many languages including Turki, Kurdish, Balochi and Arabic, are demanding access to education in their native languages.
Heated discussions have flooded social media, especially among the opposition, with allegations of separatism for the government's policy to enforce only Persian language education.
Proponents of education in mother language argue that teaching only in Persian is detrimental to the development of many children whose mother language is different. Some suggest it can cause psychological pressures on young children when they begin their education, hindering their progress.
Asma Balouch is a Baluchi activist
In a paper presented to the Second Development and Educational Equality Conference in 2016, prominent economist Mohsen Renani said over 65 percent of the children who had to repeat the first and second years of school were from nine provinces where the first language is not Persian.
“By forcing education in Persian, we reduce the speed of mental and personal development of around half of the country’s population and deprive them of opportunities in favor of Persian-speaking children,” Renani wrote. In the absence of any official data, Renani estimated the total population of non-Persian speakers between 42 to 49 percent of all Iranians.
Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic recognizes Persian as the “official language and script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people.” However, it also recognizes the the use of “regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools.”
Some of the programs of the state broadcaster’s local stations are broadcast in other languages including Turki and Kurdish, Arabic and Gilaki but none of the many languages of Iran are allowed to be taught in schools, whether public or private, despite the Constitution. Learning classical Arabic, however, is compulsory after primary education on religious grounds.
Authorities often shut down cultural and literary societies formed to promote other languages and teachers such as Zahra Mohammadi, a Kurdish language teacher, are often prosecuted on charges of acting against national security. Mohammadi who was serving a five-year sentence was recently released from prison.
The regime is particularly strict about the teaching of languages that are spoken in peripheral areas of the country such as Kurdish and Turki and accuses those who promote these languages of separatism.
Restrictions do not only affect teaching of other languages and publication in those languages. Names can only be chosen from a list of approved Persian and Arabic (religious) names. Mahsa Amini, whose death in custody sparked the recent months of unrest, was named Jina by her family but her birth certificate had to be issued as Mahsa.
A survey by Gamaan Institute a year ago found that 85% of respondents considered Farsi (Persian) as the most appropriate official or common language for Iran and 65% agree that schools should teach native languages in addition to Farsi while 19% of respondents disapproved of this option. On the other hand, 61% disagreed with the statement “I prefer my child to receive higher education in their native language rather than in Farsi”, while 18% agreed.
The survey was carried out between February 17-27, 2022. Over 20,000 respondents over the age of 19 participated in this study. The final sample used in the report consisted of 16,850 Iranians living inside Iran.