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Jan 14, 2022

Schools gradually reopen in Iran amid declining Covid cases

Schools in Iran are due to reopen for students in years 10, 11 and 12 as academic institutions across the country continue to gradually return to in-person studies this academic year due to a decline in Covid-19 infection rates.

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Iran (Islamic Republic of)


With an area of 1,648,195 sq.kms (16th largest country in the world), the Islamic Republic of Iran is situated in the eastern portion of the northern hemisphere, in southwest Asia, and considered one of the Middle Eastern countries. It is bounded to the north by the central Asian countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (the former USSR republics) and the Caspian Sea, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Oman Sea and the Persian Gulf, and to the west by Iraq and Turkey. Iran's population stands at 68,000,000, having the world’s youngest population.

The official language of Iran is Persian or Farsi, in addition, other languages such as Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Lori, etc are spoken in various parts of the country. The official religion of the country is Islam and 98.8% of the population are Muslims, most of them belong to the Shia sect.

Iranian culture and civilization dates back to over three thousand years ago, when various Aryan tribes such as the Medes, Parthians and Persians entered the land, which later bears the name Iran or the land of the Aryans (Iran was referred to as Persia until 1935).


Prior to the mid-19th century, it was orthodox in Iran for education to be associated with religious institutions. The clergy, both Shia and non-Shia, assumed responsibility for instructing youth in basic literacy and the fundamentals of religion. Knowledge of reading and writing was not considered necessary for all the population, and thus education, offered at a maktab, generally was limited to the sons of the economic and political elite. Those who desired to acquire more advanced knowledge could continue in a religious college, or madraseh, where all fields of religious science were taught. A perceived need to offer instruction in subjects that were not part of the orthodox religious curriculum, such as accounting, European languages, military science, and technology, led to the establishment of the first government school in 1851, notably, it was Amir Kabir, who during the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah (1848-1896), tried to establish a modern institute aimed at training for manpower for the country. For many years this remained the only institution of higher learning in the nation.

Primary education was introduced in Iran after the nation's first constitution was drafted in 1906, thereafter the Ministry of Education was established in 1910. In 1911, the Parliament passed a law and called upon the Ministry of Education to organize a system of public education. It was not until 1925 that the first secondary education was established. Later between 1925 and 1934, institutes of higher education, colleges, and other similar institutions - including the University of Tehran - were set up and began operating. Women were first admitted to centers of higher learning in 1935 and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education was established in 1967.

It is noteworthy to mention that the public education system of Iran is a highly centralized system of education which has been modeled on that of Napoleonic France in the 19th century. In this system, the Iranian Ministry of Education is the center of power that specifies a national course of study for all subjects. The syllabus for each subject is set out in great detail, stipulating the content to be covered and the number of hours to be taught. In addition, textbooks must be geared to cover the content of a particular course of study and must meet the standards set by the Ministry's textbook authorization system. Overall, education is uniform throughout the country.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, most universities were closed sometime between 1980 to 1983 for the Islamization of the curriculum. Medical schools remained open. Curriculums were revised, textbooks re-written and many professors removed. After the Islamic Revolution, all schools were segregated and remain single sex at the elementary / secondary cycle.

The academic year is from September to June and students are in school Saturday – Thursday. Both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology oversee Iran's current education system.

Primary Education

Elementary/Secondary education is under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and was compulsory until grade 8 but since 2014 compulsory education was extended to grade 9. Public education is free.

There is one 'pre-school'/'pre-primary year', followed by 5 years of basic education (dabestan). Examinations are at the end of each year, culminating in a national examination at the end of the 5 years of basic education, which is currently 6 years based on the reforms that took place in 2014/2014

Secondary Education

Pre-2014, students entered the middle school or doreh-e rahnama-ii (guidance cycle of education), for grades 6, 7, and 8. Both the basic and the guidance cycles follow a national curriculum. Upon completion of grade 8, students take an examination to determine if they will continue studies in the technical, vocational or academic streams in dabirestan (upper secondary school).

Upper secondary school is three years in length (grades 9, 10 and 11). The first two years are common core studies. In the third/final year students are streamed into academic/theoretical, technical, or vocational studies. The vocational and technical streams consist of industry, agriculture, and service industry. Studies must be completed for a total of 96 units. The 'stream' is based on the national examination results after grade 8. The academic stream is Humanities (or Literature); Mathematics and Science; Experimental Science; Islamic Theology (formerly Socio-Economics) or Art.

National examinations at the end of grade 11 led to the award of the diplom payane tahseelat-e motevaseteh. Students who completed grade 11 were able to continue their studies for in the 1-year pre-university cycle, enter employment or enter a post-secondary program intended for the Kardani .

The 2013/2014 reforms have phased out the Peesh-daneshgah-ii (pre-university year) and instead adopted a 6-year primary (grades 1-6) cycle, followed by 3 years of lower secondary cycle (grades 7, 8, 9) and 3 years of upper secondary cycle (grades 10, 11, 12). The first cohort from this new system are, as of academic year 2015-2016, in grade 9. Progression from primary cycle to lower secondary and upper secondary and assignment of students to vocational-technical or academic streams have remained the same. National examinations at the end of grade 12 lead to the award of the diplom payane tahseelat-e motevaseth (Certificate of Completion of Secondary School Studies) and qualified students to sit for the Konkur (university entrance examination) if they intend to pursue tertiary education in Iran. Since 2019, Iranian students have been awarded the diplom payane tahseelat-e motevaseth on completion of grades 10, 11, and 12.

Peesh daneshgah-ii (Pre-University year)

The pre-university year was originally introduced in 1990 (replacing Grade 12 of senior high school) with most of the transition starting in 1996 and fully implemented by 2004. The pre-university year was phased out in 2018 which was the last year students in Iran received this qualification. 

Students who completed secondary education (grade 11 completion / graduation) who wished to enter bachelor (Karshenasi) programs must complete an additional year of study leading to the Certificate of Completion of Pre-University Peesh-daneshgah-ii Studies. Students must complete 30 units in this pre-university year. Those who wished to enter bachelor (Karshenasi) degree programs also sat for the Konkur, the National University Entrance Examinations.

The Konkur examination, a comprehensive test assessing general knowledge, Persian language, history, math and a foreign language, is under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and is a higher competitive university entrance examination. The examination is administered in June of each year and a very small percentage of students (about 10% of exam takers) finding a place in a public university. Both public and private universities use this examination for admission. (Note: Islamic Azad University has its own entrance examination. It is the largest university in Iran.)


A number of vocational programs are available at the secondary level. The first qualification is called گواهينامه پايان تحصيلات متوسطه, کار و دانش” Govahinameye Payane Tahsilate Doreye Motavasete, Kar Va Danesh (High School Diploma, Work & Knowledge stream). The duration is 3 years and is based on 8 years of schooling. The qualification was introduced around the year 1996. The qualification prepares for work in a specific occupational field.

The second qualification karvarzi (کارورزی) which does not represent any additional classroom instruction. It is primarily an internship.

Certificate of completion of upper secondary school studies -technical and vocational Govahinameye Payane Tahsilat Doreye Motavasete – Fanni va Herfeyee , گواهينامه پايان تحصيلات دوره دوم متوسطه - فنی و حرفه ای”. This is the upper secondary education diploma with the technical and vocational program. In this program, the focus is on technical and practical subjects, such as electricity or mechanical engineering. The duration is 3 years and gives access to profession-oriented associate degree programs, for example Kardani.

Chronological Overview of Primary and Secondary Education:

Pre-1979 Islamic Revolution

  • 5 years primary (grades 1-5)
  • 3 years middle school/guidance cycle (grades 6, 7, 8)
  • 4 years upper secondary (grades 9, 10, 11, 12)

Post-1979 Islamic Revolution (through 1995)

  • Years primary (grades 1-5)
  • 3 years middle school/guidance cycle (grades 6, 7, 8)
  • 4 years upper secondary (grades 9, 10, 11, 12


  • 5 years primary (grades 1-5)
  • 3 years middle school/guidance cycle (grades 6, 7, 8)
  • 3 years upper secondary (grades 9, 10, 11)
  • 1 year pre-university (year 12)

2014 to present

  • 6 years primary (grades 1-6)
  • 3 years lower secondary cycle (grades 7, 8, 9)
  • 3 years upper secondary cycle (grades 10, 11, 12)

Post-Secondary Education

Post-secondary education is provided by danesghah (universities), both public and private, under the auspices and recognition of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MSRT). Medical schools are under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education. Many of the non-university institutions under the MSRT are referred to as non-profit private institutions or non-profit higher education institutes. The largest private university is the Islamic Azad University; it is not under the auspices of MSRT. The Islamic Azad University is recognized as a degree-granting institution of higher education approved by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution and the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Iran in accordance with the University Constitution approved on November 3, 1987 and The Single Article ratified on May 4, 1988.

Payam-e-Noor University is a distance learning university in Iran, which may be known as Open University of Azad University when translated and should not be mistaken with Islamic Azad University.

First Cycle

Two to three-year programs are offered at universities and higher education institutions, leading to the degree of Kardani (which was formerly known as a Fogh-Diplom). Students may enter these programs following the completion of the entire elementary / secondary school cycle of 11 years of study or may enter following the pre-university year for a total of 12 years of study. The pre-university year is not required to enter these programs at higher education institutions. However, admission to Kardani programs at universities where students may continue in the Karshenasi program requires completion of the pre-university year and passage of the Konkur examination. These programs offer technical, vocational and academic fields of study. Upon completion of the minimum required 'credits' (ranging from 68 – 80) and diploma requirements, the Kardani is awarded. Studies may, depending on the field of study, continue into karshenasi degree programs.

It should be noted that students who enter technical and vocational curriculum at grade 9 may enter a 5-year program (3 years of secondary school completion – grades 9, 10, and 11) and then complete a 2-year program of Kardani.

The undergraduate degree of Karshenasi (formerly License) is 4 years in length for most fields of study. If a student enters the program following completion of the Kardani, the program is 2 years in length. This is called a karshenasi napayvesteh ('discontinuous bachelor degree'). Students must have a minimum passing average of 10 out of 20 to graduate.

The 4-year Karshenasi program requires 130 – 150 units, with the 140 range the most common. Programs in dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary science are 6 years in length; in architecture 6 years in length; and medical degrees require six to seven years, including internship training and thesis. These degrees are often referred to as karshenasi arshad payveasteh.

Note: 'License' is shown on degrees earned prior to the education reforms of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Degrees issued subsequent to reforms show the current names of either Kardani, Karshenasi, or Karshenasi Arshad with no reference to their former names.

Admission to the Karshenasi degree program is by a competitive national university entrance examination of Konkur.

Second and Third Cycles

Karshenasi-Arshad, napayvasteh, is generally a two-year program. A thesis is typically required. The minimum passing grade is 12 out of 20. An entrance examination is required for admission.

The Doctora ranges from 3 to 6 years in length, with a minimum passing grade of 14 out of 20. This requires coursework, research, preparation, submission and defense of dissertation/thesis based on an original topic.

All degrees, whether awarded by public or private institutions, are officially recognized by MSRT. A few universities (Sharif University of Technology; Shiraz and Amir Kabir Universities) issue transcripts in English. The University of Tehran may issue the transcript in English if sending directly to a university abroad.

Credit System

Since the reform act of 1990, the structure of secondary education has changed from a grade level system (yearly system) to a credit unit one wherein one hour week yields one credit. Universities operate on a two semester credit unit system.

Bahá’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE)

The Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) is a private institution founded in 1987. According to information provided by BIHE, it was created “in response to the Iranian government's continuing campaign to deny Iranian Bahá'ís access to higher education.” Members of the Baha’i faith are part of a persecuted religious minority community in the Islamic Republic of Iran and are constitutionally denied access to higher education in the country. Early in its inception, classes and laboratories were held clandestinely in the homes of Bahai’s in Iran, and in most cases, instructors taught without compensation. By 2005, online instruction was implemented reducing the dangers of meeting in person and instructors from various accredited international institutions joined the faculty holding classes remotely for BIHE students.

As of February 2024, BIHE has five faculties and 14 departments that offer more than 56 academic programs, including 17 bachelor's degree programs, 15 master's degree programs, 1 Ph.D. program, 5 postgraduate certificate programs, and 11 certificate, specialist and professional programs. In addition, BIHE has 3 preparatory programs in place for new students who are not ready to declare a BS major upon admission. BIHE also offers 4 associate degree tracks.

Under the current religious structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even though BIHE is not recognized by the country’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology its graduates have been admitted to graduate programs at over 100 universities in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand. For a list of international universities accepting BIHE degree programs and its graduates, click here.

Please see for further information.

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Nancy Katz

Director of Evaluation Service, Inc.

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

IESC, Chair & Founder, President and CEO of ACEI


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