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UNESCO and Faux Reform in Iran

June 16, 2017
Firouz Farzani
2 min read
UNESCO's Education 2030 guidelines promote equal access to education
UNESCO's Education 2030 guidelines promote equal access to education

Last month the reformists won the election hands down.

They bagged around 24 million votes to send their man Rouhani back to the President’s office for a second term.

On the campaign trail, they talked a good game -  with brave promises of change and liberalization - but as soon as it was over they fell back into line, more concerned about appeasing the hardliners and the Supreme Leader than satisfying the voters.

A good barometer of their retreat is the 2030 UNESCO Sustainable Development guidelines for education.

On the 19th of May, moderate Iranians who would not normally bothered to have voted stampeded to the polls to head off a terrifying prospect – Ebrahim Raisi winning the Presidency. He and his so-called principalist colleagues would have put their conservative stamp on every public program in the country, including education. 

The truth , though, that a huge number of parents are fed up with the way hardliners, including Raisi, believe our schools should be run.

From the very beginning, kids are indoctrinated into the ideology of the Islamic Republic. They’re treated like little soldiers in an educational garrison, expected to blindly follow orders and rituals.  For example, every day opens with a group shout of shout: "Allah Akbar!  Khamenei the Leader." 

The school system assumes students will show absolute allegiance to the Supreme Leader and the top Shi’ite Marja (“source of emulation”). They’re never taught to think critically, or to question anything.

The UNESCO 2030 Educational Guidelines don’t directly challenge Iran’s educational ethos, except perhaps the clause that calls for gender equality in schools.  In any case, they are only a statement of broad objective, and non-binding.    

Back in 2016, President Rouhani’s government adopted them in principle.  For moderate Iranians, it was welcome news that signalled, however faintly, that the government might endorse a more enquiring approach to learning.

Then came the election campaign and the hardliners went on the attack (with criticisms that were ill-informed and false.)  Khamenei himself took up the cause, and called the guidelines un-Islamic. 

Rather than defending the position it adopted during the election campaign – a force for reform in the face of Islamic obduracy -  Rouhani’s government caved in. A senior education said the adoption of the 2030 agenda had been halted. 

A week later, Rouhani himself said that the government remained committed to the spirit of the document – after all Iran is a member of UNESCO -  but it would “discard the parts that contradict Islam.” 

Once again the demands of Iranian civil society were disregarded as soon as the pressure of the election campaign eased. Once again, the dead hand of theocracy snuffed out progress and enlightenment.

On June 13rd, a group of 151 MPs in Iran’s Parliament wrote to the President asking him to repeal the 2030 UNESCO Sustainable Development guidelines.  He agreed, his capitulation complete.

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June 22, 2017

The ? Writer is Firouz


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