Teachers have been coming out on the streets of Tehran and 12 other cities and towns across Iran to express frustration and anger at the ongoing threats to their livelihoods, the result of flawed, inconsistent education policies. Most recently, they say, teacher and education graduates have been forced to sit a new exam, resulting in thousands of people being put out of work.
It’s a challenging environment to say the least, given that President Ebrahim Raisi’s choice of new education minister has not instilled confidence among educators and rights activists. His decision to appoint a temporary head to oversee matters before the new head is in office has also sparked criticism. These new uncertainties and changes come against a backdrop of endemic hardship for teachers, whose finances and job security have been compromised by the continued and historic failure to put an appropriate pay grade and structure in place, as well as a host of other factors: work contracts that have been insufficient at best and insulting and discriminatory at worst, rife unemployment among recent graduates of teaching courses at Farhangian University and other institutions, the recruitment tests that have seen large numbers of potential teachers excluded from the profession, dire conditions for former teachers, who have been left without the retirement packages to which they are entitled, among dozens of other problems. For many in the teaching profession, every day is a struggle to work, to earn and to gain respect.
New Graduates Lead the Protests
For four days in a row in early September, teaching students who graduated in 2020 — dubbed Green Report Card-holders because of the exam they had to pass to become professional educators — held daily demonstrations outside the Ministry of Education and staged night protests on the capital’s Sepahbod Gharani Street, voicing anger at the lack of jobs despite the obvious need for more teachers. Instead of recruiting recent graduates, they say, the ministry has urged retired teachers to return to the profession to fill the gap.
The protests have gained momentum over the last few days, but they initially began in 2020, after graduates were told they were not in a position to pursue careers in teaching despite having passed the required written exam. They were told they had failed to complete an oral “literacy” exam that represented another phase of the qualification process.
The students have argued that the system is unfair, with some teaching graduates being accepted as new teachers after having achieved very low scores and others with better grades being pushed out. No viable reason had been given for the decision, they said.
On Sunday, September 5, at the same time as the Green Report Card-holders’ rally was taking place, another group of teachers gathered outside parliament and the Plan and Budget Organization to voice anger about recent claims by the head of the organization that the slight increase in teachers’ salaries was “illegal.” Soon after the announcement, the rise in salaries was frozen.
On the same day, another group of activists joined them outside parliament, saying they were part of the movement for greater literacy in Iran and voicing their anger that their calls for jobs and for greater support for education were being ignored. The movement was said to have been led by teachers who reported that they had been forced to take the literacy test despite already having worked in the profession, and were then told they could not continue their work.
On September 6, they moved their protest outside the Ministry of Education, and demanded that they be recruited to work at Farhangian University under contract by the Ministry of Education.
Leaders in Literacy Left Behind by the Ministry of Education
Protesters came from a range of cities across Iran to join the demonstrations in Tehran, many of them setting off on the morning of Saturday, September 4.
“There are about 3,000 of us who, after working as professional teachers and educators in literacy for periods of between 10 and 15 years in deprived areas of the country, have not been given the choice to take the exam. As of July 23, we have lost our jobs”
Gathered outside the Ministry of Education on Saturday, September 4, they chanted: ”Teachers shout out, demand your rights” and “Teachers will die before they accept discrimination.” They had the right to unemployment, they called out.
A group of instructors working for the Mehrafarin project from several provinces traveled to Tehran on September 5 too, also gathering outside the parliament building. ”Each of us has almost 20 years of teaching experience, but so far the situation has not changed," one the instructors said. According to him, the Ministry of Education had informed those on the project that they had to pass the employment test in order to teach. And yet, they say they were only selected for teaching after a series of steps, only one of which was an entrance exam.
Quranic Teachers Also Targeted
Quranic teachers traveled to Tehran too, gathering outside parliament on September 6. They too have called for secure employment and for a range of other issues to be taken seriously.
These teachers were also told they had to take the new recruitment test, but then were blocked from doing so. They reported that their professional files had been blocked from being accessed in provincial teaching districts and that provincial administrations had been tasked with sending the list of names of Quranic teachers who were eligible to take the recruitment test to the ministry, but had failed to do so in time. "We have many years of experience in teaching and education, and we should not pay for the negligence of the authorities," they said.
They say they had been teaching in public schools and Quranic schools under the supervision of the Ministry of Education for years but been rewarded with very low salaries. They are particularly frustrated because successive members of parliament and the director general of education in the province had promised to address the issue. Now they have to wait until a new minister is appointed.
There were also protests in Varamin outside Tehran, where educators gathered outside the main municipal building on Monday, September 6 to protest against the lack of housing for teachers in the city, and city officials’ long-running incompetence when it came to addressing the problem. According to them, teachers and educators had been gifted plots of land 25 years ago, but although the promises continued — albeit with smaller plot sizes being announced without any reasonable explanation— these pledges have not materialized.
Yazd and Khuzestan: A Need for Teachers
Teachers working on a contract basis joined the marches in Yazd, gathering outside the city’s Directorate of Education. They say they have not been paid in four months.
"The problem of teachers' salaries not being paid will be solved soon,” announced the head of the local department in response to their complaints. "Money has been set aside for teachers' salaries, which has been approved by the ministry and has gone to the treasury for distribution."
Dezful city literacy movement activists appealed to their parliamentary representative on September 6, demanding that authorities take immediate action.
Recent changes certainly had an impact on teachers, but there have been a range of policy shifts over recent years, and they were to blame for the current situation, the activists said.
One described how teachers who had been working before 2013 had been given jobs, but that people qualifying after that date were facing discrimination “according to an education ministry announcement,” even though the city desperately needed more teachers.
“Dezful city needs about 800 teachers, but the number of instructors from the literacy movement who were working before 2013 is about 100 people. The shortage could be compensated by recruiting some of these people."
He added: "We spent our youth educating those who had missed their education, but no one appreciates our efforts or thinks about changing our situation. The Ministry of Education brings retirees back and is unwilling to recruit those of us who have completed the required courses."
Elsewhere in the province of Khuzestan, a number of preschool teachers also joined protests outside the Khuzestan governor's office on September 5. “In 2018, we worked in public schools as part of the general directorate of education, and we paid 700,000 tomans a month for insurance out of our own pockets." But then, they said, in 2020, after the arrival of a new head for the Izeh education department, all teachers lost their jobs.