There is not a clear definition of inclusive education, but for Iran’s Ministry of Education (Iranian Special Education Organization), inclusion ‘means including children with various special educational needs in regular school settings.’ However, not all special needs, ‘obvious mental disabilities’ among them, are included in the category; the ministry notes that ‘Down syndrome children are natural candidates’. Children covered by the definition of inclusive education ‘suffer from hearing or visual impairment, physical and/or motor disability, delayed learning, special learning disorders, and behavioral and emotional disorders and are defined and categorized as children with special needs.’
Special education needs
The categories of children with special needs are the following: ‘the mentally challenged, hearing-impaired, visually-impaired, physically disabled, multiply disabled, those with behavioral disorders and inclusive development disorders (the autistic group), and those with special learning disorders.’
In 2008, children with special needs received services in 2,029 regular schools, 815 special schools and 219 special classes in regular schools. Eight placement options exist for students with special needs:
- Special day schools
- Specialized residential facilities (e.g. homes and hospitals)
- Full-time residential schools
- Full-time special classrooms exclusive to special education students in regular schools
- Regular classrooms attendance with part-time special education services in a special classroom
- Regular classroom attendance with part-time special education services in a regular classroom with part-time help or tutoring in a resource room
- Full-time attendance in regular classrooms with occasional help from itinerant specialists
- Full-time attendance in regular classrooms with occasional help from the regular teacher.
Based on the 1980 Education Policy Act, parents are the major deciders for their child’s education; however, their preferences for children's school placement are rarely considered and few realistic choices are offered to them. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran in August 2018, among the 130,000 children with disabilities registered in schools, 75,000 students were placed in special schools and 55,000 in mainstream schools.
A Special Education Law was promulgated in the early 1990s and then revised in 2004. All Iranian children are required to undergo a screening system at the age of 6 to assess their ability to be enrolled in the first year of primary school (medical assessment based on an IQ test). Those children who do not pass the screening are referred for a professional evaluation and are most likely to attend special schools (over 90% of these children are placed in special schools). The number of students transferring from special to ordinary schools is not known. The Iranian Social Welfare Organization (ISWO) provides pre-vocational centers for school-age children with more severe disabilities. There are also selective schools called ‘Nemoone Dolati’ for gifted children in the country.
The inclusive education programme for ‘children with borderline intelligence’ began in 1999. When this programme started, regular teachers were not trained and prepared. It is not clear to what extent the programme has fulfilled its aims. The Special Education Organization and the Ministry of Education planned as of 2017 to set up schools for children with autism in Tehran, with the goal that these children would study alongside other students. In the 2014 national screening programme, there were only 1,380 students with motor, visual, or hearing disabilities (10%) in the inclusive education system.
The 1989 Constitution states that the government is responsible for providing the means for public education for everyone up to the end of high school. Article 19 of the Constitution adds that ‘all people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.’ Additionally, Article 3.9 stipulates that the government has the duty of abolishing ‘all forms of undesirable discrimination’ and should provide ‘equitable opportunities for all, in both the material and intellectual spheres’. Moreover, the 1988 Law on Goals and Duties of the Ministry of Education aimed to eliminate all types of prejudice in the education of Iranian children.
Iran ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2009. In March 2018, the Parliament adopted the Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities; however, the Iranian legislation still sometimes uses derogatory terms like ‘insane’, ‘retarded’ and ‘crippled’ (see Iran’s Civil Code). The government has no legislation guaranteeing deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens access to professional sign language interpreters.
The Circular No. 97000/2806/2 of 2008 shaped the rules of procedure for inclusive education of students with special needs. These rules aim to facilitate ‘the attendance of visually challenged, deaf, physically disabled, borderline students and those with low to moderate behavioral disorders at ordinary schools.’ In this regard, a three-year pilot project at 28 schools in 7 provinces was implemented in 2008–09. In 2008, the Ministry of Education was mandated to prepare another circular on ‘Attaching priority to mainstreaming the children with special needs into regular schools’ and a policy on inclusive education. This inclusive education policy is currently not accessible online, but the 2010–14 Fifth National Development Plan aimed to develop the education of students with special needs through inclusive education. Both this plan and the following one stress the improvement of the physical and mental health of students (especially girls) and provision of appropriate facilities for educationally disadvantaged children.
As for programmes, in 2015 Iran’s Department of Special Education implemented the Iran Project, which provides free support services to 120,000 students in the country’s special schools. Iran’s Department of Special Education has provided students with disabilities with some free rehabilitation services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and vision and hearing evaluation. The Department of Special Education also distributed 550,000 textbooks, audiotapes and educational software in special schools across the country.
Iran has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women but adopted the Women’s Rights and Responsibilities Charter in 2004. This charter emphasized the need to set policies to enhance women’s participation in higher education and the right of women and girls from impoverished areas to benefit from special support in education. It also highlighted the training of women with physical and mental disabilities proportionate to their talents and extent of disability.
All regulations, policies and strategies underline equal access to education for girls and boys. For instance, since 2000, the third, fourth, fifth and sixth development plans have stressed elimination of gender discrimination and attending to the needs of girls in the legal provisions therein. However, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016, girls may be denied access to education by court ruling if the husband opposes his wife’s education. Early marriage of girls is also one of the main reasons for girls dropping out of school. Finally, boys are often separated from girls in all three levels of education – primary, secondary and pre-university – except in remote villages, where sparse population makes separation of boys and girls unfeasible.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The 1989 Constitution deals with language in its articles 15 and 16, which lay down that ‘the official language and script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people, is Persian. … However, the use of regional and tribal languages in … teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian’ and Arabic ‘must be taught after elementary level, in all classes of secondary school and in all areas of study.’ In this respect, Arabic, as the language of the Koran, is taught in grades 7–12. In addition to Arabic, students are required to take one foreign language class in grades 3–12.
In terms of religion, Article 13 of the 1989 Constitution adds: ‘Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who … are free … to act according to their own canon in matters of … religious education.’
People living in rural or remote areas
The Literacy Movement Organization aims to provide literacy for adults, especially in remote areas. The programme aims to provide suitable conditions to enjoy educational opportunities, particularly by women, and improve quality of life for villagers. The programme expands human resources for the development of the local communities. Among initiatives to promote this group's inclusion in education is a joint project of the Ministry of Education and the UNICEF office in Tehran on rural girls’ intake growth and quality enhancement in less developed villages of the country.
The 1974 Law on supplying means and facilities of education for Iranian children and adolescents obliges the Government to ‘provide the requirements of free education for all children (regardless of gender) as well as necessary education facilities for disadvantaged children who may be deprived of education due to financial problems.’ In Iran today, education is free and mandatory from age 7 through high school.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, Iran is one of the top five countries in the world for number of refugees, with at least 3 million Afghan refugees and 30,000 Iraqi refugees. Article 7 of the 1963 Refugee Regulations states that ‘a refugee, after being accepted for asylum can benefit from ... health, cultural and social services.’ In addition, since 2015, a decree has required all schools in Iran to admit Afghan children regardless of whether they are documented. Despite this legislation, Iranian laws do not require any particular services to be provided to refugees with disabilities, and the 2018 Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities does not mention refugees. Moreover, refugee children have to pay school fees, while education is free for Iranian children. Children of registered refugees and unregistered foreigners born in Iran are not issued a birth certificate, hampering their access to education.
Albinism is also not mentioned as a disability in the Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The Iranian Association for Albinism provides services for people living with albinism and raises awareness about their rights.
Gifted and talented students
Responsibility for gifted students is assumed by the Education Department and is separated from special education. Students are selected through an extensive nationwide competitive entry examination process.
The Ministry of Education administers inclusive education at the primary and secondary levels, mainly through the provincial organizations and the district offices. The Supreme Council of Education, the highest legislative body, approves all policies and regulations in education.
The Welfare Department is responsible for the identification of all types of children with special needs and provides vocational training, speech therapy, occupational therapy and social-behavioural training. It offers community-based rehabilitation and provides residential facilities for children with extreme disabilities. In parallel, the Special Education Directorate (independent bodies under the Ministry of Education) takes extensive measures to serve more groups of disabled children. The State Welfare Organization focuses on disability prevention, rehabilitation and empowerment. It provides rehabilitation services and equipment, runs and monitors residential institutions, and reimburses education tuition for some students with disabilities.
The Health Department and the Education Department examine all children (including those with special education needs) physically and mentally and provide a psychological assessment. These data are used to direct students to appropriate educational programs. School psychologists and counsellors offer parent training. After graduation, students with intellectual disability receive support from the Behzisti Organization for three years (under the Ministry of Social Welfare).
Article 30 of the 1989 Constitution sets out that ‘the government is bound to make available, free of charge, educational facilities for all up to the close of the secondary stage, and to expand free facilities for higher education up to the limits of the country's own capacity’. That said, many preschool centres are not willing to take young children with disabilities because of inadequate buildings, shortage of materials and equipment, and the belief that these children need ‘professional assistance’.
Since September 2019, 22 school bus lines have been established in the city of Tehran to ensure that students can attend schools safely. Along the bus routes, special stations are also exclusively dedicated to the school buses. Since 2004, school transport authorities have allocated separate buses for boys and girls. Tehran Municipality also provides free transportation service to students with special education needs.
Curriculum and learning materials
In 2006, the High Council of Education (Ministry of Education) adopted the article ‘Creating More Flexible Programs to Increase the Enrolment Ratio’ to introduce more flexible curricula and to increase the enrolled student population.
However, during the Iranian post-revolutionary period (1979–2012), the Ministry of Education attempted to Islamize the content of curricula, and textbooks have been rewritten several times to incorporate Islam. Also, the Arabic language (as the language of the Koran), which disappeared from the curriculum in the 1970s, is now reintegrated. That said, topics related to Islam are not restricted to religious textbooks and appear in social studies, history, Persian language ‘and, to a lesser extent, science textbooks also discuss religious, Islamic, and political issues either directly, by insinuation, or through metaphors‘.
Since 2002, universities and higher education institutes offer in-service and long-term degree programmes to teachers. Graduates of different programmes (e.g. mathematics and science teachers) learn to teach students with mental or physical disabilities.
Depending on the student and the degree of disability, a special resource teacher may be assigned to a class to provide special assistance, especially to students with behavioural problems or learning difficulties. Resource teachers can work with students with special needs individually or in small groups, in resource rooms specially equipped for students with learning disabilities. Still, the Ministry of Education notes a deficiency of liaison and resource teachers and a lack of provision of educational services required by children with special needs in ordinary schools.
Article 15 of Iran’s 2018 Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities states: ‘The government is required to allocate at least three percent of official and contractual employment opportunities in government agencies, including ministries, organizations, institutions, companies and public and revolutionary organizations, as well as other entities that receive funding from the national budget to qualified persons with disabilities.’ However, discrimination against people with disability remains. In 2018, a report by the Center for Human Rights in Iran alleged that the Iranian Education Ministry violated the CRPD with job application requirements that prevent many people with disabilities from applying.
The country does not have a national monitoring report in education nor has it produced a voluntary national review. In the 2000–15 National Education for All Report, the country monitored the number of children with special needs in special schools and in inclusive classes, the number of children with special needs undergoing education, and the share of girls at all levels of education and in special education. However, there is an ‘absence of demographic data about disabled children’.