Iran just banned the teaching of English in primary schools — even after school hours — because, it said, those early years should be devoted to strengthening students’ skills in the Persian language and Iranian Islamic culture.
Mehdi Navid-Adham, head of the state-run High Education Council, told state television, “Teaching English in government and non-government primary schools in the official curriculum is against laws and regulations,” the BBC reported. Iran’s education system is divided into the primary and secondary grades, with children moving from the former to the latter at age 12. There are both public and private schools.
Navid-Adham did not mention the deadly anti-government protests that have erupted in Iran, which authorities have linked to foreign powers, including the United States and Iraq. Iranian authorities blocked social media apps Instagram and Telegram — “temporarily” — after demonstrators used them to share videos of protests.
According to the BBC, English is widely studied in Iran and is so popular in higher grades that classes started to be offered in primary schools. This has happened despite concerns expressed by Iran’s rulers, who have said that the teaching of English and other foreign languages amounts to a “cultural invasion.” In a speech to teachers in 2016, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, bemoaned the prevalence of English classes in Iranian schools, saying:
This insistence on promoting the English language in our country is an unhealthy course of action. Of course, we should learn foreign languages, but foreign languages are not confined to the English language. The language of science is not only English. Why do they not specify other languages in school as language lessons? Why is there such an insistence? . . .
I am not saying that we should cancel English classes shortly. This is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that we should know what we are doing. We should know what kind of generation the other side wants to be built in the country and with what characteristics. . . .
We have opened the arena and besides turning this language into an exclusive language in our schools, we are continuously bringing it to lower levels — to kindergartens and primary schools. Why is that? We who want to promote the Persian language should spend a huge amount of money and work hard. When they cancel Persian classes somewhere, we should make diplomatic calls, asking why they have done so. However, they do not allow us to take foreign students and they do not give us any concessions for promoting the Persian language. This is while we are promoting their languages with our own money, at our own expense and with our own problems. . . .
The first thing that we should consider for our students is that we should engender an independent national and religious identity in them. This is the first thing: an independent and dignified identity. We should cultivate our youth in a way that they pursue independent politics, economy and culture.
Navid-Adham also said on state-run media over the weekend that government authorities want to strengthen “Persian language skills and Iranian Islamic culture of pupils at the primary school stage,” and that it would be a “violation” for primary schools to teach English not only during regular school hours but also outside of the daily classroom schedule.