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Ahwazi Children Face Discrimination in Iran’s Education System

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  This comprehensive report seeks to shed light on the underlying causes contributing to the poor education system in Ahwaz. It strives to elucidate the significant factors that result in the widespread recurring dropout of Ahwazi Arab students from schools. Moreover, the report strives to scrutinise the systematic discriminatory practices perpetuated by the successive Iranian governments, which have resulted in consistently poor educational conditions in the region.

The report delves into the historical background and current situation of the marginalised Ahwazi population. The report examines the educational inequalities faced by the marginalised Ahwazi population. It discusses the causes of these inequalities, including gender discrimination, lack of educational facilities, systematic economic marginalisation, poverty, and linguistic restrictions. Drawing upon evidence from Iranian officials and local Ahwazi sources, the report’s authors substantiate their claims with data regarding the dire state of education across Ahwazi areas. The report emphasises the importance of education in one’s mother language and highlights how Iran has denied Ahwazi children this right. It also explores the environmental factors exacerbating the education crisis in Ahwaz. The report argues for recognising education in the mother language as a fundamental right. Theoretically, it draws connections between language and colonisation based on Frantz Fanon’s book, The Wretched of The Earth.

 Ahwaz: History and Current Situation

 Ahwaz is a predominantly Arab region situated in the southeast of Iraq, constituting the northeastern extremity of the Arab world. It lies adjacent to the head and eastern side of the Arabian Gulf and to the south, the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Additionally, it is located in the southern and southwestern parts of Iran. Due to its strategic geographic location overlooking the head of the Arabian Gulf and a significant portion of its eastern coastline, as well as its fertile agricultural lands, abundant wildlife, and abundant natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, and iron, Ahwaz has garnered interest from various powers. The presence of numerous commercial ports along the Gulf coast has also established Ahwaz as Iran’s key economic artery.

For centuries, Ahwazi rulers exercised sovereignty over several Ahwazi emirates until they were invaded and occupied in the early twentieth century. This occurred shortly after the discovery of immense oil and gas reserves in the Ahwaz region as part of a scheme orchestrated by major world powers led by Great Britain.

Following the occupation of Ahwaz and the imprisonment of the last Ahwazi ruler in 1925, the Persian government at the time initiated the closure of all schools and seminaries and renamed the rural and urban places from Arabic to Persian. Tehran simultaneously launched an assault on all aspects of Arab culture and language in Ahwaz, promoting Persian language and culture while prohibiting the teaching of any history that acknowledges Ahwaz’s existence as a distinct entity. This denial of Ahwaz’s history, culture, and lived experiences among its Ahwazi people has been intertwined with the creation and perpetuation of irrelevant Persian myths and cultural misrepresentations.

The Iranian government’s attempts to eradicate the history and shared memory of the Ahwazi people are manifested through several policies, the foremost being the imposition of the Persian language in schools and the promotion of the dominant narrative dictated by the Iranian government. These measures are pursued with the intention of eradicating the very essence of Ahwazi culture, language, and their connection to their homeland.

According to the Persian supremacist worldview disseminated through education, culture, and media, Ahwazis and Arabs, in general, are portrayed as uncivilised. The school curriculum is filled with vicious hatred toward Arabs. Particularly under the current regime, there has been a propagation of a markedly sectarian extremist Shiite doctrine bolstered by an unspoken yet overtly ethno-supremacist Persian triumphalism. According to this narrative, Arabs are viewed as uncivilised and foreign nomadic immigrants in Ahwaz. Meanwhile, the Ahwazis are forbidden from learning about or celebrating their own culture. Instead, Iranian governments have attempted to forcefully impose the commemoration of Persian festivals, such as Nowruz, which venerates fire as a deity in Persian Zoroastrian tradition. Additionally, Ahwazi students are compelled to memorise the Iranian national anthem and the epic poem Shahnameh by Persian poet Ferdowsi, which contains venomous anti-Arab insults. This is done with the aim of instilling shame regarding their Ahwazi heritage and coercing their assimilation into Persian culture.

Through these openly racist practices, the Iranian educational system systematically devalues Ahwazi children and undermines their ethnic identity and culture from an early age. This fosters a sense of shame, inferiority, self-doubt, and worry, subsequently stifling creativity, self-confidence, and self-esteem throughout their schooling. From a young age, Ahwazi children are subjected to ridicule and abuse by their Persian teachers for their ethnicity and their supposedly “inferior” Arabic language. Rather than discouraging this behaviour, the authorities actively encourage it as a means of instilling self-hatred and promoting acceptance of these distorted values, ultimately forcing assimilation into Persian society. It is unsurprising that, given these traumatic experiences, coupled with the prevalent poverty among Ahwazi children, many opt to leave the education system in order to escape the constant verbal, psychological, and physical abuse inflicted by the very teaching staff meant to nurture them. These oppressive measures are not merely attempts to suppress cultural diversity; they are part of a broader colonisation strategy employed by the Iranian government.

Through the imposition of language, erasure of history, and control of the narrative, the government aims to assert its dominance and maintain control over the Ahwaz, undermining the autonomy and self-determination of the Ahwazi people. Iran vehemently opposes the narrative put forth by the majority of Ahwazis who believe that Ahwazi people are being subjected to brutal colonisation, asserting that Iran is a colonising state. Iran’s efforts to suppress cultural, linguistic, and identity expressions among Ahwazis are seen as a means to hinder their claims over their homeland.

It is crucial to recognise and challenge these colonial practices, as they perpetuate injustices and marginalise the Ahwazi people. Embracing and celebrating Ahwazi history, culture, and lived experiences is not only a matter of preserving their heritage but also a powerful means of resisting and dismantling oppressive systems of colonisation.

Educational Inequalities in Ahwaz

 For decades, Ahwaz has faced numerous challenges. Among these, none have been more urgent and devastating than the poor state of the educational system. The dire situation in Ahwaz can be attributed to a multitude of causes and is evident in various ways.

One of the primary root causes is the deprivation of resources in the Ahwaz region. The Iranian regime has exploited most of its oil, gas, and water resources, leaving the region with insufficient funds for development. This deprivation directly impacts all sectors, including education. Furthermore, Ahwazi Arab areas have been systematically denied developmental budgets, exacerbating the problem.

The manifestations resulting from these educational issues are plentiful. Perhaps the most striking is the alarming rate of annual dropouts in Ahwazi regions. This crisis continues to escalate due to the pursuit of segregation and de-development, as well as the implementation of discriminatory and racist policies against Ahwazi Arabs by the Iranian regime. These policies are continuously being intensified and exacerbated.

The Ahwaz region has been burdened by a heavily inefficient educational system for decades. This issue stems from the inadequate allocation of resources and the deliberate withholding of developmental funds from Ahwazi Arab areas. Additionally, the prevalence of poverty and marginalisation among Ahwazis has further exacerbated the problem. Furthermore, the denial of the Ahwazi Arab people’s right to receive education in their native language, Arabic, has also contributed to this predicament.

Ahwaz Region Ranks Last in Educational Development in Iran

The official statistics provided by the Iranian regime indicate that the Ahwaz region is lagging behind in terms of education compared to other provinces in Iran. It holds the lowest position, ranking 31st among all regions in terms of educational development.

On 20 August 2017, Karimi Kia, the Director General of Social Affairs in the Ahwaz region, stated that based on their observations, 8% of the population in Ahwaz is completely illiterate, with an additional 8% considered functionally illiterate. These statistics only pertain to individuals between the ages of 10 to 49. If the illiteracy rates among individuals who are 49 years old and above are taken into account, the number of illiterates in the region would increase. Additionally, there are 11,000 Ahwazi children who are not receiving an education in Ahwaz.

During a meeting of the Provincial Education Council on 22 October 2017, Gholamreza Shariati, the former governor of Ahwaz, revealed that according to the statistics they obtained, there are 500,000 illiterates in the Ahwaz region, out of which 238,000 are between the ages of 10 and 49.

Furthermore, on 23 December 2017, the Deputy of Literacy of the Ahwaz General Directorate of Education stated that 35% of the illiterate population in Ahwaz are men, while 65% are Ahwazi women.

Ahwazi rights groups, who closely monitor the state of education in the region, believe that the announced figures regarding illiteracy in Ahwaz fall far short of the actual reality. Ahmad Khaledi, a retired Ahwazi teacher, revealed in an interview with the Dialogue Institute that the actual illiteracy rate could be approximately 20% higher, affecting as many as 750,000 individuals out of the six million Ahwazi Arabs living in the northern part of Ahwaz. Khaledi also highlighted that the number of students in Ahwazi schools reaches 1,350,533, with 67,000 educational staff, including teachers and administrators, spread across all cities in the region.

Alarming Illiteracy Rates Plague Ahwaz: Over 90,000 Students Drop Out

While Iranian authorities attempt to suppress information related to the illiteracy rate in Ahwaz, whitewashing the dire state of the educational system, former governor Abdul-Rahman Moqtadaei made surprising revelations in December 2015. He stated that over 90,000 students had dropped out, including those who never enrolled, all of whom were Ahwazis. According to Moqtadaei, this alarming number accumulated in just one school year. If this dropout rate continues for several years, it will exacerbate the illiteracy problem significantly. This means that illiteracy could affect half of the school-age population, leading to severe negative implications for Ahwazi society.

The high illiteracy rate has various societal, cultural, and economic impacts on the Ahwazi people. Individuals who are unable to read may experience low self-esteem and feel emotions such as shame, fear, and powerlessness. Ahwazi youth who struggle with illiteracy often feel excluded from academic opportunities and avoid situations where they might be exposed, limiting their ability to fully participate in their own society. The number of dropouts represents 9% of the total number of Ahwazi children enrolled in the educational system. Therefore, it is important to note that the total number of one million includes both Ahwazi Arabs and Persian settlers. Based on the statements of Iranian officials and the increasing number of school dropouts, particularly in Ahwazi Arab rural and urban areas, it can be concluded that the actual dropout rate in Ahwaz may be much higher, potentially reaching 30 or 40%. This rough estimation alone gives a glimpse of the magnitude of the educational disaster in Ahwaz.

The deteriorating state of the educational system in Ahwazi regions has caused a surge in demand for migration to other parts of Iran due to the lack of financial, moral, and natural incentives that would encourage educational staff to continue their work. This unfavorable environment has resulted in 3,000 teachers immigrating from Ahwaz to other regions, while only 500 teachers per year join the educational process. The shortage of teachers at all levels is one of the major challenges faced by the educational system. Furthermore, the dilapidated infrastructure in Ahwaz paints a bleak picture of the educational system. Most schools in Ahwaz lack adequate classrooms to accommodate students and are lacking basic amenities such as air-conditioning and educational workshops. Additionally, many outlying areas in Ahwaz, including Mashour, Falahiyeh, Khalafieh, Muhammarah, Abadan, Hamidiyeh, Khafajieh, and Susa, lack schools altogether.

The deliberate impoverishment and eradication of Ahwazi awareness of their heritage, coupled with discrimination in education, have generated severe consequences for the Ahwazi Arab communities. The regime’s political agenda of stripping them of their identity has resulted in the deterioration of the educational system, reinforcing their impoverishment and ignorance of their past.

Ahwazi Arab Girls Disproportionately Affected by Deteriorating Educational System

The regime has consistently aimed to keep the Ahwazi population in poverty, often forcing Ahwazi children to work at a young age, depriving them of their right to education. Discrimination, poverty, and minimal investment in the education sector have significantly affected Ahwazi Arab girls. As a result, they face disproportionately high rates of early school dropout, leading them into poverty, early marriage, and powerlessness, subsequently limiting their ability to participate and contribute to society.

Additionally, the deliberately deteriorated educational system in Ahwaz serves a purely political purpose. The regime has made concerted efforts to strip Ahwazi Arabs of their identity, with the Persian elite in power relentlessly working to eradicate their culture and heritage. Education has become an instrument for this, manifested through the denial of the right to learn in their mother tongue and the prohibition of wearing national attire. Thus, education has been used to isolate Ahwazis from their Arab roots, perpetuating their impoverishment and ensuring their ignorance of their past and cultural heritage.

Marginalisation of Ahwazis: Persian Immigrants Monopolise Employment Opportunities

The increasing number of school dropouts and the failure of Ahwazi students to proceed to university have provided justification for the regime to monopolise the workforce in institutional and industrial sectors. Persian immigrants, equipped with medical, educational, and industrial expertise, are favoured for employment, while Ahwazis are denied even manual labour opportunities. Members of the Persian ethnicity from provinces such as Tehran and Isfahan are exclusively sought after for employment, further marginalising Ahwazis in their own areas. Furthermore, the monopoly of employment opportunities by Persian immigrants has perpetuated the marginalisation of Ahwazis, preventing their social and economic progress.

Ahwazi Girls: Three Times More Likely to be Deprived of Education

Even as the new school year in Iran began on 23 September, the already dire education situation for Ahwazi children in the Ahwazi areas continued to deteriorate, currently reaching the worst level in living history.

The large-scale deprivation suffered by the region’s Ahwazi people is in stark contrast to the vast wealth reaps by Iran’s regime from Ahwaz’s oil and gas resources.

While the regime’s corruption affects every area of life in Iran, the Ahwazis bear the brunt of the Iranian state’s abject failure, being punished twice over, not only by the regime’s authoritarianism but by its institutionalised ethnical discriminatory policies. The denial of services, including education, is not a random side-effect of the regime’s corruption or indifference, but a deliberate strategy designed to maintain the Ahwazi people in a powerless, marginalised state.

This strategy means that schools, other educational facilities, equipment and the entire educational infrastructure in Ahwaz are deliberately deprived of funding, while the grinding poverty in the region, more than 80 per cent of the Ahwazi Arab population live under the UN-defined poverty line, means many, if not most, Ahwazi children, particularly girls, are forced to abandon education early to scrape a living, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and marginalisation.

Even those families who manage to afford to send their children to school must take out loans or borrow money just to buy books and other education supplies because they can’t afford these costs from their regular income.

The statistics are sobering; for one example, Ahwazi Arab girls aged between six and 18 are three times more likely than Ahwazi boys to be deprived of education, that is to say, not even enrolled in the education system.

Iranian regime officials come up with various imaginative ways to try to justify this; in a recent state media interview, the director of the Department of Education in the city of Hamidieh in the Ahwaz region said: “The long distances between villages and the lack of primary and secondary schools in rural areas caused girls to leave school in these areas.” Similarly, long distances between villages in other regions, however, don’t have the same effect, with the regime providing an adequate number of schools there.

While millions of parents worldwide have been busy buying their children new uniforms, stationery and back-to-school paraphernalia in preparation for the new term after the summer holidays, Ahwazi parents are struggling simply to secure transport for their children to reach their schools. With no school buses and limited vehicle ownership, many children are forced to walk long distances to and from school, in searing summer heat that regularly exceeds 50 C (122o F), sandstorms that cause severe breathing difficulties, and winter rains that routinely turn the roads to mud. These children are not chasing grandiose dreams, just trying to get the education that’s every child’s birthright, according to the UN.

 Transportation Issues Plague Ahwazi Arab Students in Anafijeh District

In the Anafijeh district, a satellite area on the outskirts of Bawi County north of Ahwaz City, the 15,000 Ahwazi Arab residents are still enduring abysmal conditions four years since the destruction of the sole bridge linking the county to 51 villages in the aftermath of floods that swept through the region in 2019. Ahwazi residents are having difficulty moving between the district’s centre and the city of Bawi., with the concerned authorities, as usual, making no effort to mitigate the people’s suffering, leaving the crisis unresolved.

Amin Elhayi, the principal of Sheri Mary Village’s school in the rural Anafijeh district, commented on the transportation issue: “About 200 pupils in the village are having transportation issues because there isn’t a safe path, and the bridge is damaged. Occasionally, a few boats are available, but they have a limited capacity and can only fit some students. This year, we are confronted with a 20% dropout rate in the area. “Teachers have to travel by boat to school,” he continued, “and right now, some of our classes are closed, and many teachers have migrated from the area as a result of this problem.”

Regarding the lack of a bridge for the rural Ahwazi communities of the Anafijeh district west of the Karoon River, Elhayi said, “So far, we have approached the provincial and city officials many times, but regrettably we have not received any results.”

Indeed, aside from the non-existent bridge, the need for boats to cross the river is another severe problem in the area. Not only do students use the boats to reach their schools and get back from them, but also local Ahwazi residents use these boats for errands, shopping, sending patients to hospital and many other everyday matters. There are usually two boats only. Worse, they are in poor condition, nearly dilapidated, thus having a limited capacity to transport students and local Ahwazi residents. It’s grieving that most of these Ahwazi school children who have dropped out of school are girls and belong to low-income families. Their families experience a bleak economic reality, and these girls —by dropping out—brace for an even more dismal future.

For the children living in these villages, their daily ‘adventure’ on the way to and from school, rather than being a safe, enjoyable journey shared with friends, is a terrifying ordeal fraught with dangers from nearly all directions. Any small mistake could cost any one of them their life. For years, students were forced to cross the river Karoon on their way to school by walking on a swaying rope bridge, balancing themselves with the skill of a circus acrobat. In the heavy rains and flash floods of autumn and winter, this bowed and dilapidated, severely damaged bridge was half-submerged in the river’s torrential waters. Parents’ fears that the dangerously worn rope ridge would collapse into the river were proved correct in 2019 when heavy flooding led to the bridge’ being washed away. Now, the children must hope that a boat can take them across the vast expanse of the river, though often no boat is available, leaving them stranded and unable to reach the school and forcing them to return home.

Impossible conditions like this, along with the poverty of the vast majority of families in Ahwaz and the lack of education materials, force many children to abandon their studies and drop out of school completely,

With these ongoing issues in the Anafijeh district, the Ahwazi Arab residents have turned to media outlets and social media platforms to publicise their dilemma, seeking workable and affordable solutions to enable their children to get the education they need and deserve. Parents have posted videos and photos recounting their suffering and calling on the educational authorities to intervene to resolve this recurrent and serious problem that’s leaving their children unfairly disadvantaged and at risk of missing out on their education. Despite the case becoming widely known in Iran, showing the schoolchildren struggling to get across the river to get to school, and despite the subsequent promises of Iranian officials to rebuild the bridge and resolve the issue, these Ahwazi children are still struggling as the new school year begins, while there’s been no move to renovate or rebuild the bridge.

Dismal Schools’ Condition in Karun County and its Surrounding Villages 

The people of Ahwaz have long complained about the terrible state of the schools on the outskirts of the Ahwazi cities. Despite the passing of all these years, the schools in these places haven’t even remained the same but have actually gotten worse.

Take an example Kot Abdullah that is one of the most inhabited districts on the outskirts of Ahwaz City. A few years ago, it was recognised into a new county called Karun, but the educational system is in complete tatters.

The most prevalent issues with schools in Karun County include:

  •  Dilapidated buildings
  • Poor sanitation
  • There is a shortage of water inside the building
  • Students have to endure both excessive heat and cold in their classrooms.

In this regard, one of the parents with schoolchildren in Kot Abdallah, the administrative centre of Karun County, describes the school his children attend as follows: “This is the same school we attended, and now our children are enrolled there. However, rather than being rebuilt, the condition of the school has gotten worse; the walls inside the classrooms are very dull and dark, and the doors and windows are very old, rusted, and broken.”

He continues, “We are concerned about the children’s health because the classrooms do not have heaters, and throughout the winter, when the weather turns chilly, the kids were suffering from the cold. They are in a difficult situation since they lack air conditioning in the summer, have to sit in a hot classroom, and many of them experience heat stroke. Additionally, there are three pupils on a bench, which is quite uncomfortable and bothersome for the children. The benches are also very old and worn out.”

He refers to the school’s lack of drinking water by saying, “There is no water in the school.” In addition to the lack of clean, safe water for pupils to drink, the school has no water supply at all for washing hands in the restrooms. As the Karun City parent sadly continues, “There is no water for students to wash in the school. The restrooms are unkempt and inoperable. This predicament has existed for a long time. This terrible condition has remained unchanged since the year I enrolled my child, who is now in his fourth year of elementary school.”

On behalf of the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, Ahwazi rights groups recently visited a number of villages surrounding Karun County in the Ahwaz region to shed light on the dismal conditions of schools. During their visit, they spoke with students and villagers and learned of their heartbreaking struggles. One female parent named Fatima shared her frustration about the state of the only school in Khanziri village.

She says, “The school was nothing more than a deprived building, lacking even the most basic necessities. Fatima’s two daughters are studying there, enduring unbearable heat waves as the school lacks a fan or any other means of cooling. The school’s teacher, a young woman, had to hold her own tiny baby while teaching, putting even her child’s health at risk.”

Fatima, the rest of the villagers, and all the children at the school pleaded for help, begging the authorities to listen to their cries for support.

Fatima adds, “Despite kind donations in 2018 that allowed for the building of an actual structure, the school was without electricity, sewage services, running water, or even a proper asphalt surface. The dire lack of resources made providing a safe learning environment for the children impossible. Throughout every season, students and teachers alike faced endless difficulties. It’s unconscionable that the children of a region so rich in natural resources must suffer in such deplorable conditions.”

She concluded, “These Ahwazi children deserve a brighter future—one where they have access to proper facilities and receive an education that empowers them. We urgently implore education officials to act. We demand that they provide this school with all the essentials needed for a safe and positive learning environment. Let our voices be heard, and may the authorities take swift and meaningful action to ensure that the Arab children of Ahwazi areas receive the education they deserve.”

Borwal District: 15 Oil Wells, Neglected School, and 15,000 Struggling with Poverty

Borwal, one of Ahwaz City’s outlying neighbourhoods, it is situated next to more than 15 operating oil wells. Still, due to its dismal circumstances, it reveals an unexpected juxtaposition between the poverty of the Ahwazi people and the immense oil wealth surrounding their neighbourhoods on all sides. This area has only one school. The school has been in operation for more than 45 years but without proper upkeep. As a result, it is in deplorable condition. In this school, some 450 Ahwazi students from all three stages, elementary, middle, and high school, learn together. 

The dilapidated and outmoded condition of the school has made things extremely challenging for both pupils and teachers. Lack of fans, coolers, and benches, as well as incomplete restorations and deteriorating roofs, are all issues. Studying in classrooms that resemble abandoned animal hides more than actual classrooms does not foster education. Students study in these dimly lit spaces on old and damaged benches. In these classes, where a small amount of light from a window or rare light in the classroom illuminates the dim room, students are supposed to learn to become agents of change to contribute to the development of their Ahwazi Arab communities   Will these children’s futures be brighter after studying in these gloomy ruins?

This is a result of the lack of any tangible investment in the education sector in Ahwaz and the further cause of language barriers, creating a vicious poverty and deprivation cycle. Despite the regime’s repeated denials of the fundamental human right to attend school in their native tongue, Ahwazi students still do not have that right. They are forced to spend years learning Persian, which is the only language their teachers are allowed to use but which they do not understand. Due to their linguistic difficulties, they are unable to comprehend and acquire the curriculum’s material, which results in their dropping out of school.

Nearly 15,000 people reside in the Borwal neighbourhood (Aliabad), which is outside the city and close to the Ahwaz airport, in abject poverty with no access to development or even the most basic utilities. However, this circumstance is not exclusive to the Borwal area school either. The intentional state-sponsored deprivation and discrimination against Ahwazi Arabs, Ahwazi pupils, and their schools in the initial months of the academic year may be easily observed by conducting a search in the schools of the entire urban and rural areas of Ahwazi Arabs.

The pervasive racism that plagues the education system, preventing Ahwazis from learning in their Arabic mother tongue, is only one of the critical issues holding Ahwazis back, which also include abject poverty, severe deprivation, widespread unemployment, insufficient number of school buildings, severe shortage in capable, professional and experienced teachers, high levels of early stages dropout, widespread illiteracy, a generally chaotic system, and deliberate negligence.

Most Ahwazi students attend school at rates far lower than their Persian counterparts. With poverty and malnutrition being everyday features in Ahwazi families’ lives, the focus is on survival, with education far down the list of priorities; by deliberate marginalisation and impoverishment of the Ahwazi people, successive Iranian regimes have ensured that the vast talent, creativity and academic potential of generations of Ahwazis have been squandered, leaving them disenfranchised, disempowered and educationally disadvantaged. This willful deprivation clearly aims to discourage and disincentivise any hunger for learning and knowledge among Ahwazis, trapping them in a cycle of ignorance and poverty as a means of maintaining Persian-Iranians’ advantage and power, which are largely based, with bleak irony, on the wealth taken from exploiting the resources from Ahwazis’ land, primarily oil and gas.

Thus, the anti-Arab racism which lies at the core of the Iranian regime’s persecution of the people of Ahwaz has blighted the lives of generations of Ahwazis, with this academic disadvantage helping in the regime’s political disenfranchisement. This deliberate scientific and cultural impoverishment also has other results that we will analyse in detail.

Underprivileged Ahwazi girls forced to sit on rough classroom floors

The poor condition of an elementary school in Abu Humizah County, administratively affiliated with Khafajiyeh City, is shown in a video posted by BBC Farsi. This video shows an Ahwazi parent who brought his 7-year-old to the school, complaining in Arabic to the authorities about the absence of benches and tables for girls’ students in grades 6 to 7.

In the video, the parent documented the poor condition of the class, with several girls who had to sit on the ground due to the lack of benches. He says: “Where are the governmental funds for providing essential school facilities in Ahwaz Arab areas?” He continued: “On the first day of class, these underprivileged Ahwazi girls’ students have nowhere to sit and must spend hours sitting on the rough classroom floors.”

The dearth of Facilities Hampers Education Opportunities for Girls in Hor County

The lack of educational space, benches, and tables has led Amanat Primary School schoolgirls in Hor County to sit on the ground floor. The schoolgirls of Amanat   Elementary School in Hor county, affiliated with Susa city, who have tasted the bitter taste of deprivation for many years, are still deprived of the classroom and sufficient space for education, air conditioners, lack of clean drinking water and bathrooms. This persistent condition has resulted in the girls gradually dropping out of school.

The Denial of Education in Ahwazi Children’s Arabic Mother Language

There are a variety of reasons behind the current woeful state of education in Ahwaz. Some of these challenges are general, while others are specific to Ahwaz in particular:

Mother language is a central pillar in every person’s individual, social and cultural identity; far more than simply a means for communication, it’s the primary channel for expressing feelings, shaping memory and building cultural connections. This means that education in this native tongue plays a vital and decisive role in helping children grow and enhancing their self-confidence, self-esteem and psychological security.

Depriving the Ahwazi people of education in their Arabic mother tongue has had calamitous results, leading to numerous additional challenges for the already afflicted Ahwazi communities, with the high school dropout rates, illiteracy and lack of career prospects or any hope of escape leading to a downward cycle of frustration, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, behavioural problems and youth delinquency. The Iranian regime government’s own statistics confirm that the illiteracy rate in Ahwaz is extremely high, with 511,000 Ahawzis classified as functionally illiterate, giving Ahwaz the status of the third worst region in Iran in terms of literacy. It should be noted that this statistic includes only those aged between 10 and 49; if we were to also include older Ahwazis, the results would be even worse. The figures also suggest that 35 per cent of Ahwazis classified as illiterate are male, while 65 per cent are female.

The Language Barrier in Education: Implications for Teacher-Ahwazi Student Relationships

The language barrier preventing Ahwazi children from learning in their own language means teachers cannot build respectful, intimate and friendly relationships with students, especially in primary schools, with this period being among the most critical stages in any child’s education. This means that the teacher is not only impotent in verbal interaction but also cannot understand the feelings and emotions of the children in their care. For this reason, the vital criterion of constructive, friendly interaction and a positive relationship between the teacher and the student becomes nonexistent because any two-sided relationship is shaped by language, which is the most effective and essential tool in the education process. Without language education, after all, how can any student obtain knowledge?

Education in the mother tongue instils confidence, leading psychologically to a good understanding of school subjects and ensuring the individual’s cognitive development. From a social viewpoint, familiarity with the language used in education makes it far easier for the child to integrate into his social environment. This is in addition to the fact that the mother language is an important cultural element linking the individual to his cultural heritage. Emotionally, the use of the mother language in education leads to continuity in the use of linguistic symbols, thus preventing an emotional disconnection resulting from not using the mother tongue, increasing the quantity and quality of interactions in the school environment, and providing students with the primary tool for thinking, which is dealing and communicating with others. These normal positive aspects of child development in education are denied to Ahwazis by the supremacist mindset of the governing authorities who actively work to stymie and suppress rather than foster and encourage growth and development in Ahwazi children.

The Effects of Denying Education in the Mother Tongue

The inevitable effects of this denial are even noted by the regime authorities themselves; in a statement in 2021, the Director-General of Social and Cultural Affairs in Ahwaz, Mehrdad Mousavi, warned that 30,000 Ahwazi students had dropped out of education due to their lack of Persian language skills, blaming this on the students’ parents for teaching their children only their Arabic mother tongue while failing to mention the authorities’ failure to offer education in the children’s native language. Adding further insult to injury, the regime official insisted that the prevalence of ‘foreign languages’ in the region should be fought, as though the Arab Ahwazis’ language were the alien tongue for Ahwazis, even while announcing the establishment of a new general secretariat to promote the Persian language, known as Farsi (the Persian) in Ahwaz. This complete inversion of truth, in which the Ahwazi people’s native tongue is condemned as an unwanted ‘foreign language’, even while forcing these people to speak Persian, the language of their occupiers and oppressors, by denying them education if they cling to their own mother tongue, is sadly typical.

International conventions guarantee the right to education in the mother tongue

Despite the existence of United Nations charters and agreements guaranteeing the right to education for all and Iran’s status as a signatory to these charters, it has neither complied with nor paid any heed to them, including the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education in 1960, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1965 and the Convention on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). These also include the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of Religious and Ethnic Discrimination 1981 and the 1993 Convention for the Preservation of national ethnic and religious rights, in addition to various other international conventions.

It is also worth noting that Iran did not even abide by its commitments and the laws it enacted in its own Constitution, including Article 15, which recognises the right of non-Persian peoples to teach in their national language in schools or Article 19, which acknowledges equality for peoples and rejects racism. In reality, however, these articles are meaningless ink on paper, and Iran’s regime simply disregards them, while ruthlessly suppressing those who demand the implementation of the regime’s own or any other articles and laws.

Likewise, the majority of UN member states ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in November 1989, which defines the rights of every child from birth, which include the right to life, to their own name, and freedom to self-identification based on ethnicity, and the right to receive care from his or her parents, as well as the right of children to preserve their culture and language. Underlining the importance of learning in the mother tongue during early childhood, another international resolution was also issued on 16 May, 2007, with the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/ERS/61/266, emphasising the need for all member states to preserve and protect all languages used by the peoples of their nations and the world. Iran, however, is systematically violating that resolution like all the others.

Poverty and economic deprivation

Due to the discriminatory and racist policies of the Iranian state, most Ahwazi people live below the poverty line (for reference, the Central Bank of Iran has set the poverty line standard for the year 2021 according to high inflation with an average monthly income of $360 to $400 for a family of four. If we take this standard into account and apply these criteria to Ahwazis and their families, whose size generally far exceeds the specified number, at least 90 per cent of them qualify as living below the poverty line), and they suffer from a total lack of services, such as decent education or healthcare systems, a functioning sewage network, and other basic requirements for a decent life. They are deprived even of safe drinking water and clean air, in addition to enduring abysmal living conditions amid a housing crisis and economic meltdown.

This generational cycle of poverty and systematic marginalisation has led to the normalisation of gruesome phenomena among Ahwazi children, including child labour, beggary, and involvement in many delinquent behaviour patterns such as drug dealing, crime and behavioural deviations, leaving them open to exploitation for other purposes.

Unsurprisingly, all this means that academic failure and dropping out of school before mastering basic literacy are the norm rather than the exception among most Ahwazi children, who have no option but to become breadwinners supporting their families. It is impossible for children living amid such misery and deprivation to achieve even semi-normal living conditions.

Some children in Ahwaz make a pittance by scavenging among garbage to collect plastic and glass materials which they sell to recycling plants. Others sell bottled water, roaming the streets on bicycles in search of buyers, while others become street vendors, selling flowers, anti-pollution facemasks or tissues at the traffic lights, washing car windscreens with squeegees or selling prayer pamphlets at hospitals or graveyards.

The contrast between the abysmal conditions and prospects for Ahwazi children and those for their Persian peers in the region is stark, while ethnically Persian settlers(immigrants) tempted the Ahwaz region by the regime with well-paid high-level jobs and spacious homes in purpose-built settlements and well-appointed neighbourhoods from which Ahwazis have been displaced, enjoy excellent amenities and first-rate schools,  hospitals and infrastructure the majority of  Ahwazis are trapped in depravation, poverty and destitution. The income from the Ahwazi people’s vast natural resource wealth, particularly the region’s oil and gas reserves, goes to fund their oppression and to pay the regime-affiliated militias deployed across the Middle East. Some of these monies also go to buying the loyalties of politicians and media figures who are obediently silent on the regime’s atrocities against the people of Ahwaz. The regime also spends large sums on proselytising and spreading its own extremist fundamentalist Shiite doctrine with its undercurrent of Persian ethno-supremacism in several countries, at the expense of the downtrodden people of Ahwaz and increasingly of other peoples across the region.

The regime’s own officials refuse to admit or acknowledge their betrayal of the Ahwazi people and the abysmal state of the region’s education system. While the head of the education directorate in Ahwaz boasted that the Ahwazi Arab-majority region is the vital artery keeping the heart of Iran’s economy beating, Ahwaz occupies second place among all Iran’s regions in terms of unemployment.

According to the Iranian news agency ILNA, 3,000 of the Ahwazi students in Muhammarah and Abadan are unable to pay even 5,000 tomans – the equivalent of five US cents – to obtain the results of their exams at the end of the year due to extreme poverty and destitution. According to eyewitnesses on the ground, the actual number is higher than that reported. With the start of the school year, many families, scrabbling for survival, are unable to provide their children with basic educational necessities such as stationery and school uniforms. A principal at one of Abadan’s schools said most students cannot afford to buy shoes for school, so they wear open-toed sandals because the majority of their parents are seasonal workers in palm plantations.

In recent years, the regime’s deliberate drying out of the region’s rivers via the construction of a massive network of dams and pipelines upstream on the region’s rivers, diverting most of the water supply to other regions of Iran, cutting off the water supply to Ahwaz, have left countless Ahwazi farmers destitute, with the lack of irrigation water and resulting high salinity levels in what remains destroying their livelihoods. Due to their extreme poverty, some families even come to the school to request tea and sugar, according to the aforementioned principal, who revealed that in the past year, she’s had to pay from her own pocket for the schoolbooks of 65 students at her school.

According to the head of the municipal council in Muhammarah, the actual number of poor students in this city is far higher than the officially admitted level. The worst deprivation can be seen in the Al-Zuhairiyyah, Al-Abara, Al-Tuwaibjat, Al-Muhairzi, Al-Sarhaniya, and Kut Al-Sheikh neighbourhoods, whose residents live in extreme poverty and misery.

It is worth noting that the infrastructure in Muhammarah and Abadan, severely damaged in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, has never been repaired in the years since, with no reconstruction or attempts to provide public services in these two, still devastated cities. While the Ahwazi people live in squalor amid ruins from a war that ended 35 years ago, Iran’s regime has spent lavishly on constructing state oil company facilities in the area, including the Abadan refinery, which is considered the first of its kind in the Middle East, as well as establishing a so-called free zone which controls customs and imports of goods; more than 90 per cent of the workforce in these facilities are Persian settlers in the region, with Ahwazis only allowed the most menial of jobs. For the people of Ahwaz, their share in the vast wealth of their natural resources is the pollution of their air, land and water, destitution and despair.

Among the first things that grab any visitor’s attention on entering the Ahwazi Arab neighbourhoods consigned to the capital’s peripheries is the prevalence of grinding poverty at all levels. Poverty here is not abstract, but literally means the inability to meet basic needs, whether related to securing food, health or welfare. This poverty leaves residents fighting a constant battle for survival, struggling simply to secure the day’s food. There’s no doubt that this laser focus on simply staying alive, meeting the most fundamental physiological needs at the base of Maslow’s pyramid – food, water, shelter – leaves individuals unable to address the higher issues, the moral and civilisational aspects, leaving people to simply exist in a debased, dehumanised manner in which all their energies are expended on survival.

The lack of these services leads residents of these ghettoes to live in bleak neighbourhoods without vitality or hope in a marginalised state which has yet to experience urbanisation. One of these multiple facets of deprivation is the lack of paved roads that would facilitate communication between neighbourhoods. The main streets in these districts are all unpaved; they are rough potholed, uneven dirt paths, full of choking dust in summer and mud in winter. The heavy overcrowding and lack of functioning sewage networks mean that literal rivers of waste run through the streets, often overflowing, with the resulting stink permeating the area, making the residents’ wretched lives even more intolerable. This wastewater also leaks into the drinking water supply, spreading disease.

In addition, there’s no move by the regime to improve any of the woefully inadequate public facilities in these impoverished areas, or to provide any amenities, with residents denied schools, libraries or any space for learning or reading. There’s also a total absence of parks and green spaces which could have helped mitigate pollution and purify the choking polluted air.

No visitor’s eye could fail to see the large number of Ahwazi children working in the mechanics’ shops in these marginalised Ahwazi areas in Ahwaz city, with some as young as 10 donning filthy, oil-stained boiler suits to do jobs that would exhaust grown men.

None of these children, forced into adulthood long before their time, enjoy good health and hardly any have achieved even the rudiments of primary education. All of them belong to poor families whose harsh conditions have thrown them into the vortex of street life, forced to lose the innocence of childhood at an early age.

This is the norm not only for Ahwazis, but for all non-Persian peoples in Iran, with non-Persian populations expected and covertly actively encouraged by successive Iranian regimes to fail academically, drop out of school early, accept unskilled or menial jobs and perpetuate a generational cycle of poverty; by contrast, ethnically Persian children are encouraged to aim high, to be ambitious, to be academic high-fliers and overachievers. The leaders’ expectations and encouragement of these behaviours reinforce deliberate discrimination and marginalisation of Ahwazis, Balochis, Kurds etc. and the lack of adequate attention to these regions by the government. In 2017, the number of school dropouts in northern Ahwaz reached 100,000 students alone. Meanwhile, the number of children who dropped out of education in Hormozegan province in southern Ahwaz, where the majority of the population are Sunni Ahwazi Arabs, reached 15,000. 

It’s worth noting here that the statistics issued by the Iranian government don’t reflect the realities, providing figures significantly lower than the real ones. In 2017, the Director General of Education of the Sistan and Balochistan area in southeastern Iran revealed that 169,000 children had stopped attending school in that area. Because of the rapid, steep degradation of the already poor living and economic conditions in these areas, these figures may have risen massively between 2017 and 2023.

Educational experts in Iran have noted that poverty, unfavourable living conditions, and persecution of non-Persian peoples are the leading causes of children dropping out of school in the country. As a documentary report by Radio Zamana revealed, children drop out of school because they need to become breadwinners for their families simply in order to survive.

It might be accurate to say that education is a primary issue among the causes of poverty, marginalisation and other challenges facing Ahwazis, with the implications and influence of educational attainment or lack of qualifications having a profound long-term impact in multiple areas of life. In addition to being denied education in their mother tongue, Ahwazis, and other non-Persians also face palpable problems and disruptions in education, which reach the level of effectively denying children the hope of a decent education in Ahwazi areas.

The proportion of schools per head of population in Ahwazi areas is sparse, with several districts lacking any schools for children from kindergarten to elementary through to high school level. This means that children have no choice but to attend schools in distant areas too far away for daily commuting or boarding schools, making this option available to only a small, privileged minority who are relatively financially affluent and able to pay the fees at these schools. As a result, dropping out of education is the norm rather than the exception for children in these areas, particularly for girls, who are expected to marry young and require only rudimentary vocational and social skills.

In addition, even in areas where schools are present, a large percentage lack the most basic amenities such as potable water, blackboards, classroom furniture, air conditioning or any refrigeration units for school meals. However, the worst shortcoming in the regional educational sector is the lack of competent teachers. Those teachers sent to Ahwaz by Iran’s education ministry are Persians, often student conscripts dispatched by the Iranian government during their military service to teach children. There’s no doubt that those conscripts lack the required training, skills and capabilities for teaching; they’re chosen by the education ministry simply for the fact that they’re Persian and were students when conscripted, despite studying subjects completely different to those they’re then assigned to teach; this creates further chaos in the already massively overburdened, underequipped, underfunded educational system, in which the losers are, as always, the children.

With regard to further education, it’s noticeable that there are no universities or colleges in these regions of Ahwaz, with the regime’s educational policy for t the region very deliberately avoiding establishing any institutes of further education in Ahwazi-majority areas. Instead, all the colleges and universities in the region are established to serve the children of the Persian immigrant population in areas of Ahwaz, including the capital, where the regime has resettled large numbers of ethnic Persians as part of its effort to change the demographic balance.

Coronavirus Pandemic

The recent coronavirus pandemic put Ahwazi students at an even greater disadvantage than usual, with the implementation of distance education meaning that many were unable to continue their education simply because their parents could not afford a mobile phone, let alone a laptop, to enable them to participate in classes. We frequently saw families sharing a single mobile phone, as parents created multiple accounts for their children so that they could continue their education. Typically, the father would retain possession of the mobile phone, leaving the children unable to start class until their father returned from work. Nobody knows how many other students simply dropped out of school due to a lack of mobile phones or Internet access in their communities.

For some Ahwazi children, this inability to even obtain a mobile phone, dashing their hopes of continuing their studies, was the last straw, with a number of students in Ahwaz committed suicide. (BBC Persian Channel, 26 November 2020). In the same context, many Ahwazi Arab residents in Bushehr province complained about their inability to purchase mobile phones due to their high prices, as well as the fact that there is no internet coverage in many rural areas.

The Director General of the Department of Education in Bushehr also suggested that the severe shortage of teachers in local schools contributed to this problem, saying, “We have about 1,000 students who are denied the use of mobile phones in order to enrol in distance education,” he added.

The Iranian education’s racism

Successive Iranian regimes have directed great effort into promoting a Persian ethno-supremacist worldview based upon the glorification of Persia’s imperialist history and the demonisation and dehumanisation of other ethnicities, particularly Ahwazis and other Arab peoples. Since the establishment of modern Iran at the start of the 20th century, successive regimes have implemented overtly or covertly racist policies which have acted as vehicles of oppression, discrimination, and humiliation against Ahwazis and other non-Persian peoples. This worldview is reliant on creating a myth of superiority, creating stories and narratives in which Persians are heroic champions of civilisation and Arabs and other ethnic minorities are interlopers and barbarians. The historical dimensions of the Arab-Persian conflict fueled the widespread and calculated vilification of Arab identity by these regimes. Academic textbooks, literature and culture are full of anti-Arab prejudice and malign stereotypes, with Arabs depicted in a relentlessly negative manner as primitive, backward and uncivilised.

Ahwazi children are taught from a young age that, in order to be civilised, one must speak and preferably be or pass as Persian, with the education ministry’s recent decision requiring children as young as five to learn Persian and forbidding them from learning their native tongue, following this logic. The Iranian ministry’s plan is intended to help the regime in accelerating the ‘Persianisation’ process and hastening the extinction of Arabic and other mother tongues among non-Persian peoples in Iran, also including Kurds, Balochis and Azeris. This ministry plan is, in effect, another attempt at forced integration and assimilation. However, many, if not most Ahwazis continue to cling to their mother tongue, with their children regarding it as an alien, hostile tongue; Ahwazi children will use Persian in class, but abandon it the moment they go out into the playground or go home. Most families do not speak Persian at home or in the street, with children learning both from their parents and from the imperious cruelty of schoolteachers to regard it as an enemy language that disrespects and ignores their ethnic and national identity.

International observers have also confirmed the dangers of the Iranian Ministry of Education’s new policy. American lawyer and human rights activist Irina Tsukerman condemned the policy, saying, “Classifying children who do not speak Persian fluently as children with disabilities constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights. Forcing these children to learn Persian for two years before starting school aims to combat cultural identity and prevent communication and cultural interdependence.”

From Arabic to Persian: The Linguistic Colonisation of Ahwaz

There is no historical presence of the Persian language in Ahwaz. From the Abbasid and Mushasha’i eras to the Ka’abian eras, scholars and writers in Ahwaz have authored numerous books and collections of poetry, all written in Arabic. The region had established madrasas and kuttabs, which reached their peak during the Mushasha’i and Ka’abi ruling eras in Ahwaz, where all subjects were taught and read in Arabic. These scholars wrote books on various subjects such as morphology, grammar, rhetoric, jurisprudence, and exegesis.

During the reign of Prince Khazal in the early 20th century, there were ten schools in the city of Muhammarah. These schools taught subjects like the Qur’an, Arabic language, Islamic history, mathematics, geography, logic, fundamentals, jurisprudence, science, narration, arithmetic, and even the English language.

The rulers of Ahwaz during that period were dedicated to the progress of education for their Ahwazi communities.

They established the Kasibiya Madrasa and Khazaliya Madrasa in 1911, the school named after the Emir Khazal Kaabi. The Emir, who had a vision for higher education institutes, took the initiative to establish a department for education. (En’am Mahdi Ali Al-Salman, Sheikh Khazal Ruled in Al-Ahwaz, p. 21 and 22, Dar Al-Kindi Library, Baghdad). All books and manuscripts authored in Ahwaz up until 1925 were in Arabic, with no evidence of the Persian language being used.

However, since the colonisation of Ahwaz in 1925, successive Iranian governments have used policies of linguistic genocide and cultural appropriation to change the demographic features and identity of the region in every way possible. This included changing the original Arabic names of the region’s cities, towns, villages and even its geographic features such as rivers and mountains to new Persian names, prohibiting education and even public speaking of Arabic, fining Arabic-speaking students, closing Arab schools and libraries, and even issuing an edict prohibiting the playing of Arabic music at cafes and parties.

The regime also outlawed any teaching of Ahwazi history with the Orwellian objective of purging the history from the people’s memories through denying its existence. As the famous aphorism goes, “History is written by the victors.” Thus, from the first days of Reza Pahlavi declaring himself Shah up to the modern day, Tehran has shaped its own historical narrative, disregarding reality.

As a result, Iran has waged war on Ahwazi Arab culture and identity in all of their facets—history, art, culture, historical monuments, and even clothing—and has worked to erase the history of notable Arab figures from peoples’ memories by giving parents a choice of ‘permitted’ names, all Persian, for their children.

These policies are additional to the Iranian regime’s imprisonment and executions of dissidents, deliberate starvation, state terror, and forced displacement, not to mention its marginalisation and resource plundering, let alone its appropriation of agricultural lands.

This latest policy is the latest intended to ‘Persianise’ Ahwazis and forcibly assimilate them into Persian culture, thereby completely obliterating their own heritage and culture, consigning both to oblivion. As American linguist Noam Chomsky has noted, keeping an oppressed people hungry and illiterate are two necessary conditions for controlling them: “If you want to control a certain group of people, throw them into the morass of ignorance.”

Severe shortage in teacher numbers and the stopgap solutions

For decades, schools in Ahwaz have faced severe shortages of teachers, with the latest figures showing that this trend continues, with schools in the region currently requiring 18,000 teachers. Without a doubt, this severe shortage has a negative impact on the level and quality of education available, adding to the other aforementioned factors. The abysmal living conditions in the region have, unsurprisingly, led to an increasing desire among teachers to leave Ahwaz, with more than 5,000 applying to emigrate or moving to other areas of Iran to find better-paying jobs annually, making the issue a major challenge.

It is worth noting that this teacher shortage means students in Ahwaz begin the school year more than a few weeks late each year, with important subjects such as mathematics and experimental sciences being cancelled in some schools due to the lack of teachers available to teach them. To address the teacher shortage and fill the gap, the Directorate of Education decided to divide school classes into two shifts: morning and evening, providing the remaining teachers with the opportunity to teach additional hours of their choosing. It is worth noting that many teachers work additional hours outside of their speciality; for example, a history teacher may teach economics, or a physics teacher may teach chemistry.

These extra hours may help the teachers’ bank balance, but they’re not good for the teacher or their students; a teacher working two shifts a day is likely to be exhausted and unable to perform to the best of his or her abilities, exacerbating the already deteriorating quality of education, with both teachers and students also struggling with massively overcrowded classes, inadequate facilities, and searing summer temperatures that turn classrooms into ovens.

Even teachers working extra shifts and overtime must wait six months before they start being paid for this additional work. All of these factors combined cause skilled and competent teachers to refuse to teach in such impossible circumstances, with the students once again bearing the brunt of these conditions.

The regime’s effort to address the teacher shortage added insult to injury, with education authorities signing agreements with the infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to employ a number of graduates from the IRGC’s military academy as ‘teachers’ in Ahwazi schools. This surreal ‘solution’ entrusted the future of vulnerable children to military personnel with no teaching experience or qualifications who the children know only by their fearsome reputation and tendency to victimise and persecute Ahwazis on the regime’s behalf. These teacher-soldiers were apparently no less unhappy at their new duties.

Another policy adopted by the regime to tackle the teacher shortage is known as Khuraid Khadamt teachers. This is based on effectively privatising the administration of some schools, contracting their management out to private agencies who sign contracts with the Directorate of Education to provide teaching staff and pay their salaries only for the hours spent in class. In pursuing this method, there is no oversight or way to assess the teachers’ effectiveness or capabilities, with the whole process prioritising low costs over Ahwazi students’ well-being.

Other methods used by the education ministry include recruiting university student teachers in their final semesters or recent graduates without experience to practice their teaching skills in the region’s schools in exchange for low salaries. The name given by the education ministry to this scheme is ‘Giving Teachers the Right to Teach’, although there’s no corresponding ‘Right to a Decent Education’ for Ahawzi children.

The education ministry has also recently developed a project to attract turbaned religious seminary teachers to teach Ahwazi children in other subjects. Once these seminarians have proven their loyalty to the regime and its Supreme Leader, they are appointed in schools in Ahwaz, despite lacking any non-religious academic qualifications or teaching experience. According to the Director General of Ahwaz’s Education Directorate, 8,850 of these seminary graduates have already been employed as teachers in Ahwaz.

Rather than being concerned with the quality of education for Ahwazi children, the primary objective of all of these measures is to save the education ministry money due to the woefully inadequate budget allocated for educational institutions, particularly in Ahwaz. These measures to remedy teacher shortages are extremely familiar in the schools of Ahwaz’s most deprived areas, though, of course, the schools for ethnically Persian settler children are provided with excellent teachers and facilities.

In Karun and other areas, the remaining conscientious teachers have expressed frustration at the staff shortages, the dilapidated state of the region’s schools, the absence of social justice, the unfortunate situation of cooperative societies, the conditions of the teachers’ dispensary, and the authorities’ open interference in the appointment of education department officials. Their objections are ignored.

Lacking and crippling schools

There are few reliable statistics available on population size, unemployment, justice and other issues among Ahwazis, with the official statistics often unavailable to the public due to ‘security considerations’. The statistics related to education are no exception to this rule, although they are sometimes cited spontaneously by regime officials. It is known, however, that the number of school students at the primary, preparatory and secondary stages amounts to at least 1.9 million in total, with a dire need for at least 20,0000 more teachers in the region’s 5,500 schools; of these, nearly half the school buildings are dilapidated and classified as unsafe, with a quarter classified as so dangerous that they require demolition and reconstruction.

These shortcomings also extend to the vocational schools attended by 31 per cent of students in Ahwaz, which suffer from a significant shortage of teachers, facilities and equipment. These schools are denied the budget that would allow them to provide workshops equipped with the essential tools and equipment to enable them to properly train students in the technical skills required by the labour market.

While the severe scarcity of schools affects all parts of Ahwaz, the oil-rich Ghizaniyah region, with 80 villages and a population of 38,000 Ahwazi people, mostly living in desperate poverty, serves as a representative example. Despite over 9,000 school students at various stages attending the region’s 60-plus schools, more than 40 per cent of these schools are without any teaching staff, according to Muhammad Bawi, a member of the municipal council. By contrast, the region’s 600 oil wells and associated facilities are extremely well cared for, with the regime pouring millions into their upkeep.

Speaking about the teacher shortages, Bawi also revealed that when the region’s people complained about the lack of teachers assigned to these schools, the Directorate of Education responded by stating, “The people themselves have to search for teachers – we don’t have staff to send to you.”

As noted above, the Ghizaniyah district is not an anomaly but a representative sample of the dire situation of education in Ahwaz, with the majority of the region, both urban and rural, facing the same difficulties. It should be noted that the regime has spent billions on building and maintaining a 120-kilometre stretch of motorway between Ahwaz and Muhammarah, despite the dozens of villages throughout that region lacking a single secondary school.

As already noted, the existing schools are generally run down and dilapidated, with the combination of this and the negative, bullying attitude of most of the education officials and teaching staff serving to further disincentivise Ahwazi children from attending. There are no flowers or plants brightening the schools and no child-friendly cheerful murals on their walls, with the schools not even provided with toilets, cleaning supplies or safe drinking water. Each class has at least 40 students and often over 50, with three students forced to share each desk made for one. The walls of the classrooms are bare, cracked plaster, usually covered in obscene graffiti, with rubbish strewn throughout the schoolyard and classrooms. Some schools, particularly in villages and suburbs, even hold classes in mobile caravans and converted cargo containers.

There is no doubt that the prevalence of schools and educational centres plays an important role in educating the community and limiting the spread of crime. In Victor Hugo’s famous words, “He who opens the door of a school closes the door of a prison.” Sadly, the opposite also applies, with those like Iran’s regime who deliberately deprive Ahwazi children of schools and educational prospects, increasing the likelihood and incidence of delinquency and crime.

The mayor of Asaluyeh in Bushehr stated, “We have a severe shortage of schools, and the current schools suffer from problems with the water network and a lack of electricity.”

Despite the presence of massive, lavishly equipped refinery companies in the gas and petrochemical sectors in the regions of Asaluyeh and Nakhl Taqi, which are known as Iran’s “energy capital,” they are severely underdeveloped. There is a noticeable shortage of schools and teachers, as well as a continuous decline in the quality of education. Most teachers want to migrate and leave these cities due to deprivation.

 Fewer Ahwazi students in classes than their counterparts

 Compared to their Iranian peers, Ahwazi students attend far fewer classes. There are several reasons for this, the most important of which are the aforementioned severe teacher shortage and the resulting late start to the school year. At best, Ahwazi pupils’ school year begins more than 10 days after that of their Persian counterparts. Unlike Iranian students, meanwhile, Ahwazi students also have to cope with schools without any air conditioning or safe drinking water in a region where temperatures routinely exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). Students are frequently sent home or unable to attend due to severe sandstorms and resulting power and water outages.

Furthermore, the entire educational system is in disarray. Every year, spring break begins 10 days earlier in Al-Ahwaz schools and lasts 10 days longer than the same holiday for Iranian schools. Besides this, due to the hot weather, Ahwaz schools close 20 days earlier than usual before the end of the school year.

If we add in an additional ten days of absence during the school year due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family bereavement or other unexpected events, the average total number of days off annually for a student in Ahwaz during the school year is 60. When we multiply this number by 12 years, or until the end of the secondary school stage, we see that Iranian students receive 720 days more education than Ahwazi students. In other words, Ahwazi students typically attend school for nine years rather than the 12 years of their Persian peers before reaching high school.

It should be noted that there is a significant difference in the average hours of attendance of Ahwazi students in classes, with the total average of time spent in the classroom daily by Ahwazi students being three hours and 30 minutes. Of course, not all of this time is useful and fruitful in terms of education. Meanwhile, Persian students attend classes for approximately four hours and 15 minutes daily. In other words, there is a 45-minute difference every day, totalling three-and-three-quarters hours per week or 15 hours per month. This, too, shows the vast difference between the education on offer to Ahwazis and to Persians.

Malnutrition at schools of Ahwaz

 Nutritionists have warned of the spread of malnutrition among students in Ahwaz and urged the Iranian regime’s Social Welfare Institution to intervene to ensure food for children going hungry due to poverty, deprivation, and familial unemployment, as well as parents’ lack of awareness of the impact of proper nutrition on children’s mental and physical development. Because most students have no breakfast, they suffer from physical and mental fatigue, as well as a reduced ability to focus on and grasp the content of lessons. As a result, many students experience lethargy, distraction, sluggishness, and an inability to concentrate as a result of anaemia and a lack of the essential nutrition required for a healthy body, especially in rapidly growing children.

There are no incentives to help children keep fit or participate in sports in the school environment, with schools completely lacking any of the exercise facilities or equipment that should be standard or in addition to the lack of PE teachers. As with the malnutrition issue, this lack of sports and exercise has a negative impact on children’s education.

Scant appointments of teachers

Those with knowledge of educational issues are well aware that, in general, the method of appointing teachers and their integration into the educational process in Iran is beset by a number of problems. The teacher is, without a doubt, one of the most important pillars of development, progress, and the upbringing of a successful child or generation of children. Their role in child rearing is critical and pivotal.

Teachers in developing countries should be carefully selected for their skills from among the top students and provided with essential training and qualifications at specialist teacher-training institutes, enabling them to pass on the necessary skills to the next generation. In Iran, however, because of the regime’s regressive view of education, particularly for children from non-Persian ethnic minorities, means that it’s regarded as economically unproductive, ignoring the importance of developing the country’s human potential and human resources in national development. This not only lets down the children, but stymies the country’s growth, with potential specialists, experts, and leaders denied the academic opportunities to make the country competitive with its peers.

In most cases, Iran’s education authorities appoint teachers from among university graduates and through rudimentary tests rather than providing any sort of teacher training, which, from the regime’s viewpoint, would be a waste of money. The regime pays no attention to the fact that, no matter how intelligent, graduates cannot be successful teachers without the necessary training and skills.

Teachers’ dire economic condition

Teachers bear the brunt of the deteriorating living conditions, receiving the lowest public sector salary, with a teacher’s monthly salary currently standing at $250 US dollars. As a result, the majority of teachers live below the poverty line, forcing them to look for other sources of income, particularly those without housing, with large families, or with children attending university. This forces teachers to either become tutors to make extra money or take on other jobs, such as taxi driving or opening small businesses.

These high levels of teacher dissatisfaction and preoccupation with economic concerns rather than focusing on children’s education or self-development all have a negative impact on the educational process. When all of these factors are combined, the education provided becomes low-quality. The difficult living conditions facing teachers have also resulted in widespread corruption and some educational violations, such as the phenomenon of private tutoring in homes, selling exam papers, and accepting bribes. As a result, the educational process suffers from deviation and decline, with both the worth of the education itself and of the teacher devalued at the same time.

It is worth noting that many teachers in Iran don’t wish to pursue postgraduate studies due to the additional hardship and poverty involved. The Ministry of Education certainly doesn’t encourage any further learning for teachers, who are effectively abandoned after graduation and are not provided with any benefits such as promotion or salary increase for developing their skills. The education ministry’s devaluing of teaching as a career path means that, unsurprisingly, few students wish to pursue careers in education.

Clearly, therefore, in a society where teachers are poor, marginalised and unvalued, more especially those teaching non-Persian children, it is near impossible for them to serve as positive role models to the desired positive role models. Teachers are not even permitted to form free, independent unions to represent them, facing severe punishment and probable dismissal for protesting this grim situation; teachers who took to the streets across Iran to protest against their poor living conditions in December 2021 were met with brutal violence by regime security forces to force them to abandon their demonstrations.

Conventional methods of education

As noted above, the education system in Iran is backward, particularly in the schools in Ahwaz, which are still primitive, lacking the most fundamental school facilities, such as libraries or exam halls. There are no scientific excursions for children or visits to museums or exhibitions. Traditional teaching methods continue to focus on memorising and repeating information by rote before regurgitating it on paper during exams.

Students will not learn anything about planning, systems, the value of time, a healthy lifestyle, methods of success, or methods of progress in these schools. Instead, Iran’s education system squanders potential and talent. The educational system does not value curiosity, comprehension, thinking skills or abilities, nor does it foster the ability to analyse, develop skills, and acquire competencies, or teach scientific research methods. Instead, the system is geared towards a mindless copy-pasting of pre-memorised information. Postgraduate studies, meanwhile, are simply plagiarism, repeating whatever the textbook and lecturers have taught. This system passes on no life skills, analytical abilities or problem-solving methods. Instead, Iran’s education system has become a source of stress, depression, low motivation, and low self-esteem.

Suspending government subsidies to schools

In recent years, the Iranian government stopped subsidising schools. Instead, all school expenses are deducted from the fees that students are required to pay. While Iran’s regime claims that there is a constitutional provision requiring free education, in reality, there is no such thing as free education, with all schools supported by student fees. The better facilities are limited to private, non-state schools, where the majority of Ahwazis find it extremely difficult to enrol their children.

In several cases, Ahwazi schools witnessed the state electricity company cut off the school’s electricity due to non-payment of the electricity bill. This occurred during the height of summer when the temperature reached 50 degrees. Even a casual observer can get a quick understanding of the importance given to education by Iran’s regime, particularly by looking at the budget allocations for the year in question; in 2022, for instance (2022), the IRGC and Armed Forces were first in terms of expenditure, followed by the regime’s ideological-sectarian apparatus, with the Ministry of Communications, whose main objective is cutting the Iranian people’s communications with the rest of the world, in third place. Education, the next generation, and a decent life are all on hold until further notice.

Education dropout

The high levels of school dropouts in Ahwaz are a tragic waste, both educationally and societally, which have a negative impact on all aspects of society and its development. It increases illiteracy, weakens society’s intellectual and cognitive structure, and encourages intolerance and narrow sectarianism and fanaticism, leading to a state of intellectual inertia in which progress is impossible, with no space for the development of competencies or scientific advancement. This, in turn, cultivates a sense of hopelessness among the young, possibly inevitably leading to higher than usual levels of adolescent criminality and involvement in delinquent behaviour, such as theft, gang membership, crimes of violence, drug abuse, and so on, plunging society into a downward spiral of problems.

This regressive state of affairs encourages ignorance and backwardness, leading to the dominance of archaic superstitions, customs, traditions, and values that limit and impede societal development until the people become ignorant of their rights and thus more easily oppressed and controlled. Society cannot be dominant, free, and ignorant all at the same time.

Lack of education chances to Ahwazi Arab Girls

Education is critical to women’s empowerment and advancement in a variety of disciplines. It is a legitimate human right that enables women to better themselves and enjoy a better life. One of the most significant challenges that some Ahwazi women face today is gaining access to education. This section addresses the underlying causes of the problem. First, some regions of Ahwaz need more schools, particularly in villages that need more educational infrastructure, such as potable water, a heating and cooling system, and clean bathrooms. Some families in Ahwazi Arab rural communities want to send their girls to school. However, young Ahwazi girl students in rural areas confront several problems, including transportation issues, forcing Ahwazi children in rural villages to walk 12 miles to school. They must travel considerable distances, often in perilous situations, to obtain an education. Because of poor infrastructure, the roadways in those places are dangerous. Their energy has worn off by the time they arrive at school three hours later—and they are fully aware, while they do their best to pay attention in class, that they will have to repeat the trek at the end of the day.

Without a safe, dependable means of transportation to school, Ahwazi children and young students’ learning ability suffers, and education’s promise of a better, more equal future falls short. Because of the challenging commute to school, many affected Ahwazi Arab students quit before finishing elementary school. Some Ahwazi students in Susa, Falahiyah, carry their shoes and walk barefoot on their way to and from school to avoid their shoes wearing out too rapidly.

During the rainy season, students wrap their textbooks in plastic to keep them dry. After travelling for hours in the rain to go to school, Ahwazi Arab teenage ladies students recalled arriving soaked, freezing, and unable to stay focused. They experience tremendous heat waves in the summer, and the schools lack cooling systems and cool water.

This is not a trivial matter. As a result of this failure to act, the Iranian government is failing to fulfil a fundamental right guaranteed by its Constitution: the right to basic education, while simultaneously keeping Ahwazi rural and urban areas impoverished and underdeveloped, resulting in high rates of illiteracy among Ahwazi girls and women.

Thus, many young girls lose their opportunity to study and are forced to work from their childhood (Asriran, 2015). Notably, many Ahwazi teachers tried voluntarily teaching these children, although they get punished by the Iranian regime. For example, the young Ahwazi teacher, Zeinab Sawari, was imprisoned after teaching underprivileged children in impoverished Ahwazi areas (AHRO, 2020).

Second, generations of Ahwazi people have been deliberately disempowered and marginalised as a result of the Iranian Educational System. The discriminatory practices and racist policies promoted throughout this educational system have made underprivileged Ahwazi children not enjoy opportunities that are available to their Persian peers. For instance, they do not have access to appropriate educational services, facilities and infrastructure. Additionally, they are deprived of studying in their mother tongue.

The right to education in the mother language is a basic right that everyone should enjoy. As it improves learning, leads to better results, and enables development in socio-emotional aspects (UNESCO, n.d). The abovementioned issues have caused many Ahwazi children to quit school, as only in 2018, more than 12,000 Ahwazi primary students dropped out of school. The same issues observed in universities have also led many Ahwazi girls to quit education. Third, the Iranian patriarchal system that aims to control women has prevented many women from accessing equal education.  Article 1117 of the Iranian constitution allows a man to prevent his wife from studying and working. This restriction has caused many women to be victims of social norms that deprive them of being educated and empowered. Fourth, there are a massive number of women who may have lost their motivation to pursue education due to the high unemployment rate in Ahwaz. It was stated earlier that even highly educated Ahwazis face racial discrimination whenever they apply for jobs matching their educational qualification. Therefore, all these factors have made personal empowerment difficult for many Ahwazi women.

Climate factors impacting educational condition in Ahwaz

The climate factors significantly impact the deterioration of the educational situation in Ahwaz, especially in light of the deteriorated performance of the Iranian government apparatuses when it comes to ambulances, professional handling of emergencies or offering alternatives.

Floods: When it comes to floods, the schools hit by floods have been totally rendered dysfunctional due to the lack of alternative schools or repairing the destroyed schools. According to government statistics, 500 schools were damaged or rendered dysfunctional in various cities in Ahwaz in the floods that hit the Ahwaz region in the past 6 years. This meant depriving a large number of students of continuing the educational process or totally wasting the opportunity. Yet the coronavirus pandemic impacted the educational process in 2020, with the system totally shifted to e-learning and the Ahwazi families failing to secure sophisticated devices such as phones, iPads or laptops. This has stopped the educational process, with Ahwaz becoming the first region to quit the whole educational process due to the pandemic. 

The rainwaters are a problem in Ahwaz every year, mainly in November and December. There are no services in the impoverished region, so the rainwaters become an ordeal rather than a blessing. Several regions in Ahwaz have announced suspending the educational process in schools and universities due to rains in the past few days.

This announcement, regarding suspending the educational process raised questions about the preparation announced over the months before the winter set in. This comes in light of the government authorities shrugging off their responsibilities. Rather than laying out radical solutions to the problems, they announce holidays on the days when there will be rainwater. These holidays embody the authorities’ shrinking their responsibilities in order to curtail the spread of the images showing the sufferings of the students and employees in the distance of their movement from their homes to their schools. This suffering is caused by the streets being submerged by the rainwaters and floods. According to activists, the government doesn’t pay heed to the consequences of the continued suspension of school and university activities, as well as the employees on the production. Photos on social media have shown the conditions and sufferings of students at various schools in Ahwaz. Footage also shows the students mired in mud while grappling with the muddy road leading to their school. The dire conditions disclosed by the video raised questions about the officials’ reactions to such a problem.

Suspending studying at schools and universities due to the heavy rainfall is a problem. Other activists said the heavy rainfall has exposed the dilapidated drainage system in the Ahwazi areas. These systems have failed the first test this winter. The scenes of rainfall submerging streets aren’t something new. It occurs repeatedly in the impoverished Ahwazi areas, with water gathering, carving out muddy ponds, and with students walking strangely as if they are teetering on a tightrope. Over the past years, the government has failed to address the issue of street floods. The government neither benefits from the rainwater nor protects people from its potential damage. The government also fails to manage floods, which cause massive human and material losses on an annual and regular basis. This comes especially as the water discharge pipes have become virtually dysfunctional. Yet the population rate in the region makes it hard for such infrastructure to cope with all these new people. Activists on social media posted photos of streets dilapidated by rain and the creation of rainy ponds.

The sand dunes: The floods occur due to the Iranian authorities’ unprofessional and unscientific water storage behind dams. However,  air pollution and the sand dunes phenomenon are due to tampering with the Ahwazi environment. Ahwaz boasts of being the home to two expansive wetlands. Spanning across Iraq and Ahwaz, these wetlands have unfortunately fallen victim to intentional drainage by the Iranian oil company. This measure was undertaken to facilitate the expansion of oil prospecting operations and the construction of various roads and routes connecting oil fields within the heart of these wetlands. The consequences of this deliberate drying-out extend far beyond ecological devastation, affecting both flora and fauna indigenous to the area. With the disappearance of these wetlands, countless plant species, fish, and animals have been lost. Furthermore, this ecological imbalance has given rise to regular instances of devastating sandy storms blanketing the skies of Ahwazi regions, particularly during the months of June and July.

The aftermath of desertifying the Ahwazi wetlands and rivers has resulted in the transformation of once vibrant aquatic ecosystems into desolate sources of dust and dunes. The immediate impact of this ecological degradation has led to a dire state for the Ahwazi people as they now find themselves engulfed in relentless sandy storms that pose serious health risks. These storms have proven to be particularly menacing for Ahwazi children, especially those already suffering from respiratory ailments such as asthma and heart problems.

The consequences of this environmental crisis have manifested in numerous ways. The impact on education is a particularly unsettling outcome. Parents are now compelled to keep their children away from schools, fearing the adverse effects of the dust storms on their vulnerable health. The urgency of the situation has even prompted local authorities to occasionally issue temporary closures of schools, albeit on rare occasions.

This alarming trend, however, extends beyond the immediate health risks and educational disruptions. The Ahwazi community has been forced to abandon open spaces, their very way of life deeply intertwined with the wetlands and rivers. The loss of these natural landscapes not only deprives the Ahwazi people of their cultural heritage but also disrupts their livelihoods, creating a ripple effect of economic hardship.

It is imperative that urgent action be taken to address this escalating issue. Efforts must be made to reverse the damage inflicted upon the Ahwazi wetlands and rivers, not only to restore the ecological balance, but also to ensure the well-being and future of the Ahwazi people. The international community must come together to support initiatives aimed at preserving and rehabilitating these invaluable natural resources, safeguarding the health, education, and overall prosperity of the Ahwazi community.

Interview with a former Ahwazi teacher on the dire situation of education in the Ahwazi areas

In an interview with the human rights activist, former Ahwazi teacher and now based in London, Karim Dohimi said, “As school season begins on the 23rd September each year, the entire Ahwazi Arab students, are denied education in their native language which is Arabic. Instead, they have to endure the same hardships and discrimination imposed on the previous generations by the curriculum under Iran’s oppressive regime.

The right to education is recognised under international law. Article 13.1 of The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which Iran is a party, recognises the right to education. Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also enshrines such a right. In fact, the Article warrants ‘education to be free,’ at least in the elementary levels mandating compulsory attendance, directed at ‘understanding and tolerance’ for the ‘maintenance of peace.’ Despite being a signatory to these laws, Iran has violated its pledges going against the spirit of its current constitution by not allowing ethnic groups to have the same standard of education in their mother language under equivalent conditions.

Denial of educational facilities is said to be a policy for excluding and depriving the Ahwazi Arab people of social, and cultural enlightenment, and educational prosperity. There are also unequal conditions with regard to the shortages in the classroom. There is also a dire need for facilities: cooling equipment, drinking water machine, hygienic latrines, audio and visual equipment, recreational facilities, and sports halls. The scarcity of schools constructed in Ahwazi rural communities highlights the failing government promise for free education, particularly at the elementary level and imposes more pressure on the rural families to educate their own children.

The drop-out rate for children at the elementary level in rural areas is staggering.  Three factors were the major contributors to these drop-out rates: The first factor is the denial of the right to education in their mother language. The imposition of Persian as the sole language studied puts the Ahwazi students at a huge disadvantage because it is not the language spoken at home. Secondly, there are not enough schools in rural areas and the ones in place may be at vast distances from a large sum of the kids attending. In the majority of cases, schools are also ill-equipped to handle the numbers attending class. Thirdly, the severe poverty of families and their inability to fulfil the basic needs of their children for class, such as the provision of texts, notebooks, pens, pencils, shoes and decent clothing. This severely impairs the learning conduciveness of those who attend.

Students aged 7 to 12 in many schools throughout the Ahwaz region separately have to attend the school for half of the day. Three groups come in the morning, and another three groups in the afternoon. Despite these conditions, the children are attending the schools which have only three or four classrooms, with up to 45 students cramped into each classroom without having enough desks and benches to sit on, so some students have to sit on the floor. It means the ones who arrived late have to learn sitting down on the ground because of the lack of educational facilities, like tables and chairs. As the number of students increases with the growth in population, class sizes have become unmanageable, as well as prompting a need for more qualified teachers.

In addition, more can be done for Ahwazi students with disability. Often, they are forgotten and neglected and have to make do with none-to-limited special services or schools designed for them. For instance, rural students with hearing problems do not have access to special schools. Like the rest of the Arab students, they have to travel long distances to attend their neighbouring schools. Because they experience hardship at an even greater level, often they give up. When this happens, their families have only one option, which is to keep their disabled children at home. This has a downward spiralling effect, as they will face limited opportunities because they cannot take care of themselves and they lack formal education.

Another reason leading to students dropping out is the discrimination and stereotyping in schools against them by the Persian teachers.  Another cause for dropping out of rural students is the trade-off of money for education. Poor families who need their children to work send off their children to earn a living and contribute to the household income instead of sending them to school for an education.

All this is happening while the regime, which continues to make billions of dollars from the oil and gas extracted from the Ahwaz region, is encouraging foreign oil companies to invest there – with any subsequent income benefiting the regime rather than the long-suffering peoples, who subsist on an average income of 50 cents per day, far below the poverty threshold nationally or internationally.

Most Ahwazi Arab children who are deprived of education have common characteristics: they are children of low-educated or illiterate families; they live in rural areas or on the outskirts of cities; and their families are from the poor and low-income strata of society. Justice in providing educational facilities is the first principle of free and equality in education. This includes educational spaces such as libraries, sanitary facilities, standard classrooms, specialised human resources, educational materials and course materials. According to research by the Global Institute of Educational Planning, free education is only the first and most basic solution to reducing educational deprivation, and other supports are needed, such as free meals, free textbooks, scholarships, educational grants and providing aid to the families of disadvantaged students. The right to free and universal education is one of the rights of all citizens and a fundamental human right. Schools in disadvantaged areas in Ahwaz, especially in villages, do not have even the most basic facilities, and most of the schools are old and in poor condition. While lacking sufficient light, clean drinking water, sanitary facilities, air conditioners in summer, heaters in winter, libraries, and spacious classrooms with proper benches and tables and buses and other means of transportation, and having only very minimal sports facilities, it is not possible to educate and create an empowered Ahwazi generation.

To summarise most common reasons for Ahwazi students dropping out of school are:  deprivation of learning in one’s native language, feelings of alienation and a lack of any sense of belonging in the school environment,  poverty and joblessness of Ahwazi families, the absence of transportation and long distances between schools,  widespread parental illiteracy, the chaos that governs schools, as well as the schools’ and parents’ lack of interest in their children’s progress or otherwise, excessive fees and financial costs, lack of government support for schools, despair and frustration caused by an uncertain future due to discrimination and Failure to provide educational guidance in schools.”

Mother-Tongue Education as a Fundamental Human Right

One of the most important reasons for the dropout of educational participation and attainment in Ahwazi areas is that the teaching is carried out in the Persian language, not the students’ own language of Arabic, leading to poor understanding of contents by the Ahwazi Arab students. Teachers who want to support their students’ learning and who, therefore, teach the curriculum in Arabic are accused of promoting ‘separatism’ and are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned. This insistence on using the Persian language in schools rather than the native Arab language is a core element of the Iran regime’s policy of colonisation and suppression of Ahwazi culture.

The failure to provide essential services to the education system in Ahwaz demonstrates the non-existence of educational justice for Ahwazi Arab students who are trapped in a cycle of deprivation and poverty after dropping out of school as a result of the great deficits in an educational system that appears designed to ensure it fails them.

The right to mother-tongue education is a fundamental human right, and it is underpinned by the non-discrimination principle. While many may believe that it is a subset of the non-discrimination principle, when one considers the critical and irreplaceable role educational instruction plays, it can be argued that mother-tongue instruction is even more crucial and deserving of additional protection. Moreover, the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) expressly states that there may be no discrimination in the right to use one’s language in education. Yet, the Iranian regime produces several transparently self-serving justifications to impede the practice of mother-tongue education in Ahwaz and other regions inhabited by Kurds, Turks, Baluchis, Turkmen, and ultimately for all non-Farsi speakers. Regime officials claim that insufficient funding, a lack of skilled educators, and insufficient resources are the causes for a complete lack of teaching in Arabic in Ahwaz, or other non-Persian languages such as Kurdish, Turkish, Baluchis elsewhere. This flimsy excuse fails to mask the regime’s deliberate intent. The next typical excuse lies in a theory of security that teaching in other languages would undermine the status of the Persian language and strengthen separatism among Ahwazis and other non-Persian peoples in Iran. This too, is not only an absurd justification, but it lacks any merit as a matter of international law.

Many might wonder what the purpose of imposing the Persian Language as the sole Language of education in Iran, while according to regime officials, 70 per cent of children who go to school speak a language other than Persian and these children, whose languages include Arabic (Ahwaz), Turkish (South Azerbaijan), Kurdish (Kurdistan), Balochi (Balochistan) in their own regions get acquainted with Persian Language for the first time in the first grade of the school.

Iran’s adoption of monolingual ideology goes beyond the norm of Language as a linguistic instrument for communication; the Persian Language is utilised as a political, cultural, social and hegemonic privileged identity instrument to create a unified country through forcible linguistic assimilation through the current proven monolingual policy in the education where children such as Ahwazis as the case of this report end up in dropping out of the school. There is massive resistance to this dysfunctional monolingual policy as Ahwazis, Kurds, Turks, and Balochis see that Language is not a mere human rights principle. Still, their languages are not only a key to their success in education but, as Martin Heidegger put it, “Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells.”

The Impact of Language Suppression on Cultural Alienation: Insights from Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon, a prominent postcolonial theorist, discussed the impact of colonisation on language and the colonised people in his book “The Wretched of the Earth.” According to Fanon, the colonised people who lose their native language experience a form of cultural and psychological alienation.

Language plays a crucial role in shaping one’s identity, culture, and sense of belonging. When the colonising power enforces its language on the colonised people, it becomes a tool to erase their native culture, history, and values. By undermining their language, the colonised people are indirectly stripped of their identity and subjected to a form of linguistic and cultural assimilation.

The enforced Persian language on Ahwazi Arabs is leading to the loss of their native language, which can have several consequences. Here are a few based on Fanon’s theories:

  1. Cultural alienation: The loss of their native language can disrupt the transmission of cultural knowledge, values, and traditions from one generation to the next, leading to the erosion of the Ahwazi Arab culture. This can result in a sense of cultural alienation and disconnection from their heritage.
  1. Psychological impact: Losing one’s native language can create feelings of inferiority, self-doubt, and insecurity. In Fanon’s words, it can lead to a “desire to be white,” i.e., a desire to assimilate with the dominant colonising culture [Persian] and reject their own identity. This psychological impact can manifest in various forms, including internalised self-hatred and a sense of cultural shame.
  1. Resistance and identity formation: In response to linguistic and cultural assimilation, the colonised people might develop strategies to preserve their identity and resist the dominant culture. This can include acts of cultural preservation, revitalisation of indigenous languages, and the formation of collective identities.
  1. Linguistic and cultural hybridity: Even in situations where the native language is oppressed, individuals and communities might develop hybrid languages and cultural practices as a means of resistance. This hybridity reflects the complex interplay between the coloniser’s language and the remaining elements of the colonised people’s culture.

It is important to note that the consequences may vary depending on several factors, including the degree of linguistic suppression, the resistance strategies employed by the colonised people, and the political context. However, Fanon’s analysis sheds light on some potential outcomes in situations where colonised people lose their native language through enforced linguistic policies.

Regarding the relationship between colonised people and their lands, Fanon argues that colonisation not only suppresses the political and economic power of the colonised, but it also undermines their cultural identity and connection to their native lands.

According to Fanon, language is an essential component of cultural identity and serves as a medium for expressing historical, social, and spiritual connections to one’s homeland. When a coloniser imposes their language and dismisses or suppresses the native language of the colonised people, it disrupts the transmission of cultural knowledge, traditions, and collective memory. As a result, the colonised people not only lose their ability to communicate but also their ties to their own history and heritage.

Fanon believed that this linguistic and cultural alienation further marginalises the colonised people, making them feel like strangers in their own lands. The suppression of their language intensifies the process of deculturation, erasing their distinctiveness and assimilating them into the dominant colonial culture. This loss of language reinforces power inequalities, as it becomes a tool for domination and subjugation.

Fanon’s analysis emphasises the importance of decolonisation not only in political and economic terms but also in terms of reclaiming and revitalising cultural identity, including language. He argues that decolonisation should involve a process of cultural and psychological reawakening, where the colonised people reclaim their historical memory, language, and cultural practices to forge a new sense of identity and agency.

Overall, Fanon’s writings on colonialism and language express how the loss of language under colonisation contributes to the erosion of the colonised people’s relationship with their lands, further perpetuating the subjugation and alienation experienced by the occupied population.

Regarding Iran’s treatment of the Ahwazi Arab people and denial of their language, it is essential to note that while Fanon’s analyses provide a framework for understanding the impact of language suppression under colonisation, his work primarily focuses on European colonialism and the experiences of African and Caribbean people. Therefore, his specific thoughts on the situation faced by the Ahwazi Arab people in Iran are not outlined in his writings. However, one can draw certain parallels between Fanon’s ideas and the situation in Iran. If the Iranian government seeks to suppress the use of the Arabic language among the Ahwazi Arab people, it can be seen as an attempt to weaken their cultural identity and sever their connection to their Arab heritage. This language suppression may further marginalise the Ahwazi Arab people, making them feel disconnected from their roots and their lands.

Fanon’s writings advocate for the decolonisation of both political and cultural aspects, emphasising the importance of reclaiming cultural identity, including language, for the colonised population’s empowerment. In the context of Iran and the Ahwazi Arab people, it could be argued that ensuring the preservation and revitalisation of the Arabic language among the Ahwazi Arab community is crucial for resisting the erasure of their cultural heritage and strengthening their collective identity.

It is also worth noting that Fanon highlights the role of language in the struggle for decolonisation. Language acts as a tool of resistance and liberation, allowing the colonised people to reclaim their voice and assert their agency against the coloniser. In the case of the Ahwazi Arab people, preserving their Arabic language becomes an act of resistance against the cultural assimilation and dominance imposed by the Iranian state.

Overall, while Fanon’s direct commentary on the situation faced by the Ahwazi Arab people in Iran does not exist, his ideas on language and cultural identity under colonisation can help us contextualise and understand the potential significance of language suppression in their struggle for decolonisation and self-determination.

Education plays an indispensable role in helping any society to succeed and thrive. As the great South African freedom icon Nelson Mandela rightly said, “Education is the most lethal weapon you can use to change the world. “By stark contrast with Iran, Singapore is an exemplar of development and rapid progress, having gone within 51 years from a small undeveloped nation to one of the world’s most livable city-states, boasting one of the highest levels of human capital development globally. Singapore is a famous example of order and efficiency, in which education, which prioritises creative thinking and ingenuity, has proved essential to overcome previous problems, which include inadequate housing, a scarcity of natural resources, and a lack of space.

Former leader Lee Kuan Yew, credited with shaping modern Singapore into the powerhouse it has become, has dismissed the rote-learning education model promoted by the Iranian regime, famously saying, “Singapore needs creativity, not information-stuffing”.

For such creativity to thrive, however, people such as the colonised Ahwazis first need freedom, decolonisation of their region, and recognition of their ethnicity, colour, faith, and cultural and linguistic identity. This must include education in their mother language, which is Arabic, so that they can have an organic sense of belongingness to the education environment, unlike Iran’s current monolingual educational system based on the Persian language, which devalues education in mother languages, denies ethnic and cultural diversity and blocks ingenuity and advancement. It has been adopted solely as a tool for the enforced assimilation of countless Ahwazi generations that carry the traumas of humiliation, racism and failure, seriously prohibiting them from fulfilling their dreams through education.

Summary

This illuminating report delved into the multifaceted challenges encountered by Ahwazi Arab children in their pursuit of education, resulting in alarmingly high dropout rates. Various interconnected factors intersect to perpetuate this grave issue, centred around discrimination and marginalisation, economic hardships, language barriers, and cultural differences. Addressing these hurdles necessitates a comprehensive effort from both the Iranian government and the international community to foster equal access to quality education, eradicate discrimination, provide much-needed support to economically disadvantaged families, implement inclusive curriculum and teaching methods, and celebrate cultural diversity within the education system.

 Discrimination and Marginalisation:

Throughout the annals of history, Ahwazi people have been subjected to chronic discrimination, both from governing bodies and society at large, culminating in their marginalisation. The pervasiveness of discrimination echoes within the realm of education, where Ahwazi Arab students encounter limited access to schooling, substandard infrastructure in Arab regions, and substantial exclusion from educational resources and opportunities. Consequently, this hostile environment engenders a palpable lack of motivation, giving rise to soaring dropout rates among Arab students.

Economic Hardships:

Inextricably intertwined with disparities in education, Ahwazi Arab families often grapple with overwhelming economic hardships, ensnared in poverty or plagued by unemployment. These dire circumstances compel children to forsake education and contribute to their families’ meagre incomes. Furthermore, the exorbitant costs entailed in education, such as school fees, textbooks, and transportation, cast an onerous burden upon Ahwazi families, rendering it arduous to afford their children’s continued enrollment in school.

Language Barrier:

Ahwazi people inherently converse in Arabic, their mother tongue, whereas Persian serves as the official language in Iran. This linguistic disparity engenders considerable tribulations for Ahwazi students attempting to comprehend, communicate, and learn within Persian-medium schools. The insurmountable language barrier exacerbates academic performance difficulties, fosters diminished self-esteem, and intensifies a profound sense of marginalisation, ultimately culminating in a regrettable exodus of Ahwazi children from educational institutions.  Ahwazis perceive their connection to the Persian language as a poignant reminder of a colonial imposition aimed at eradicating their cherished native Arabic language and assimilating them into Persian culture. It defies all reason to comprehend why the imposition of the Persian language persists, while the Iranian regime witnesses firsthand how this imposition engenders a surge in illiteracy rates among Ahwazi Arab students.  As a consequence of their inability to fully grasp the school curriculum and effectively communicate in Persian, these students become disenchanted. They feel disconnected from the language on a personal level, leading them to forsake their education, as they perceive no tangible benefits from engaging with this linguistic framework.

Cultural Differences and Curriculum:

The curriculum prevalent in Iranian schools predominantly revolves around Persian culture, history, and literature, often failing to adequately reflect the nuanced fabric of Ahwazi Arab culture, history, and values. This staggering cultural mismatch invariably leads to disengagement and a profound lack of interest in schooling among Ahwazi students, prompting numerous individuals to prematurely abandon their educational pursuits.

Mitigating the educational hurdles faced by Ahwazi Arab children mandates concerted efforts from both the Iranian government and the international community. Championing equal access to quality education necessitates the eradication of discrimination, while supporting economically disadvantaged families becomes inherently vital.

The Correlation between colonisation and the linguistic patterns of colonisers and the colonised

The report also analysed the relationship between colonisation and the language of colonisers and colonised based on Frantz Fanon’s book, The Wretched of The Earth. Fanon explored the intricate connection between language and colonisation. The colonisers, he noted, always enforced their language upon the colonised, resulting in the obliteration of the colonised people’s cultural identity. The colonised individuals are, therefore, compelled to embrace the colonisers’ language, resulting in both linguistic and cultural alienation. Language is transformed into a mechanism of oppression, contributing to the marginalisation of indigenous languages and the perpetuation of the colonial power dynamics.

In Fanon’s analysis, language emerges as a crucial tool in the process of colonisation. Colonisers strategically deploy language to impose their culture, values, and beliefs upon the colonised. This linguistic imperialism not only suppresses indigenous languages and cultures, causing cultural dislocation and the erosion of identity, but also influences the thought processes and worldview of the colonised, perpetuating the dominance of the colonisers’ culture. Fanon contends that a vital aspect of decolonisation is the restoration of cultural autonomy, which involves reclaiming and revaluing one’s native language.

Fanon’s concept resonates with Ahwazi Arab people, confronted daily with the spectre of this enforced assimilation through the suppression of their language. Iran’s enforcement of the Farsi language and prohibition of education in Ahwazis’ Arabic mother tongue is a clear example of the patterns of colonial linguistic imperialism in action. In response, Ahwazis defy this attempted erasure of their identity by zealously safeguarding their linguistic heritage, underscoring the profound interplay between language, culture, and the assertion of self-determination. Language emerges as a crucial battleground in the resistance against cultural obliteration and in the pursuit of cultural rights.

This daily battle against erasure faces daunting challenges, such as the demographic shifts and displacement caused by influxes of Persian settlers. This influx raises the fear of further losses in terms of land, identity, and political influence, thereby perpetuating a century-long cycle of oppression and marginalisation. The situation may provoke social tensions and conflicts, posing a threat to the survival of Ahwazi culture.  Addressing these pressing issues, it is imperative to safeguard the Ahwazi people’s rights and foster a more equitable and sustainable future for them.

Furthermore, addressing systemic discrimination in development and ensuring equal employment opportunities for Ahwazi individuals holds the key to unlocking the educational pursuits of Ahwazi children. Without tackling the pervasive discrimination woven into the fabric of the Ahwazi society, the prospects of education remain distressingly inaccessible for Ahwazi communities burdened by the scourges of poverty and marginalisation. Breaking the cycle of inequity necessitates dismantling the barriers that perpetuate systematic discrimination in employment, enabling Ahwazi children to navigate the path towards educational empowerment. Additionally, an acknowledgement and endorsement of the right to education in the mother language in Ahwaz, granting Ahwazi Arab students the opportunity to fully engage and flourish within the confines of their linguistic heritage, serves as a catalyst for transformative change. Converging these collective endeavours will genuinely empower and uplift Ahwazi Arab children, fostering a generation enabled to transcend existing barriers and shape their own destinies.

By Rahim Hamid and Mostafa Hetteh

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi freelance journalist at the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies.

Mostafa Hetteh is an Ahwazi academic researcher at the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies.

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