The Dream Came True: a Nation in Search of Science

  July 13, 2022   Read time 3 min
The Dream Came True: a Nation in Search of Science
In its first years of existence, the University of Tehran presents itself as a mixture of highly diverse approaches and traditions which it is impossible to ascribe to one closed system alone.

Much is owed to French models because of the intensive and long-lasting Iranian–French contacts in higher education. In most of the Iranian institutions of higher education French instructors had been employed, and since French was for many decades the only foreign language taught at secondary schools in Iran, most Iranians who went abroad to study decided on a university in France, mainly in Paris. Those among them who returned to Iran and were employed in the Ministry of Education or at one of the institutions of higher education resorted to their experiences in France for their conception of laws and statutes, as well as their daily work as teachers. As a result, many French elements like the grading system and the names of degrees can (still) be found in the Iranian educational system. However, the French system of higher education was not transferred as a complete and coherent system, but in small single pieces. Moreover, in the University of Tehran elements were combined which are strictly separated in the French system. The most important difference to the University of Paris was the integration of technical and artistic branches that in France were and are still taught in the grandes écoles, that is outside the universities. The incorporation of the Teachers College, which initially called itself École normale supérieure following its French model, would have been a faux pas from a French point of view.

This is compounded by the fact that besides the elements taken from the French system of higher education, which doubtlessly had the strongest impact, components from other systems were integrated as well. The strong emphasis placed on practical instruction and the establishment of clubs and other non-university activities in order to strengthen the sense of community were of Anglo-Saxon origin and introduced by the two lecturers of pedagogy, ‘Isa Sadiq and Asadollah Bizhan, who had both studied in the United States and were influenced by the theories current there, especially John Dewey’s idea of a “laboratory school” and his emphasis on the importance of experiential learning, which they tried to apply in their lessons. If Sadiq had had his way, the American model would have had more influence in other areas too. Since he had studied first in Versailles and Paris and then in New York, he was acquainted with both systems, the American and the French, from personal experience. He had also been to England and inspected the school system there. Finally, in his Ph.D. thesis he gave preference to the American system. In his memoirs he also emphasizes several times the importance of his experiences in the United States for his work as a teacher and his position as director of the Teachers College. But just as the French system, the American model was likewise not transferred as a whole, but merely in parts.

Presumably it would also be possible to find evidence that the German model of “Arbeitsschule” (activity school)59 had contributed its share to the colourful potpourri called university. Furthermore, no theoretical and self-conscious debate on the crucial question of which model the university should follow ever took place. What happened to be integrated into the University of Tehran were not abstract ideas or concepts, but concepts based on personal experiences which were not subject to deeper reflection at the moment of their implementation. Foreigners, Iranians with B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. degrees from French, Swiss, German, American, or British universities, and Iranians who had received their degrees from one of the Iranian institutions of higher education taught at the University of Tehran side by side with instructors who had no university or other degree at all. Since lecturers were to a large extent free to design their lessons the way they wanted, everybody taught his subject with the methods and contents he himself had come to know and appreciate. The result was a kind of patchwork teaching, as colourful and variegated as the individuals with their personal experiences behind it.