Iranian journalist calls mother-tongue education a ‘right’

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After members of Iran’s Academy of Persian Language and Literature spoke critically of President Hassan Rouhani’s campaign promise to promote education in Iranians’ first langages and said that it “smells of a conspiracy,” Iranian journalist Asghar Zareh Kahnamouei responded with an impassioned essay, arguing that education in one’s own mother tongue is a “right” that is recognized internationally and by Iran’s own constitution.

The topic of education in one’s mother tongue has been a sensitive topic in Iran since the introduction of centralized education planning nearly 100 years ago. Persian has been the official language of government and education, a sometimes sore point for Iran’s minorities who have lobbied for the right to be taught in their own native tongues.

At a Jan. 27 meeting with Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani, members of Iran’s Academy of Persian Language Literature expressed doubt about the administration’s push for education in mother tongue. Some members warned about the “dangers” of such an initiative and said that it would cause problems, while others criticized the administration for not thoroughly explaining to what extent they plan on implementing such a policy.

The most outspoken member was Fatollah Mojtabaei, who said, “I have no doubt that this plan was brought to Iran from outside. Before this, the issue was experienced in India through England. And today, England and countries to our north want to bring this issue to Iran.” He added that this issue is a “danger and smells of a conspiracy.”

In response to the statements by members of the academy, Kahnamouei wrote in Reformist Shargh that “Education in mother tongue is a right” recognized by Article 15 of Iran’s constitution in addition to a variety of other human rights charters and conventions that apply to minorities and children.

He continued, “Education in one’s mother tongue is not a ‘conspiracy’ but a civil demand.” He added, “The delusion of a conspiracy is an ugly tradition.” In Iran, given its colonial history, domestic problems are often attributed to meddling by the British. He asked those making the conspiracy accusations if they understood that opposition to education in Iranian minority languages was “an action against human rights, irreligious and most importantly, an obvious opposition to the clear wording of the constitution.”

Kahnamouei wrote that such teaching “strengthens national security” despite the fact that “Some who oppose teaching in mother tongue have worries about borders and national security.” Most of Iran’s minorities are situated along the border provinces. He added, “Denying and suppressing this right can lead to a complete crisis.”

On fears that a desire to learn in their mother tongues would lead to an elimination or replacement of the Persian language, Kahnamoeui said such fears were unfounded because no one has requested such an initiative. He added teaching Arabic and English in schools has not replaced Persian, so that such a “poor defense” of the Persian language was actually quite “astonishing.”

Kahnamouei warned people who have complained “not make people enemies of the country’s official language.” He also stressed that in order to “protect one language, you should not and cannot eliminate or destroy another language in the affairs of education.”