Special education in Iran started in 1920 with a charity school for blind children in Tabriz. Three years later, private deaf education was introduced by an Iranian teacher. In 1968 formal special education was established by the Bureau of Education for Exceptional Children and Students, within the Ministry of Education. After the Islamic revolution (1979) special education widened considerably. In 1990 the Special Education Organization (SEO) was established. Inclusive education was introduced when it became clear that segregated special education was not reaching enough students.
Although the number of disabled students in education (nursery, elementary and high school) was 3.5 times higher in 2004 than in 1990, they still only accounted for 0.49% of the student population. Students with moderate and severe impairments in urban areas were much more likely to be benefiting from special education. Those with mild to moderate impairments tended to be excluded from the statistics, and to be enrolled in mainstream schools but without the advantage of any special educational consideration.
In 1999, officials and administrators from SEO and the Basic Education Deputy in Tehran met with advisers from UNESCO Paris in a workshop about inclusion. In 2000, a group of education administrators from regular and special education visited inclusive schools in England, and UNESCO advisers analysed the special education situation in Iran. A pilot plan for inclusion was implemented in Esfahan and Gilan provinces. Two more workshops on educational planning for inclusion were facilitated in 2002-03, with UNICEF’s help.
From 2001, resources were sought for training teachers, other school staff, officials and administrators in regular and special education departments. Two UNESCO resources – Understanding and Responding to Children’s Needs in Inclusive Classrooms (725kb) and Open File on Inclusive Education: Support Material for Managers and Administrators (12mb) – were translated into Farsi. These were complemented by articles about the reasons for developing an inclusive education system in Iran, and educational films about inclusion in Iran and other countries.
In 2002, the pilot in the two provinces was evaluated. A programme for the development of inclusion nationally was prepared and presented at a 2003 UNESCO Conference in Pakistan. As a result of the evaluation, personnel training was identified as the key to the success of the programme. Since 2002, a number of courses have been implemented each year. In total, 5,788 teachers, 3,505 regular and special school staff, and 340 special education administrators and officials have been trained countrywide. Seminars were also held to sensitise officials and administrators of education departments at provincial level. A series of training courses on educational planning for inclusive schools has been planned for these provincial staff for 2006-08.
In 2004, the pilot was re-evaluated and a bylaw was prepared in co-operation with the deputies of the Ministry, which is being examined by the Education High Council. This bylaw built on the results of the evaluations, and was created in order to supply specialised staff to support mainstream schools and to develop adequate legislation to enable disabled children to benefit from education in mainstream schools.
In view of the increasing number of children who pass at least one year of pre-elementary classes (aged 6), the SEO, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, the Welfare Organization, the Welfare Sciences University and the Research Institute of Exceptional Children are working to standardise the ‘Ages and Stages Questionnaire’. This is a parent-completed, child monitoring system which identifies children with special needs at pre-elementary ages in order to educate them at an early age and provide the basis for including them in regular schools. The SEO Educational Planning Department aims to extend pre-elementary education to children aged 2-4.
With support from the SEO, a number of provincial associations of parents of disabled children have been formed. These are active in supporting the rights of disabled children and promoting inclusion. It is hoped that such activities will expand in the near future.
Efforts have been made to raise community awareness about inclusion. This has included radio interviews and discussions, and educational films on national TV. Hundreds of news reports and interviews have been printed in journals and newspapers throughout Iran. Together with the training programme, these activities have led to a three-fold increase in the admission of disabled children into mainstream schools. At a workshop in 2003, the Ministry of Education shared the results of its experiences with teachers and officials from Afghanistan, in collaboration with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Contact: Abolfazl Saeedi, Research Institute of Exceptional Children, 36, 5th building of Ministry of Education, Martyred Moazffar Brothers, Enghelab Avenue, Tehran, 1416935671, I.R.Iran. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org