Andrew Korybko |
Iran banned the teaching of English in both government and non-government primary schools. The decree comes after a week of protests at the beginning of the year, and reports state that the Ayatollah said that this move was necessary in order to stop the “promotion of a foreign culture in the country and among children, young adults and youths”. The head of the High Education Council added that students who were previously learning English “will now focus on the Farsi language and classes of Iranian culture” instead.
It’s clear that this is a political reaction to the externally manipulated unrest that recently rocked parts of the country and is intended to counter what the authorities believe is the pervasive negative influence of Western soft power in a society where approximately 60% of its people are below the age of 30, while also simultaneously strengthening Iranian patriotism at a time of increased foreign pressure.
It’s already a well-known fact that introducing a child to a foreign language while they’re very young makes it much easier for them to learn it, so forbidding this practice will predictably
For as good as it might sound in theory, the problem is that this policy could unwittingly backfire. Ancient China famously walled itself off from its neighbors and retreated inwards prior to centuries of decline, and while the times have certainly changed since then, making it much more difficult for Iranian youth to learn the de-facto global lingua franca of English could severely handicap the competitiveness of the country’s labor force in the coming years.
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It’s true that not all primary schools were teaching English in the first place and that most Iranian students begin learning the language in middle school around the age of 12-14 anyways, but that’s why better-off families were sending their children to private schools in order to give them a head start, just like what happens in many other countries all across the world.
Though it’ll still make it more challenging to improve the international labor competitiveness of the individual Iranians who have to wait until middle school to learn English.
The new prohibition outlaws that and will likely drive the English-teaching industry underground and spike the price of education in this language, making it all the more elite and exclusive. The authorities might be betting that this won’t be as big of a deal as one might think so long as the Western hostility against Iran remains a mainstay in the coming years and continues to deprive the country of substantial investment from that largely English-speaking part of the world, which is appearing all the more probable.
Moreover, the cadre of Iranian workers who already speak English could in that case assume managerial positions over their compatriots simply by virtue of being able to communicate with company management from foreign countries who are fluent in that language, whether they’re Westerners, Chinese, or whatever else.
Ancient China famously walled itself off from its neighbors and retreated inwards prior to centuries of decline, and while the times have certainly changed since then, making it much more difficult for Iranian youth.
This means that the long-term consequences of this decision might not be so bad in the macroeconomic sense, though it’ll still make it more challenging to improve the international labor competitiveness of the individual Iranians who have to wait until middle school to learn English.
It’s already a well-known fact that introducing a child to a foreign language while they’re very young makes it much easier for them to learn it, so forbidding this practice will predictably give other regional populations who don’t have this restriction a distinct advantage over Iranians with time.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, journalist and a regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia.