The Forum for Partners in Iran's Marketplace

September 2017, No. 85


Mother Language and Development in Iran

We Encouraged Exports, Limited Imports and Then Again Moved Towards Open Economy; This Only Destroyed Our Resources More and More

Dr. Mohsen Renani

It is 110 years since we launched the zero phase of the establishment of a modern government and presence of our society in the modern world through the Constitutional Revolution. However, the government in Iran – before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution – has been and still is far away from the realization of modern government and our society is still engulfed in the transitional period confusion. We have taken steps forward, but we are still away from the desired point. Neither the dominant color of our government is that of a modern government nor is the dominant disposition of our society that of a modern society.

And unfortunately, during the same period that we did not know what we would like to be, wrongly we planned for development; wrong because if we did not do anything we would probably take the same path, but in the meantime and in the name of development planning, we have depleted, evaporated and wasted a great part of our natural resources, including mines, oil, water and forests; yet we have lingered in the pre-development period. In one sentence: We are still in the phase zero of development while our resources are diminishing.

We have explored all the directions that we expected to take us to development. We developed routes and roads of the country, built railroads, provided electricity, constructed many dams, brought in modern education, provided villages with universities, imported the assembly industry, stressed substitution of exports and encouraged and supported domestic industries, supported statism, then turned to privatization, interfered in prices, established quotas, granted subsidies and then practiced expanded liberalization. We encouraged exports, limited imports and then again moved towards open economy, but the more we did the less change were made and only our resources were destroyed more and more.

At what point did we make the mistake? We do not know who, what group or what institute was the main culprit, but whatever the result, it has shown that we have not trained powerful people who could precede the process of development in the country. During all these years, we have been faced with the serious shortage of strong human resources; even when we registered the highest admission of university students in the world. We thought if we had a large number of universities, our problem of human resources would be solved, therefore we irregularly reproduced our universities.

As we established the modern educational system in bulk everywhere 70 years ago and thought that as soon as the children come out of the old-fashioned primary schools and sit behind their desks and have their own books it is sufficient for raising modern and capable people for the realization of development, today we are administering our schools the same way.

Our mistake over that period was that we concentrated on the development of our children’s memory rather than development of their personality. For 70 years, we mechanically developed a memory-oriented educational system while powerful people and those creating development are educated when a relation-oriented educational system is established. In this period, we managed to mass-produce people with high-level scientific capabilities, but with very low social and communicative capabilities. We borrowed this educational system like other things from the West and assembled it here.

Although the West has realized its mistakes in this field in the past two decades and has taken measures to transform its children’s educational system, this memory-oriented educational system had proven effective in the West. Because prior to that during two centuries of evolution and intellectual movement in the West, the Western family’s intellectual and behavioral system had been transformed and the necessary grounds had been created in the family for bringing up children with strong communicative abilities and consistent personal characters. Therefore, although the school was educational- and memory-oriented, this issue did not prompt destruction of children’s personality.

We also moved in on the same path but we forgot that in Iran the family does not have a background of 200 years of intellectual transformation behind itself; therefore, it does not sow the initial seeds of development-seeking capabilities in the mind and language of the children. Therefore, we could not pin any hope on the family and whatever we had to do was in the school; but unfortunately, our schools had been turned into factories for the mechanical production of literate people with strong memory and mental powers.

What was neglected during these 70 years, was the personality of children we were expecting to be capable of creating development in their adulthood while we had not given such capabilities to them in their childhood. However, this was not our only huge mistake. We also committed another mistake and that was elimination of half of our country’s population from active and timely presence in the development process. On the basis of an absolutely wrong policy, no official statistics are collected or published on the ethnic groups’ and languages’ population in our country. But, according to different estimates, the non-Persian speaking Iranian ethnic groups comprise between 42 to 49 percent of the country’s population.

In the past 70 years, we have forced children of almost half of the country’s population. i.e. non-Persian speaking ethnic groups, to learn the Persian language from the first year of the primary school and receive education in Persian language.

The zero phase of development is shaped during childhood, in school and pre-school in every country. Whatever we seek for the future of our country, we should plant its seed at such ages. By teaching the Persian language to the children whose mother tongue is not Persian, we entrap them in a several year standstill in the process of their socialization in the most sensitive years of their lives. The high percentage of students who fail in the first and second years of primary school in bilingual provinces, confirms this problem exists.

The non-Persian speaking Iranian children finally get along with the Persian language and learn it when they have lost their childhood years.

These ages are the most determining period for learning and practicing characteristics that would be required later for their effective and continuous presence in the process of development creation.

We did not pay attention to the point that mother tongue is not merely the language of speaking, but also that of emotion, feelings and the language of the individual’s life. The mother tongue is the inner language of human beings and the thinking process initially happens in the inner language of every individual and then it is translated into the spoken language. Studies have shown that in these population groups, if the bilinguals had learnt the mother tongue well, their brain would have had more capability in processing the emotional information and in the area of semantic conception.

In fact, by not teaching the mother tongue, and instead teaching the Persian language to the children whose mother tongue is not Persian, we knock off completion of their inner tongue and their thinking tongue during their childhood and, they finally can think and speak in the new language

by tolerating great mental and emotional pressures and with some years of delay; but what has been lost in between, is the opportunity for completing their educational and personal dimensions which shapes their communicative and development creating abilities.

The important point is that language is a catalytic phenomenon or system; that is, a phenomenon that has been created and evolved naturally and in the absence of human being’s intervention and has reached a spontaneous discipline.

In the catalytic phenomena, first we learn their use and application, and then analyze and identify their components. If a language is a catalytic phenomenon; then first we should use it and maximize the capacity of its use and then go to learn and analyze it.

When we take the children out of their mother tongue atmosphere and take them into the environment of learning Persian language, they have not reached the flourishing point in the catalytic learning process of  the mother tongues, that is to say the maximum point of speech and perception power; to be precise that part of the emotions and feelings which should be absolutely evolved with the help of mother tongue will not take shape; therefore in practice the growth trend of the mother tongue speech power in the child will stop somewhere and thus the inner language of the child which is the same language of his/her thinking, will not reach its maximum capacity. Then while bearing years of immense hardships, these children should first learn the Persian language and after that strengthen in themselves the ability of thinking in Persian. This is the same treatment that we have meted out to the non-Persian speaking children of the Iranian ethnic groups for the past 70 years and put them in an unequal position with the Persian speakers in the competitions for seizing social and economic opportunities.

In fact, with this method of teaching the Persian language, we slow down or stop the process of mental and personal evolution of about half of the country’s population for several years and confine their opportunities and thus reduce the public opportunities in the development process of provinces with non-Persian speaking population.

Perhaps part of the development gap and imbalance that exists between central provinces and border provinces is due to this same issue; that is to say although proper budgets have been allocated to the development of some deprived provinces in the past, those provinces have continued to remain deprived.

In fact, it might actually be possible that by teaching the Persian language to the children of bilingual provinces, we cause a several-year delay in the process of shaping the personality and capability of the children in those regions and this could be a prelude to the unjust distribution of opportunities among the resources. In addition to all other political, social and cultural behaviors, this teaching method practice has been a failure that we had adopted in the past 70 years.

Mother tongue is like native architecture. Is it justifiable that we destroy all rural homes or indigenous buildings of different regions and historical cities of the country just because their architecture is not similar to that of Tehran? If not, then why do we treat the mother tongue of the ethnic groups, which is the civilizational heritage and part of the wealth of every society, like this? What a contradiction that on the one hand we spend a huge capital for the preservation of the historical inscriptions and monuments and on the other spend a huge money for confining the live mother tongue of the non-Persian speaking Iranian ethnic groups?

In general, the present educational system in Iran, with the start of the education from the first year of the primary school and negligence in nurturing existential dimension of the children- in a period when their human biological capabilities and development-seeking personality are blossoming and taking shape and their communicative capabilities are being strengthened and their social intelligence evolved- involves them in learning things that they do not need to learn at that time and depletes and destroys all their energy and capacities in this way and after going through a 12-year educational course, finally delivers to us young people filled with scientific information but devoid of the communicative skills needed for a rich and satisfactory human life. Unfortunately, this process is much tougher for the children of non-Persian speaking Iranian ethnic groups.

These children are suddenly faced with three strong stressful and tense biological and social waves in their lives at the ages when they have the last chance for human existential, personality and behavioral evolution: first, the stress of going to school and presence in a large community outside the family; second the stress resulting from learning a language other than their mother tongue of which they have no previous experience; and third receiving formal scientific educational courses. That is to say, the children have to both enter a larger community and learn a language other than their mother tongue (Persian) and acquire knowledge. Are we aware in what position we put the children of our homeland by practicing this method and what damage we inflict on their existential, biological and social capacities?

Disconnecting the application of mother tongue means disconnecting the emotional relationship of children with their environment, confining their capabilities in expressing their emotions and feelings and halting their evolutionary process in receiving concepts and perception.

The compulsory education of children in a language other than their mother tongue will result in disconnection of mother-child relationship in the area of education and in practice puts aside mothers in children’s evolutionary process of the production of concepts and perceptions.

A lot of time will be wasted, great opportunities lost and heavy mental and emotional costs sustained on these children in order for them to regain themselves and bring their evolutionary process of producing concepts and perceptions to the creation stage. Language is the evolutionary tool for our understanding. Language discontinuity creates a type of discontinuity in the evolutionary process of thinking in children.

In order to give a real shape to the development process in all the regions of the country, we have no alternative but to respect the natural existence of all the Iranian ethnic groups and recognize their language.


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  September 2017
No. 85