TEHRAN: It’s the start of a new term in Iran but this year it has been “heartbreaking” for students at international schools after a government decision to bar their Iranian classmates.
The surprise move announced in September comes amid efforts in Iran to fight “Westernisation” which conservatives view as undermining core values in place since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
International schools have been struggling to adjust, however, as the newly imposed rules have deprived them of most of their current crop of pupils.
Now, only 60 students are attending the French school in northern Tehran compared with the 359 who had registered at the start of the academic year.
The German school, among those most affected by the decision, was only able to accept 50 out of 380 students.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” said a father of two Iranian students who have only ever been to French schools.
“We don’t know what to do with our children who have suddenly found themselves without a school.”
Iran has a dozen international schools, including eight in Tehran, attended by more than 2,000 students before the new measures came into force, according to Tasnim news agency.
But only 10 per cent fit the criteria to be allowed entry to international schools under the Iranian regulations, the news agency reported in August.
Under the rules laid out by Iran’s Supreme Council of Education, only foreigners living in Iran and Iranian students who completed part of their education abroad, among other exceptions, are allowed to enrol in international schools.
The rules affect Iranian students who also hold other passports, as the Islamic republic does not recognise dual nationality.
Tasnim said international schools had been in “clear violation” of the Iranian regulations.
“None of the official textbooks approved by the education ministry are taught in these schools,” it said.
As attempts to reverse Iran’s decision have faltered, the French embassy has set up a crisis unit to support parents scrambling to quickly find schools for their children.
Some parents opted to send their children to English schools following the Iranian curriculum while others decided to homeschool.
Only a few decided to leave Iran for Europe.
“It is traumatic for the children who lose their bearings and their friends,” a mother of two students at the German school said.
“It’s heartbreaking for them.”
Tensions have grown between Tehran and Washington and its allies since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.
Criticism of Western countries has escalated in Iran since it was gripped by mass protests last year after the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.
Her death in police custody in September 2022 triggered months-long demonstrations which authorities in Iran labelled as “riots” fomented by foreign governments.
“We are paying a high price for political reasons that are beyond us,” the mother said.
Others say Iran’s decision is narrowing the opportunities of cultural exchange with other countries.
The “space for dialogue between Iran and France is disappearing”, said a parent of children at the French school.
“It’s a real shame because the two countries have a lot to share.”