Tent schools in Iran


A Qashqa’i man having a degree in law – Mohammed Bahmanbaigi - has established in the 1950s a modernliteracy plan for Qashqa’i tribes people and has convinced Iranian state officials – who saw formal educationas a mechanism to create national unity - to support it. The initial phase was also supported by technicalassistance from the United States [Shahbazi 2006].

 A Teacher Training School, the Elementary School(from 1955 onwards), the Middle School, the High School, the Technical School and the Carpet Weaving

School have been introduced subsequently. These schools used a standard curriculum but with convictionthat nomadic pastoralists are the cultural resources to be preserved and supported.

As to the Elementary School, teachers from a nomadic pastoral background were trained, equipped with awhite school tent and schooling material, and joined a group of pastoralist households, often in an elder’scamp with enough children for a mixed-age class). Children of poor and rich households were trainedtogether, and there was a rather equal enrolment of boys and girls

. Girls remained under the closesupervision of their parents. After 5 years of elementary education, graduates were admitted to the boardingschool for nomadic children. Some scholars entered the Teacher Training boarding School (particularly frompoorer families and girls), which was considered as the core of the literacy programme among Qashqa’i alsobecause a teacher was viewed as a socio-cultural manifestation of Qashqa’i and role models for the young.

A weekly cultural program was arranged for trainees who were also often lectured prior to such activities


The introduction of formal education and social mobility through education, coupled with integrated sociopoliticaland economic changes, significantly affected Qashqa’i society: educators stood between tribespeople and government officials; scholars were exposed to civil laws and procedures and learned thenational language they needed to elevate their skills to the level of many other Iranians. While learning abouttheir past and preserving and promoting their cultural identity they still got a sense of nationalism becausethey better understood other societies. Students learned to defend their individual and social rights throughlegal channels and also against leaders returning from exile. Some became state officials or tookgovernment jobs. Yet, political tension continued because higher educational institutions were headed bynon- Qashqa’i and therefore the Qashqa’i felt not always a part of the nation, particularly when it came to

political representation. Unlike many non-literate families who settled and accepted unsatisfactory jobs inurban centres, some families who received formal education and then settled enjoyed better jobs.

Interviewees (former scholars) also voiced some less positive considerations of the tent schools:dependency due to state-supported system and learning of too little herd management practices, althoughformal education also brought better disease management and planning skills .

Subsequent outcomes and potential for going to scale

The tent schools have facilitated enculturation of Qashqa’i youth into the culture and values of their owntribal nomadic societies [Shahbazi 2006].

 Movement between summer and winter pastures is common in

south west Asia and Central Asia and there is good potential of successful replication of Iranian model.Generally, in countries with little mistrust towards pastoralist communities such as in Iran and Mongolia,elementary schooling for mobile pastoralists has been successful when compared to countries with littleinterest and understanding of pastoralism. Still, the Iranian tent school approach may also prepare childrenfor entry to more formal schooling in transhumant African communities [UNDP 2004].

arge tribes and they number 250’000 [CENESTA 2003]) migrate seasonally and in groups of households between summer and winter territories and people move little during these seasons  [Shahbazi 2006].

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