Literacy for Students’ Illiterate Parents

Country Profile: Iran, Islamic Republic Of


77,448,000 (2013)

Official Language


Official Languages

Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Turkmen, Georgian and Armenian

Poverty (Population living on less than 2 US $ per day):

8% (2013)

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP

3.7% (2013)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

98.5% (2013)

Youth literacy late (15-24 years)

Total: 98%
Female: 97.7%
Male: 98.3% (2012)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over)

Total: 84.3%
Female: 79.2%
Male: 89.4% (2012)


UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleLiteracy for Students’ Illiterate Parents
Implementing OrganizationLiteracy Movement Organization
Language of InstructionPersian
Programme PartnersIranian Ministry of Education, teachers, parents and head teachers
Annual Programme CostsIRR 978,617,020,248 per annum (US $32,827,330.70) in 2014. Annual programme cost per learner: IRR 7,187,146 per capita (US $241.09) in 2014.
Date of Inception2014

Country Context

In line with Education for All’s fourth goal of achieving ‘a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults', the Islamic Republic of Iran (hereafter called Iran) has mobilized resources and created initiatives to raise literacy rates in the country over the past 15 years. However, efforts to improve the literacy skills of the population have been ongoing for decades, as demonstrated by the creation of the Literacy Movement Organization (LMO), an agency which works closely with the Iranian Ministry of Education (MoE). LMO is the main organization responsible for the provision of literacy and supplementary post-literacy packages to all people of 10 years of age or older.

Although Iran has registered a continual increase in national literacy levels since 2000, poor literacy skills among young people and adults remains a major issue. This is, in part, explained by the way in which literacy is defined for the purposes of data collection. The Statistics Centre of Iran defines a ‘literate person’ as someone who has graduated from the third year of primary school, or who can read and write simple sentences and solve basic maths problems. It should also be noted that the data relied upon in assessing literacy levels is usually self-reported.

Although the numbers do not provide a full picture of levels of literacy among young people and adults, the available data is stark: 9 million people (aged 10 or older) do not qualify as ‘literate’ (MoE, 2015, p. 27). According to the national Education for All report from the MoE (2015), several challenges are preventing Iran from achieving EFA Goal 4. One is the lack of data and analysis on the condition of literacy in the country, which makes it difficult to develop effective initiatives. Other challenges include a lack of collaboration between agencies, the poor quality of existing literacy programmes, dropout rates among primary school children, and a lack of initiatives to sustain the literacy skills gains of learners once they leave school or a literacy programme. An analysis by the Literacy Movement Organization indicates that the geographical dispersal of adults without adequate literacy skills is an additional challenge.

National census data from 2012 found that some 1.5 million of those Iranians with no or low literacy skills were aged between 10 and 49 (for children, this number refers to those out of school), and that 376,271 of them were parents of pupils (primary, lower and upper secondary). As parents have an important role in determining a student’s chances of completion and success at school, the provision of literacy training for adults has become a top priority for the MoE, recognized as crucial to the development of the country. Consequently, the Fifth Development Plan, presented by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated the government’s commitment to universal literacy for the 10–49 age group by 2016.

Programme Overview

The Literacy Movement Organization is delivering the Literacy for Students' Illiterate Parents programme in 26 provinces of Iran and in the city of Tehran. The programme, developed in response to the Fifth Development Plan, was intended to be implemented over the course of two school years, beginning in 2014. However, it is now to be continued for a third year in order to deliver the desired results.

The implementation of the programme requires the collaboration of several actors, namely school principals, teachers, trainers, students, local officials and the LMO, at all levels. The main features of the programme, as indicated in the project plan, are as follows:

The programme requires the active engagement of school children, who are seen as potential at-home facilitators. Some adult learners may not have someone to practice with at home, or, indeed, time to do so, slowing down the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. School children whose parents are enrolled in the literacy programme are encouraged by their schools to support their parents and will be rewarded if their parents pass the final exam.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the programme is to identify and offer literacy classes to the relatives of primary-school students, who have not themselves had the chance to go to school or who have low literacy skills levels. According to data collected by LMO, 376,271 potential learners meet the programme’s criteria. The programme’s goals include:

Programme Implementation

The implementation of the programme followed the process described below:

  1. Announcement of the project on agreement from the Minister of Education.
  2. Formation of executive committees in education departments at provincial, city, and school levels to supervise and monitor the implementation of the programme.
  3. Training of school administration and staff.
  4. Collection of names of potential learners from the 2011 census and the Literacy System, an online database that collects information on literacy skills. The database also tracks details of registration, enrolment and the exam results.
  5. Identification and classification of the literacy status of potential learners.
  6. Organization and training of teachers and facilitators.
  7. Invitation to potential learners for interview and to enrol.
  8. Beginning of literacy classes.
  9. Monitoring and evaluation of implementation.
  10. Administration of final exam.

An integral part of the programme is capacity-building within school administration. This is done through information-sharing sessions, workshops and panel discussions.


The literacy training itself happens at different locations. According to the number of learners in each school district, school administrators recruit the necessary number of trainers or teachers who then discuss with learners where and when classes should take place. Given the geographical dispersion of adult learners in the territory, the number of students per trainer is between three and five. Class locations include learners' homes, school and workplaces. Although the flexibility of the programme allows classes to be offered at different locations to better meet learners' needs, the MoE’s plan for the project requires that one classroom in every school is always assigned to the use of the adult literacy programme.

Although the programme’s implementation initially covered two academic years, some flexibility was given to schools so as to better meet learners' needs. The calendar for the literacy programme does not necessarily coincide with the normal school calendar, and classes are distributed over a period of between four to six months. The timeframe set for literacy is flexible to reflect the different specifications, conditions and requirements of learners. Some candidates are taught through two-hour literacy classes, while others receive tutorship upon request and in coordination with trainers. Facilitators then decide with learners at what time, where, how often and for how long to meet.

The programme provides 400 hours of training. After completing the course and passing the final exam, learners are officially considered ‘literate’ and are awarded a certificate equivalent to the third grade of primary school.

If a learner is unable or decides not to continue with their studies to a higher grade, he or she participates in a consolidation course. The consolidation course is reserved for learners with low literacy skills who have not been able to attend courses regularly. The consolidation course is held for a maximum of 200 hours.

Learners who express interest in continuing their studies can attend a transfer course of 800 hours which will allow them to re-enter mainstream education and register for secondary school.

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

Literacy classes are offered both individually and in groups. Trainers encourage learners’ participation and classes focus on strengthening learners' problem-solving skills. Although facilitators are encouraged to apply these two methodologies, they do not face restrictions and can develop new methods with their learners, as they see fit.

Content and Materials

The following skills are practised during the literacy classes:

Additionally, in the course of the programme, information is offered on the following subjects: individual health, environmental issues, social and civil rights, and other topics aimed at strengthening life skills.

The education system of Iran envisages a two-phase education plan for adults (the literacy phase and the transfer phase). The first phase involves the provision of literacy classes to adults with low or no literacy skills. The textbooks follow the two-phase format and have been prepared for use across the country. The literacy course has two textbooks and the transfer course has six. Different provinces are, in addition, authorized to compile their own textbooks in light of their local, ecological and regional conditions and their specific objectives.

Throughout the classes, special books for people with low literacy levels and easy-to-read books are used, in addition to the main textbooks. The educational material was created by the LMO’s Directorate of Research and Textbooks, following a needs assessment carried out at the beginning of the programme, which allowed material to be tailored to learners' needs.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Facilitators are recruited once the number of learners per school has been assessed. The programme includes two kinds of educators: official and unofficial educators. Official educators are teachers and employees of the Ministry of Education, who contribute on a part-time basis. Unofficial educators volunteer with the literacy programme through a partnership with non-governmental institutes contracted by government.

Facilitators are selected from among government employees and teachers willing to cooperate within the framework of legal procedures. Facilitators from the non-governmental sector cooperate with the literacy programme under contracts signed by LMO and education institutes. Volunteer tutors must pass a criminal record clearance check, hold (at least) a high school diploma, prove they are in good physical and mental health, and attend the pre-service course and training.

Before the inception of the programme, literacy facilitators were often selected from among non-specialists, with people employed on completion of a short training course. Performance assessments showed that facilitators did not meet the required standards, and this affected the quality of education provision. To address this, the MoE began employing teachers and other staff who had attended two years of university, studying teaching and learning processes, approaches and methodologies. Some have more than twenty years of experience.

Non-official facilitators also receive pre-service training. They are required to attend a 36-hour course aimed at familiarizing them with the following topics: the philosophy and general objectives of the programme; how to tailor content to learners' needs and pre-existing knowledge; the criteria for choosing, arranging and sequencing content; appropriate approaches to training and learning; education materials; and the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in class.

The programme currently involves 42,600 facilitators. The number of facilitators per school varies depending on the number of learners and the approach adopted (i.e. person to person or group).

Facilitators are paid IRR 7,187,146 (approximately US $241) at the end of the course, depending on the number of students successfully graduating from the course. If some of the students do not pass, part of the payment is withheld. In addition to the adult facilitators, a school’s students play an active role through direct training and also by serving as teaching assistants.

Enrolment of Learners


The programme adopts different strategies to promote the courses, using both the media and school students. Officials at provincial level are required to spread news of the programme through radio, newspapers and television. Provincial officials include the provincial governor and the Friday prayer leader.

One of the challenges in recruiting adults to literacy classes concerns their dispersal over a large territory. The programme exploits the one space these adults have in common: their children’s school. Schools (both primary and secondary) not only offer the perfect location for the literacy courses, but are also the ideal medium for recruiting learners. School principals have a responsibility to engage parents and other family members with inadequate literacy skills. School students act as a medium between school and their families and encourage them to enrol on the course and attend the classes. A preliminary interview to assess the prospective new learner’s literacy level is then scheduled. Literacy skills levels are assessed through standard tests conducted by experts from the LMO.

Data on parents with low or no literacy skills is available on the literacy database, and shared by the LMO with schools. Headmasters are responsible for verifying that the data is correct. Finally, the eligible candidates are invited to attend courses.

During the enrolment of parents, school staff inquire whether there are other adults in the family who might benefit from the literacy training. In this way, they reach out to other segments of the population that might otherwise have been left out. The programme primarily targets the population between the ages of 10 and 49, so it includes not only young people and adults, but also young students who have dropped out or have never attended school. Those aged 50 or above are not part of the target group for the programme, but can register and access the educational offer if there are sufficient numbers of them.

Family members of students are classified according to the following categories:

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course, participants sit a final examination administered by the LMO. The exam covers reading, writing, calculating and reciting the Qu’ran. The certificate issued to successful learners can be used in applying for jobs, receiving job benefits, and to continue studying in Iran.

In order to improve the quality of programmes, final exams are given online (the software used for the Literacy System allows the design of relevant exams). The LMO gives all districts access to an online database with different exam questions for its staff to establish examination sessions across the country. This database uses software designed so that the final exam is chosen randomly for each district.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The programme requires the establishment of national, provincial and county-level working groups to undertake regular site visits and monitor the regulations of education units. The working groups include deputies from the MoE and literacy, primary and secondary school education experts. The activities of the working groups are supervised by the Director General of the Education Department. The role of the working groups is to:

An integral part of the monitoring and evaluation strategy is a report on performance, to reflect efforts at both provincial and county level. Performance reports are created by a specialized working group, established by the LMO, comprising experts from different fields. These reports are submitted to the Office of Planning of Literacy Courses (an office affiliated with the LMO).

The performance of school teachers and trainers is mainly monitored through the pass rates of students.

The Literacy System Database

The need for reliable data on the number of people with low or no literacy skills prompted the LMO to establish a database for collecting literacy data. The Literacy System is an ID code-based database that identifies people by their first name, last name, father’s name, birth certificate number and date of birth. It provides information related to each individual’s educational status (i.e. whether or not they have attended school and up to what grade) and their last known residence. With people aged between 10 and 49 identified as the priority group, the Literacy System gives an immediate snapshot of people’s literacy skills levels and their location.

The database gathers all data related to literacy from relevant official organs and ministries such as National Statistics of Iran, the State Registry Office, the Ministry of Education and the civil servants' database. The data is then verified, through comparison with data from other sources, and processed so that information can be accessed (as a profile) for every individual.

Data collection follows a set process:

Once the aforementioned data has been collected, it is uploaded to software which records school registrations, exams and the issuing of certificates for each individual. As a result, when a person registers on an educational programme, their education background is available through their ID number. As the database now has information for virtually all citizens aged 10 to 49, where a person’s information is missing, they will generally be considered to be lacking literacy skills, and be registered following the process described above.

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

As of July 2015, the programme had identified 613,644 family members eligible to attend literacy classes. Of these, 131,988 (86,811 of them women) attended and completed classes in 2014.

A survey conducted by the education department indicated that improving their literacy skills led parents to attach more value to their children’s education, self-dignity and communication with school staff. This has a potential wider benefit, as some parents have children in their families who are not attending school or who have poor literacy skills. The involvement of primary school children was found to encourage the participation of parents in the literacy programme.


The LMO suggests that the following actions should be taken to address these challenges:

Lessons Learned and Sustainability

Lessons learned include:

The sustainability of the programme is guaranteed by the annual budget allocated by the LMO. In order to keep costs at a manageable level, the partnership with schools requires that the latter provide space and take care of logistics.


Examples of teaching and learning materials (literacy course) can be found at the LMO’s website


Mr Mostafa Hasannejad
Senior Expert of Public Relations
Literacy Movement Organization
NO: 113 Fatemi St

Tel: +9821 889 551 85, +98 912 297 89 85
Fax: +9821 837 827 06

Last update: 10 December 2015