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Iran is a large country located in Western and Southern Asia, with a total geographic land area of just over 636,000 square miles.  Iran, whose name means “Land of the Aryans” in the Persian language, was known as Persia up until 1935, and today both “Persian” and “Iranian” are used interchangeably in cultural contexts, but the name “Iran” is used for all political purposes, both within the country and internationally.  A country of great geopolitical significance due to its location in the Middle East and Central Eurasia, it is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south, Iraq to the west and Turkey to the northwest.  The capital and largest city is Tehran, and the country’s most important economic activity is the exportation of natural gas and crude-based petroleum.
 
Iran has a very ethnically and linguistically diverse population totaling roughly 79 million.  Persians make up the majority of the population, accounting for 62 percent of the overall total, followed by Azerbaijanis (16%), Kurds (10%), Lars (6%), Arabs (2%), Balochs (2%), Turkmans and Turkic tribes (2%) and Laks, Quashaqui, Armenians, Persian Jews, Georgians, Assyrians, Circassians, Tats, Mandeans, Gypsies, Brokuis, Kazahks and others (1%).  Persian is the official language of Iran and is spoken by nearly all of its inhabitants.  Other Iranian languages and dialects, spoken in the country by smaller minority groups, include those of the Turkic family, particularly the Azeri language.  Islam is the official religion of the country and is practiced by close to 95 percent of the overall population, with the majority (65%) practicing the Shia branch of Islam and the minority practicing the Sunni variety.  Much like it is in the rest of the Middle East, religion is very important to the Iranian people, and unfortunately the cause of many inner conflicts between the two Islamic sects.
 
Education in Iran
 
Education in Iran is supervised and administrated by the Ministry of Education at the K-12 level, and the Ministry of Science and Technology at the higher or university education level.  The education system is divided between four distinct levels:  primary education, middle school, high school and higher education.
 
Primary school, which begins at age 6 and spans five years, and middle school, also known as “orientation cycle” and spanning 3 years, are the only two completely compulsory levels of education under the Iranian system.  Children at these two stages are introduced initially to the basics—reading, writing and elementary arithmetic—and are later exposed to a wide variety of subject matter, including courses in the natural and physical sciences, history, geography, religious studies, social studies, music and physical education.
 
High school, at which the final three years are non-compulsory, is divided between theoretical academics, vocational/technical education and manual education, with each program having its own specialties.
 
Universities, institutes of technology, medical schools and community colleges provide the higher education in Iran—a system that is highly valued by the people and heavily subsidized by the Iranian government.  Education is sanctioned by different levels of diplomas that are roughly equivalent to the bachelor and Master’s degrees in western education systems.  Following successful completion of the final general diploma, eligible students can sit for the national doctoral entrance examination, on which a passing score is required for admittance into the various PhD programs offered under the Iranian university system.
 
Eighty-two percent of the adult population in Iran is literate—a figure that is even higher among younger adults:  an estimated 97 percent for both males and females.

Map of Iran

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