Iran has gone into fierce competition with Russia over Syria’s education sector. This was most recently reflected in a Damascus statement on Russia offering 500 scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate programs in various fields for the academic year (2020-2021).
The announcement was a few days after Iranian Education Minister Mohsen Hajimirzaei voiced his country’s efforts to introduce the Persian language to schools in Syria.
Hajimirzaei stressed the importance of including the Persian language in the Syrian educational system in order to strengthen the prospects of joint cooperation.
The Syrian and Iranian Ministries of Education had signed a Memo of Understanding (MoU) on exchanging expertise and experiences in the scientific and educational fields, as well as in providing technical and engineering services and rehabilitating schools in a way that contributes to developing the educational process in the two countries.
Syria’s Education Minister Imad al-Azab told journalists that the signature of the Memo is a step in the right direction for rehabilitating and developing the capacity of teachers, exchanging expertise and rehabilitating schools and supporting the educational process by the two countries.
The introduction of the Persian language into the educational system in Syria comes about 4 years after Damascus included the Russian language as a second optional language, in addition to the English and French languages.
Although Iran has already undertaken many school renovation projects, especially in the countryside of Aleppo, it is the first time that it has announced its readiness to renovate schools.
Hajimirzaei’s statements came under a wave of criticism from Iranian activists who pointed to Iran’s crumbling schools that are in need of renovation.
Iranian government reports indicate that about 160,000 of the country’s classrooms are unsafe, and 30% of schools in Iran are either collapsed or in need of renovation.
Meanwhile, Syrians considered Iran's entry into the Syrian government education sector a "catastrophe", in contrast to the competing Russian entry, as learning the Russian language is well received by the majority of Syrians.