Saturday, November 28, 2009
Entering the Iranian public universities is a prestigious event, especially if you rank #1 amongst over a million participants in a 6 hour (that's how long it was in my days) race to give correct answers to a multiple-choice questionnaire, testing you for every minute detail of what you have had to learn during 4 years of high-school.
In my days, 1989, we would start preparing for this at the beginning of the last year of highschool. Preparation meant taking "concours" classes, private tutors, and practicing a gzillion multiple-choice tests. (I was never a very disciplined and studious kid, so I hardly did any of that; but this is what my rich friends did. I was lucky to not be studious or else I would have envied their financial means; because there was no way in hell my parents would hire me a teacher to practice Modern Math or Literature! I was allowed to 10 sessions of tutoring (for my whole last year); and that was only to ask them questions that I could not solve myself. (I learned many years later that the tutors respected me for this and thought I would succeed academically, despite my poor performance in school!)
The year of my concours, 1989, is what makes this story particularly and personally significant for me. The story is of a boy (Rastegar Rahmani-Tanha), in a rural city (Javanroud) in one of the kurdish provinces of Iran (Kermanshah). It seems he was born in the same year that I graduated from highschool. Technically, he could be my son; since I have friends, classmates, whose children were participating in this year's concours. But it is none of the children of my wealthy fussy friends who have been developing ulcer over how their kids will rank, but this rural boy who has ranked #1. He has his highschool diploma in Math & Physics and has now ranked #1 in the Life Science competition. He has also ranked #1 in the foreign languages. He wants to become a doctor and serve his people. He attributes his success to hard work: 12-hour long study days and incessantly practicing test books.
I wish to put cynicism aside for a minute, and ignore the fact that IRNA has run this story, and ignore the possibility that this is another one of Ahmadinejadist's propaganda games. I wish to ignore the story on Tabnak, that is very different from IRNA's version as well.
According to Tabnak, Rastegar graduated from highschool 6 years ago (in this case, he cannot have been born in 1989); did not participate in concours for 3 years (Rahmani refuses to talk about his reasons); participated and ranked #30 in the Math and Engineering competition (still a very high honour) but could not go to university as he had to do his military service; and that his record-breaking performance in this years concours made the Organization of Evaluation of Education (the organization that holds concours) suspicious--because he had a low highschool GPA--and made him repeat the exam. He performed well in the second exam as well, thus granted full honors.
The Kurdish bloggers are jubilant. I too want to be happy for the triumph of this boy and share the joy this news is spreading in Iran's Kurdestan--where the ghost of Ehsan Fattahian is still hovering; where Zeynab Jalalian, a 27 years old woman, is scheduled to be killed one of these days.
Truth is, Iran's rural and poor regions often produce some of the most resilient and best talented citizens of the country--this is why despite the brain-drain which has been happening for at least a thousand years--Iran never depletes of creativity and intelligence.