Hair cutting, beatings: Videos reveal brutal punishments at Iranian schools

·5-min read

School officials cutting students’ hair, slapping or punching them and hurling insults… These are some of the punishments inflicted on students at schools in Iran. Now thanks to smartphones, students are able to record videos of these incidents and share them online. Our Observer, a teacher in Iran, told us that although these types of punishments have become more rare in recent years, they still exist in some schools.

A video published on April 13 on an Iranian Telegram channel shows a shocking scene: a school vice-principal grabbing students by their hair and cutting pieces out at random. The video appears to have recorded by a student in a classroom above, looking down at the schoolyard.

The video, filmed at a school in Iran, shows a well-known form of punishment for boys.

Iran’s schools are gender segregated – male and female students go to completely different schools. Both boys and girls are expected to abide by a conservative dress code. Boys must maintain very short hair and modest outfits. Girls are required to wear loosely fitted dresses to hide their shape as well as headscarves. Make-up is out of the question.

When they don’t follow the dress code, students can be subject to strict discipline. The video above shows one common punishment for boys who wear their hair too long. After having random chunks of hair cut from their heads, these students will have no choice but to go to a barber and have their hair cut very short to fix it.

This video went viral on social media, attracting the attention of public officials. On April 16, the Iranian government announced that the vice-principal in the video had been suspended and would be investigated by the administrative court. Two other principals at the school resigned.

Haircutting isn’t the only type of punishment imposed on students. Teachers and school administrators have also been filmed hitting students and hurling insults at them. Our Observer says this type of punishment results from growing differences between students and teachers.

‘To become a teacher you either must be a conservative Muslim or a hypocrite’

Maryam (not her real name) is a teacher at a high school in a city in the south of Iran. She spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team on condition of anonymity to protect her job.

I would say that these types of punishments are more common in high schools than in other levels. They are also more likely to occur in boys’ schools rather than in girls’ ones.

Unfortunately, in some neighbourhoods in my city – mostly poor ones – principals in the boys’ schools openly walk around with sticks in their hands. They don’t hesitate to beat students with the sticks if they do something bad.

I’m a teacher in a poor region, in a school where the students are known to be difficult, but I never had even a minor problem because the students like me. However I do see that there are big issues in our school and other other ones around us.

I have to confess that the origin of the problem is in the system for hiring teachers in this country. There criteria for choosing teachers – the questions the Ministry of Education asks, the exams that teachers take, the way the ministry choosed teachers among candidates – have led to huge gaps between teachers and students. It’s more important to know everything about Sharia, rather than be familiar with child psychology and teaching methods.

To become a teacher you either must be a conservative Muslim or a hyprocrite, someone who pretends to be a pious Muslim in public but in private life is an ordinary person like anybody else. Most Iranians and their kids are not like this, they are not conservative and they may even be more aligned with what the Islamic Republic calls the “Western lifestyle.

Anyone who wants to be a teacher in Iran must have a high school degree, be able to pass a general exam, be Muslim and be able to read the Quran fluently. Candidates who check all these boxes have to undergo an interview that probes their political views, knowledge of Sharia and support for Islamic Republic policies. These questions can make or break their chances at becoming a teacher.

‘Teachers are alien to the kids’ world’

That’s even more problematic now, because the younger generations are so attached to their lifestyle. They listen to rap and hip hop, they don’t care about Islam or Sharia – they may even despise it – and they want to dress up like any other teenager around the world. So these conservative teachers, not only do not understand these children, they are totally alien to their world.

The teachers are mostly much older. They do not know the universe that these children live in. The teachers force them to change their lifestyle and to obey conservative Islamic rules, which sometimes leads to this kind of violence, as we see in the videos.

And, unfortunately, the situation in public schools in poor neighbours and poor suburbs is even worse than in private schools. One on hand it’s because the revenue of the school depends on money that the parents pay, while in the public school they just don’t care. On the other hand, they know these children’s parents are rich so they can pursue them legally.

Furthermore, I also think that teachers’ economic issues play a role here. Teachers are heavily undepaid. [Editor’s note: According to official statistics, Iranian teachers earn on average about 6 million toman, or about 200€, per month – just over the the minimum wage of 5.6 million toma or 186€]. The end of the month is difficult, so teachers are also not in a good place mentally. Most of them have to have a second job, so these pressures make them more likely to act with violence toward the kids, or with complete indifference toward them – if they study or not, if they have any problems or not… they just don't care.

Plus, I think the Covid-19 pandemic and distance learning has aggravated the situation. Kids are used to choosing the way they look without the school's pressures. After almost two years, they don’t want to change it.

In recent months, Iranian teachers have been organising widespread protests across the country, demanding increased salaries as well as the liberation of some teachers who were arrested due to former strikes or protests.

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