Tyranny of numbers

Choosing a college

Posted in Education, General by Djavad on April 25, 2009

I was not able to write on this weblog last week because I was visiting colleges with my daughter to help her choose where she will enroll next year.  Having grown up in Iran, it is impossible to have your children go through the US system without thinking about how different they are, even though Iran’s is more or less modelled after the western education system.  So, it seems appropriate to write something about the big contrast in the transition from high school to college in the two countries, which happens to be on my mind this week and which is what I do in my research. (See my commentary on concour reform, on women in universities, and a longer paper on Iranian youth.)

There is no greater contrast between the two systems of education than in how they select students for college.  We know how this is done in Iran. Students work hard to get good grades, which helps them go into successively more selective schools which is all to increase the chance of getting a high score in the Big Test–Iran’s infamous concour. Iran’s system receives praise for its objectivity (computers not humans grade the test) and for its selectivity (more than a million take the test and the top universities pick from the top 1% (hear a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter visiting Iran praise the concour’s selectivity–past minute 8).  What proponents of Iran’s concour miss are the costs of objectivity and selectivity. (more…)