Demographic Swings and Early Childhood Education in Iran
In recent years Iran has greatly expanded its early childhood education program, taking first place in the Middle East in preschool enrolment. In this paper we examine the reasons for the unusual expansion and argue that it is in large part an institutional response to demographic changes in Iran, notably the sharp fertility decline of the 1990s. Fertility declined from more than 6 births per woman in the 1980s to about 2 in 2004, while during the same period kindergarten enrollments increased from less than 10 percent of 5 year old children to nearly one half of the population. Economists usually think of the effect of the reduction in fertility on child schooling in terms of a trade-off between quantity and quality. In their models both fertility decline and rising investment in child education are attributed to choices made by families to substitute quality for quantity of children. In the case of Iran, expansion of pre-school education appears to have an institutional explanation. In the early 1990s, following the decline in primary school enrolments in early 1990s, itself caused by fertility decline a few years earlier, caused a surplus of primary school teachers. In an attempt to preserve primary school teachers’ jobs, public schools worked together with parents to set up kindergarten classes in public schools, even though pre-primary education was not part of their official mandate.
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