The Ferdowsi Education Institute recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Kayhan Life visited the school and spoke to its president, Dr. Mahmoud Kavir.
Ferdowsi was founded 30 years ago with the help of the Iranian Society. It was originally housed within Acton High School in Ealing, West London. The school offers classes for elementary all the way up to A-Level students. Ferdowsi moved to the new Acton High School building after the old one was demolished.
In addition to classes in Farsi, Ferdowsi also teaches painting, calligraphy, theater, dance and music. Painting and dance were recently added subjects. The center also administers GCSE and A-level exams, as the U.K. officially approved Farsi language tests in both categories. Test results for students have been above 98 percent, with most achieving A-Star status.
Acton High School is in the process of becoming an academy, meaning it will close Saturdays. This originally posed a problem, since as a multicultural community, most schools in Ealing are full to capacity with students on Saturdays. Ferdowsi was eventually able to found a new home within the Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls in Ealing. The new location is only a couple of bus stops from Acton High School.
KL: How is the Ferdowsi Institute doing?
MK: We currently have a small number of students. We are, however, witnessing a rise in enrolment. We have enough students at the moment. There are four teachers at the school, in addition to those teaching special classes.
The number of students fluctuates all the time. We normally see a surge in enrolment with every new wave of immigrants and asylum seekers. The number usually declines after a while until the next group of families move into the greater London area.
We celebrate Mehregan, Yalda and Nowrouz at the school. We also offer calligraphy, counseling and psychology courses to parents. There is a children’s library on site which is operated by the parents.
KL: Would it be correct to say that you’ve been able to organize a community around the institute?
MK: That’s correct. Unfortunately, we don’t have a waiting room for parents at this new location. We are, however, negotiating for an additional room just for that purpose. Parents are not very happy about the new-set up. We always consult parents and vice versa. They are involved in every aspect of the school.
KL: How do parents help the school?
MK: Encouraging and supporting their children is the best help that parents can give our school. A few years ago, the U.K. Department of Education decided to exclude Farsi from the list of standard foreign languages. Our institute and other schools with a Farsi curriculum organized a protest. We contacted media and collected signatures and ultimately succeeded in re-instituting Farsi as a standard foreign language.
We offer classes once a week on Saturdays. Our enthusiastic students and their parents are the key to our success. Children gain greater self-confidence by studying their native language and culture.
As Iranians, students should have a good understanding of Farsi. Their language capability would help them integrate quickly in Iranian society should they decide to return and live in their homeland. It is also a scientific fact that, by learning a second language, children excel in other subjects including math, physics and music.
Having a language certificate is a major part of the A Level. It increases the chances of a candidate to gain admission to major universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Having Farsi capability is an important addition to any job applicant’s curriculum vitae, particularly for those individuals who seek employment in Middle Eastern and Asian economic and financial sectors.
KL: What textbooks do you use?
MK: Up to GCSE level, we use text books that are printed by Sam Publications in Sweden. They have been in use for the past 20 years. These are the best Farsi textbooks outside Iran. I teach GCSE and A-Level Farsi myself. The U.K. Department of Education doesn’t publish any textbooks for our purposes.
I have 30 years of experience in the field of education. I design the tests a month before the exams in four areas of language proficiency, including reading, writing, understanding and fluency. To prepare the students, I go over the previous year’s tests with them a month before the exams. I also share relevant studies available on the internet with the students.
They also learn how to work in Farsi on their computers, which is exciting and strengthens their language capability. At times I task them to access Iranian news sites and get their response to certain reports. The exercise improves their Farsi and develops their general knowledge about Iran.