Up to 40,000 Ahwazi Arab elementary school students in Omidiyeh (Ghunetria), 100km southeast of Ahwaz City, have been excluded from school for failing Farsi language proficiency, even though for most it is a foreign language.
According to reports from inside Iran, this week the indigenous Arab boys and girls aged six to 11 years went to school ready for the new academic year, only to discover they were bring denied education because they cannot understand Iran's official language.
The parents and children are protesting against the exclusion, concerned that they will lose out economically in later life. The exclusion is also regarded by Ahwazi rights activists as a breach of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Although the Iranian constitution recognises the right of non-Persian Iranian citizens to learn in their mother tongue, in the Ahwaz region there are no Arabic medium schools. The discrimination within the education system means that a high proportion of Ahwazi Arab children leave school early.
At a round-table discussion on the rights of linguistic minorities attended by UN Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Ahwazi Arab human rights activist Amir Saedi said: "Indigenous Ahwazi students drop out of schools at a rate of 30% at elementary level, 50% at secondary and 70% at high school because they are forced to study the 'official language', Farsi, a language which is not their own.
"The learning of Arabic is confined to religious study and is commonly classical Arabic rather than the local dialect. Consequently, Ahwazi Arabs are often semi-literate in their native language, but struggle with learning in a language that is foreign to them."
The rate of illiteracy among Ahwazi Arabs is four times the national average in Iran. Illiteracy among men is 30-40% and among rural women it is as high as 80%. The result is generations of poorly educated Ahwazi Arabs with little hope of social mobility or economic improvement.
Low levels of literacy exacerbate the problem of poverty, which has fuelled social unrest in the Ahwaz region. Although presidential candidates, including President Rouhani, and politicians have all pledged to improve native language education, no progress has been made in securing Ahwazi Arabs' constitutional right to linguistic equality.