- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Atiyeh Vahidmanesh: Education Inequality in the Middle East

  • Isabella Gordillo
| Fall/Winter 2014 -15

Atiyeh Vahidmanesh became inspired to focus her research on the inequality of educational opportunity after hearing her Virginia Tech advisor and former Belfer Center Visiting Scholar, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, speak on the issue at a seminar. Salehi-Isfahani also introduced her to the Belfer Center, where she then applied for a research fellowship with the Middle East Initiative through its new Emirates Leadership Initiative. Vahidmanesh, a PhD student in economics at Virginia Tech, describes her research as an interdisciplinary between economics and education.

“The educational system is an important institution that facilitates vertical mobility,” Vahidmanesh says, adding that in parts of the Middle East there is a sense of unfairness in this system. “I think this unfairness can help explain the uprisings in that region,” she says, noting that her research explores how a broken educational system affects political activities.

Vahidmanesh is looking at policies in Middle Eastern countries that explain prominent inequalities in educational opportunity. She hopes her findings can help develop policies to decrease this gap. Her research includes analysis of test scores of 4th and 8th graders around the world.

One of Vahidmanesh’s many goals is to understand the effects of tracking, or grouping of students based on their ability, which is incorporated into most educational systems around the world today. She is determined to provide findings that will improve the lives of disadvantaged families in the Middle East. “There is literature in education and economics that says tracking may increase the inequality of educational opportunity,” she says. She aims to test whether that is true and why. She also plans to explore the effect of school privatization on inequality in student learning and achievement.

Before obtaining her master’s degree in the United States, Vahidmanesh lived in Iran and volunteered to teach high school courses in the homes of disadvantaged students with no access to schools. John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and John Roemer’s Equality of Opportunity fuel Vahidmanesh’s research. Their theories, she says, argue that “any inequality that arises based on the gender, or the birthplace of a person, or another circumstance, which is not under control of that player, is not justifiable.”

“Whenever I talk about the inequality of opportunity, I talk about this concept.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Gordillo, Isabella. Atiyeh Vahidmanesh: Education Inequality in the Middle East.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Fall/Winter 2014 -15).

The Author

Isabella Gordillo