E-learning: Promoting Democracy for Iranian Citizens

with Mariam Memarsadeghi of Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society

E-learning provides an opportunity for people to learn in place. Mariam Memarsadeghi of Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society shares how the E-Collaborative for Civic Education is working to promote democracy and human rights across the globe.

Posted on:

Jul 31, 2019

Hosted by: Nathalia Ortiz
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Ortiz: The use of E-Learning platforms to educate and inform has grown over the years, affording access to information for people across the globe. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Nathalia Ortiz. Online resources also provide a means to empower others in the global community toward greater rights and freedoms regardless of boundaries like geography and culture. Joining me to talk about the impact of E-Learning is Mariam Memarsadeghi. She's the co-founder of Tavaana, the E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society. Welcome.

Memarsadeghi: Thank you so much.

Ortiz: Tell us why this is needed, especially in the Iranian culture or in your country.

Memarsadeghi: Well, in places like Iran, where there is very severe limitations on freedom of expression, civil society, the organizing of civic groups, academic freedom, the online possibilities can offer a way to penetrate and get past the censorship of the regime to make people, ordinary people, but especially activists, dissidents, labor organizers, feminist organizers, student movement more empowered and more knowledgeable about how their counterparts in other countries around the world have pursued freedom through movements for democracy.

Ortiz: So, how do they find you, and not just -- Because I'm assuming you also are working with Iranian people that are in the United States, as well as in Iran. Explain to us a little bit more.

Memarsadeghi: Yeah. Our teachers -- So, we teach classes about democracy and human rights and civil society, and the teachers are actually living across the globe, so a lot of them are university professors or human rights defenders who've had to leave Iran. And they live all across the world, and they reach people inside the country, their students inside the country through our platforms. And the students from inside the country -- and they can be all different ages, backgrounds, geography within Iran -- they come into the classrooms with an anonymous user ID that we provide to them. But we also reach a whole lot of people --

Ortiz: Why anonymous?

Memarsadeghi: Anonymous to keep them safe. So, if the government knows that people are taking classes like this, it poses a big risk for those people inside the country.

Ortiz: If the Iranian government knows?

Memarsadeghi: Yes, yes. so far, we've had absolutely zero problems, no arrests because of our activity, and we're coming upon 10 years of training people, many thousands trained. And then we reach millions every day through our social media platforms. So, we take recordings of those classes, audio books, e-books, case studies, video that we receive from people inside the country -- say there's a sit-in or a labor strike -- and then we push that back out to all of Iran through our social media platforms, , reaching many millions of people every day.

Ortiz: How would you say this has impacted those Iranian people throughout the world?

Memarsadeghi: Well, it's affected their knowledge and consciousness about their own rights, about their responsibility to other people within Iran, about their own capacity to create a movement for an open society, for a democratic future. General awareness about universal rights, but also about topics that have been heavily censored by the Iranian regime that are kind of unique or peculiar to that context. For example, the Iranian regime doesn't allow people to know about the Holocaust.

Ortiz: Okay.

Memarsadeghi: We teach a lot about that. Or they don't allow people to be aware of religious freedom principles and to know about the persecution of minorities inside the country. So we teach about that. We get the word out about that through all different kinds of means. So, some of it is more academic and scholarly, but a lot of it is really very accessible to anybody.

Ortiz:Yeah, just everyday information that people need in their day-to-day lives.

Memarsadeghi: Exactly.

Ortiz: Do you really see this as something, realistically, that people can take beyond just the notebooks and the textbooks and put into practice?

Memarsadeghi: I do. I mean, a lot of what we teach are just very basic skills about activism] and being a more capable civic leader, community organizer. But also, we have this project called Tavaana, but we also have Tavaana Tech, which provides people with circumvention tools so they can get around the blocks that the government has created. So, they can access the Internet in general. Everything.

Ortiz: So, the Internet blocks is what you're saying?

Memarsadeghi: Yes. Everything out there. And also to protect themselves from surveillance from the regime online.

Ortiz: So, Mariam, where can people go if they want to find out more information?

Memarsadeghi: Oh, they can go to our web site -- tavaana.org/en.

Ortiz: Thank you so much.

Memarsadeghi: Thank you.

Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community, you can go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Nathalia Ortiz.

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