Fari Khabirpour is a registered doctoral psychologist and psychotherapist. He is an expert in child psychology with a focus on how children react to pressure, fear and threat, as well as how they perceive risk. Fari Khabirpour explores relationships within families and society and how families/children are affected by internal/external stressors. As a former director of CPOS, he has many years of experience with students, parents and teachers, and has analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of Luxembourg's educational system. His focus is centered around children and adolescents who are lacking social maturity and emotional development, and exhibit behavioral problems, such as depression and suicidal thoughts. Fari Khabirpour is currently involved in suicide prevention research and has published extensively on the matter.
Born in Teheran, Iran in November 1951
Moved to Luxembourg in 1959
Married and father of three children
Education & Training
European School, Luxembourg
Studies of clinical psychology at the University of Zürich
Doctoral graduate in educational psychology from the University of Zürich
Three years training in Adlerian psychotherapy at the Alfred Adler Institute in Zürich
Director of the SOS Children's Villages in Mersch/Luxembourg
Director of CPOS (Center of psychology and school guidance), Ministry of Education, Luxembourg
Director of the Detention Center, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Luxembourg
Private psychotherapy practice
German, French, Luxembourgish, English, Farsi
Author of books and numerous articles in national and international publications on i.a. early childhood education & societal issues
Co-founder and former chairman of the Luxembourg Adlerian Institute of Holistic Psychology
Founder of Peace-Factory (Youth camps) and promotor of baha’i-inspired spiritual, intellectual and social empowerment programs for youth
Fari Khabirpour is a registered doctoral psychologist and psychotherapist. He is the author of the book "Halt mich fest und lass mich los" (Hold me close and let me go)
The "Luxemburger Wort" interviewed Dr. Fari Khabirpour (approximate translation)
Society has changed enormously in recent years. It seems that adults are under constant pressure. How has this development affected children?
We are witnessing the expansion of a materialistic worldview linked to increasing individualism. There is a lack of awareness that we form a community and that we all have to contribute to the progress of society. This growing egocentricity negatively impacts children. For children, it is extremely important to have a sense of belonging to a community. Many children feel isolated and abandoned because of growing egocentricity and are increasingly sad, even depressed -to an extent that we have never experienced before. We are increasingly emphasising characteristics such as competition and rivalry - also at school. Comparisons lead to a feeling of loneliness and fear. The fear of failing, of not being good enough, not strong enough.
Yes, it goes without saying that adults' attitudes towards children, society and life in general affect children. Parents who have a positive self-image and are satisfied with their lives also positively impact their children. However, many parents live in fear that their children will not find their way in the world and put undue pressure on them. Moreover, we are very strongly focused on mistakes. So is our school system. This is the case because we are constantly confronted with negative information. “The other” is often viewed as a threat. This makes communication difficult and complicates relationships. I also meet more and more children who no longer want to live. Suicide among children has increased in recent years. They are no longer in touch with life and have the feeling that “nobody wants me”. Many parents come to me and want me to work with their child. But that's not always the point. The solution often includes work on parents to find their way back to themselves. This will positively impact their family and children.
Doesn't society as a whole need to be aware of this erroneous development, especially in politics?
I don't want to criticise politicians here, but it is important that politics deal with issues that are fundamental to society. Education policy should be the first priority. I do not feel that is the case. In politics, other issues are usually prioritized: economics, finance, security. Politicians are more concerned about whether their decisions satisfy people in the short term and whether they increase their own popularity. What is missing in politics are visions as to how we prepare children for the world to come, to make them stronger, to develop their potential and to reflect on the priorities of education policy. The most important ministry should be the Ministry of Education. All efforts must be directed towards how the education system can be improved.
So you are saying that our education system is not optimal. What should change?
Our education system is focused on the acquisition of basic cognitive skills: reading, writing, arithmetic. If this is successful, we believe that our education system has achieved its goals. This is a very narrow view of the human being. Intelligence is more than cognitive intelligence. A person is intelligent if he or she also has emotional, social, artistic and creative skills. We also talk about spiritual intelligence. It is often achieved when we learn to put the common good before personal good. The person who puts his or her abilities at the disposal of the community benefits from this sense of sharing/contributing. Today, the reverse is true, since the spiritual intelligence of people is not developed. Spiritual intelligence is born of a process of maturation. We need to support children in the development of these abilities, for example through service activities where children invest themselves in the good of the school community and take responsibility. Subjects such as human rights and democracy must be further taught in schools.
School curricula are already overloaded at present...
That is always the argument: we cannot include these subjects in the curriculum, otherwise there is not enough time for language and mathematics teaching.
This is an error of reasoning. When children feel accepted and encouraged in their overall personality, they learn faster. All forms of intelligence are interconnected.
Shouldn't school curricula be urgently cleaned up and reduced to the essentials, which can then be taught and used in an interactive manner?
Absolutely. At school, children receive information that is too one-sided and knowledge that is not applied in a practical manner. That is why the knowledge acquired is lost so quickly. Knowledge has to be applied in a practical or hands-on manner in order for it to become firmly established. A few years ago it was investigated whether students in formal or classical education had a higher IQ
than students in technical or modular education. The conclusion was that this was not the case. Students in modular education are as intelligent as students in conventional classical education. The question must therefore be asked why there are not more students in mainstream or classical education.
And what is the answer to this question?
The intelligence on which we base ourselves and which we test is not a determining factor for academic success. Success in our school system is based on those who know how to adapt and who are encouraged and supported by their families. Social circumstances play a major role, and the migratory context is also crucial to students' progress. It has been known for many years that children with a migrant background have difficulties in the Luxembourg school system... We have an increasing number of children from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, but our system is failing to integrate these children. Language plays an important role in this context. But language is also often an obstacle for Luxembourgish children. The problem is that our children are not educated in their mother tongue. This is also one of the reasons why the results of the PISA survey in Luxembourg are comparatively poor. This has nothing to do with the fact that our children are less intelligent, but because they face language barriers. They are taught in a foreign language. Luxembourgish needs to be taught more and from the very beginning in schools. In basic education, the emphasis must be placed on the Luxembourgish language. It must be used more in the classroom, it must be learned correctly. I would also attach more importance to English, because this language has essentially become a universal language and is considered today's language of science.
But Luxembourgish is not a particularly precise language ...
It is not precise because it has been neglected. But it can become precise. It is the language of the heart. It must be perfected. And a language only develops if it is needed and if it is valued. That hasn’t often enough been the case. In fact, I notice that many Luxembourgers feel inferior. That has to do with the language. Language shapes our thinking, our vision of the world, our emotional
world. If I don't take my own language seriously, because I consider it to be a dialect, and if I don't have a good command of the foreign languages I have acquired, it creates a feeling of inferiority. This does not affect people who can easily express themselves in other languages. Students with language deficits are unlikely to be referred to mainstream or classical education.
What do you think about the orientation of pupils after elementary education?
Guidance and orientation should be fundamentally rethought and possibly redefined. Even if nowadays parents and psychologists are involved in the decision alongside teachers, this does not change the fact that it is the children's linguistic and mathematical skills that determine whether they are oriented towards classical, technical or modular education. It is not good to steer students in a certain direction at such an early age. We know that much can still change. It would be better to have a common program until the age of 16.
A fundamental change in our school system is needed so that orientation is not based on cognitive skills alone. We need to widen skills. Later on in the workplace, we will not just look at the diploma, but we will demand other skills, including human skills. Students in technical education believe they are less intelligent than students in classical education. Parents are under pressure and want their children to be oriented towards classical education at all costs, since technical education is worth less to them. In our society, technical and manual learnings are considered inferior to intellectual learnings. However, a student with manual skills is no less intelligent or less valuable than a pupil with intellectual skills.
Teachers are increasingly dealing with difficult students. Are they sufficiently prepared for their complex task?
Teachers often do their best, but they are not sufficiently prepared for reality, at least secondary school teachers. Training is too focused on the teacher's ability to discipline and teachers identify very strongly with their subject matter. They do not say: "I am a teacher", but: "I am a math, French or history teacher. »
Certainly, they are learning how to organize their classes. But this is not enough to successfully pass on knowledge to students. At the beginning teachers are highly motivated, but if this doesn't work, they quickly develop prejudices against the students. Instead of questioning their teaching, they label students as stupid or lazy. This creates a false image, but thinking this way reassures the teacher. In addition to professional and pedagogical training, teachers should have knowledge of developmental psychology and psychology in general. This aspect is far too neglected. Teachers need to know how to communicate with students who have problems and how to motivate students who do not believe in themselves. In their training, future teachers need to be given a positive image of
students. Often, they already have a negative image of students, based on fear, when they first come in front of the class. Communication in the classroom is important, as well as communication between students so that they can help each other. Students are a resource with skills, not an empty container to be filled.
Aren't we faced with a continuous decline in performance, because even those who have potential don't develop it, because not enough is demanded of them?
Yes. We need to motivate children to make an effort again. Many are not sufficiently stimulated at home either. We do a lot of things for our children, we organize everything for them. For this reason it is not easy for teachers to work with students who come to school without enthusiasm and who avoid any effort. Two things are important: children must learn that effort is part of life, but
for this they must be involved in activities. On the other hand, it is the teacher's job to make sure that the student develops a relationship with the subject, that he or she can see the meaning of it. This goes beyond the practical relationship.
INTERVIEW : MICHÈLE GANTENBEIN
(LUX. WORT, 13.1.2020)
INTERVIEW LA REVUE (6 January 2021): "The crisis has made us evolve" (approximate translation)
Despite the persistent Covid-19 pandemic, or perhaps because of it, change will now be possible with regard to the foundations of politics, society, the economy and interpersonal relations. Psychologist Fari Khabirpour sees this as a good opportunity. For the second time, we are entering a phase of confinement, the second wave of the pandemic being much stronger than the first last spring. What are the side effects?
One of the first side effects is fear. People are afraid of the virus and the danger that comes with it. For months now, we have been confronted daily with negative news, warnings and information about the increasing number of people infected with coronavirus disease and the increasing number of people who have died. But this fear of the highly contagious virus, whose consequence can be a terrible illness and, in some cases, death, can be more damaging to health than the virus itself, because it weakens the psyche and, consequently, the human body. I certainly understand the willingness of politicians and virologists to inform people. However, this fear is used in some countries to control people more easily. In general, anxious people are easier to control.
... and to manipulate. But the government of a democratic country like Luxembourg can hardly be accused of deliberately rendering its citizens insecure.
Certainly not. In democratic societies, restrictions on freedom are enacted to protect the general public, but in authoritarian states they serve to increase the power of the rulers. In such political systems, the pandemic is likely to be misused to exercise greater control. People then no longer dare to say what they think. This is not the case in democratic systems. Nevertheless, fear is used. If we apply the example of fear to education, it is like telling a child that he should never run in the street, as he could be run over by a car. In this case, the child learns to be frightened of cars, instead of being taught the rules of the road, which would actually make him/her safer.
Would human beings, or humanity as a whole, be what they are if fear did not exist? From an evolutionary point of view, fear has a protective function essential to survival. It sharpens the senses and teaches us appropriate behaviour in the face of danger.
Yes, but when education focuses exclusively on fear, children become fearful beings. Fear is generally not a good companion. Paradoxically, one wants to protect someone from danger, but in doing so one produces danger, which in turn increases the danger. We constantly live in expectation that something bad will happen. It is precisely this expectation (the power of anticipation) that attracts danger. This is why fear is a negative psychological side effect of this pandemic. Instead, people should be properly informed so that they acquire knowledge and ideas, and then be careful, i.e. use their heads and not react emotionally. Caution is something other than fear.
Is the obligation to wear a mask frightening?
As long as the rationale and purpose are explained, it is not. Wearing a mask or keeping a physical distance is accepted by many people.
Although the government regularly informs about the state of the pandemic, it is criticised for a lack of transparency.
At the moment, I can't blame our government for anything. The same goes for the virologists. Indeed, they too had to research the virus first. Before, SARS-CoV-2 was the big unknown. Since it was unknown, this uncertainty also came to light. It is the fear of something foreign. For a long time, people didn't know how dangerous the virus was. In addition, the information that the virus does not only attack the lungs, but also other organs, spread only slowly.
There is still uncertainty about vaccinations. Many people view them with skepticism or even reject them.
What we are experiencing now with vaccinations, we have experienced before with the virus. Some scientists claim that vaccination will not help. Before that, some also claimed that compulsory masks would be useless. There is still a lot of uncertainty about the risk of infection for people who have been vaccinated. This suits opponents of vaccination as well as those who deny the existence of the virus. However, tests have shown that the vaccine protects more than 90%.
Does this hide a deeper skepticism towards science or, more generally, is it not asking too much of some people?
It's extraordinary what scientists have discovered in such a short time. In my opinion, science and faith in science should come out of the crisis strengthened.
Even if many people remain skeptical?
Most people believe that measures based on scientific evidence are correct. Of course, there are also those who continue to deny the existence of the virus.
Are there positive aspects of the coronavirus crisis? Have we learned from it?
The scientific successes that have been achieved through international cooperation can already be seen as positive. In this respect, the crisis has enabled us to move forward, because it has helped us to overcome nationalist thinking, like "America first" or "me first", for example.
But the end of the populist movement does not seem to be in sight yet, even though Donald Trump lost the election in the United States. Moderate governments also tend to have similar reflexes. In the early days of the pandemic, for example, borders were closed. Each country acted somewhat on a 'every man for himself' basis, taking action in its own interest first.
Many people still cling to self-centred attitudes and points of view. But the crisis has shown us that we depend on each other, that the virus does not stop at national borders, that it does not distinguish between people from East and West, South and North. And that nothing can work without solidarity and cooperation, even at the international level. On the issue of vaccinations, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) took the initiative in April to ensure that both rich and poor countries have access to effective vaccines. This initiative is supported, among others, by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As one of the world's largest purchasers of vaccines, Gavi is able to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers and reduce the cost of vaccines.
To protect people in their own countries, governments must also ensure that people in other countries are protected. Without international cooperation, this is not possible. This is particularly true in the case of the climate crisis, which is a much bigger crisis. This shows that this is the only way to solve global crises.
As in the coronavirus crisis, there are "climate crisis deniers" who question the scientific evidence.
Indeed, there is still a great deal of scepticism towards science.
Is there progress in human relations because of the crisis?
Progress has also been made in this area of human relations. Once again, we have seen that we are dependent on everyone's help. I think that we have at least been made aware in the sense that we should pay more attention to the weaker, more vulnerable people who are not so well off because they are old or sick or have a disability. Another example: the crisis has caused economic difficulties for people working in restaurants, for example. Some restaurant owners tell us that they are experiencing a wave of solidarity, with more food being ordered at home. This too is a positive sign. So not only do we realise that we need help ourselves, but also that others need it.
At the beginning of the pandemic, during the first confinement, many people were stockpiling supplies en masse. These tended to prove the opposite: every man for himself!
Which, once again, can be explained by fear.
Social distancing" (physical distancing) meant that many people died alone, tied to a respirator in a hospital or nursing home. Is death still taboo?
Yes, this taboo seems to be part of our culture. Death frightens many people, which makes relationships between people more difficult, as the subject is not discussed. But we should talk about it and maybe rethink our own relationship with death and consider it as something natural. This does not mean, however, that we should trivialise it. At least the fear of death should be reduced. But I don't know if the crisis will change anything in this respect. We must at least learn some lessons from it, including that people should not be left to die and isolated. Indeed, people need love, closeness and relationships. We have now talked mainly about older people. But this also applies to children and young people. They are just as dependent upon the community. They suffer to the same extent from isolation. The “other”, whether younger or older, is a person like me who has similar needs.
But if, at some point, and hopefully soon, the crisis will be over, isn't there a risk of a return to old habits?
There is a danger of quickly falling back into our old relational habits. The new way of relating to others has not yet really taken root. But we now have the chance to build something new, whether in politics, in society or in the economy.
This crisis will hopefully help us to understand that we are all citizens of one country, the Earth, and that we are all dependent on mutual help. Only when this awareness and the corresponding sense of solidarity are developed will it be possible to resolve many of the problems that weigh heavily on us today. This crisis will continue to help us overcome all the prejudices that still painfully separate and divide the inhabitants of our planet - and not only because of the virus.
Interview: Stefan Kunzmann & Photos: Georges Noesen