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Iceland - Summary

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Compulsory education in Iceland is targeted for all children between the ages of 6 and 16, with those desiring to continue their education beyond the compulsory period pursuing programs of study of various forms in upper-secondary schools. A matriculation certificate from an Icelandic general academic upper-secondary school or an equivalent from an abroad institution is necessary for admission to a higher education institution. There are also a number of technical, vocational, and specialized upper-secondary schools that prepare students to enter the workforce upon completion of required class work and supervised practical experiences. Higher education is offered at three universities in Iceland and several colleges provide training in the arts, agriculture, technology, pre-school education, and physical education.

The majority of Icelandic schools at all levels are fully supported by the State (over 90 percent), yet private schools have become more common. Students with special education needs are usually taught in inclusive-type classrooms, with less than 1 percent of the special needs population educated in separate schools. More than 80 percent of Icelandic children between the ages of 3 and 5 are enrolled in fee-based pre-compulsory education.

The Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture generally oversees the curriculum and publishes a National Curriculum Guide for all levels of compulsory education and for both vocational and academic upper-secondary education. The curriculum guides also contain recommendations pertaining to teaching and assessment; however, teachers actually choose their own methods of classroom assessment and may adopt preferred instructional methods. No general legislation governs higher education in Iceland, but each institution is held accountable to the Ministry. Laws define the mission of each institution with respect to education and research, the internal structure, and administrative roles. However, each university or college is granted relative autonomy to develop and update the aims, scope, and length of programs.

Icelanders have an admirable respect for and interest in their past as well as a contemporary perspective that embodies enthusiasm for current trends and technology and careful planning for the future. Public education in Iceland combines a long history of devotion to learning, cultural values (tolerance, open-mindedness, responsibility to others), emphasis on the unique educational and socio-emotional needs of individual students, and appreciation for contemporary pedagogical knowledge.

Various cultural factors have unfortunately impeded the process of modernization of the educational system in the country over the last few decades. For example, the system has been one that has been highly regulated by a national government that has swayed considerably in terms of support for educational reform based on differing political party agendas. Another problem has been that language barriers have limited teachers' access to primary educational literature. Efforts to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the education system at all levels have been less than systematic. Further, Icelandic teachers have been underpaid and the profession has tended not to be one associated with high status.

Nevertheless, several recent trends suggest that the future will bring a respectable system to compete with the best educational systems in the world. These trends include the following: 1) unified effort on the part of the state and the public to more effectively replace traditional teaching practices with contemporary ones by developing specific methods for translating accepted theory into practice, 2) transfer of many educational operations from the state to the local level, 3) more focused effort to gather data on school effectiveness, teaching competence, and teacher training, 4) higher pay for teachers and higher status associated with the profession, and finally 5) enhanced interest and use of technology in the classroom.

Iceland has experienced profound cultural shifts over the course of the last century from gaining independence to radical changes in the economy. Compared to transformations that occurred relative to these other realms, modifications to the educational system have been far less dramatic. However, with the consciousness shared by the government, industry, businesses, and the public, it seems inevitable that Icelanders will work to put their ideas into practice.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Durrenberger, Paul, and Gisli Palsson, eds. An Anthropology of Iceland. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994.

Edelstein, Wolfgang. "The Rise and Fall of the Social Science Curriculum Project in Iceland, 1974-84: Reflections on Reason and Power in EducationalProgress." Journal of Curriculum Studies, 19 (1987), 1-23.

Edelstein, Wolfgang, and David Hopkins. "The Challenge of School Transformation: What Works." A paper circulated in relation to theInternational Workshop for School Transformation in Berlin (February 1998).

Gisli, Palsson, and Paul Durrenberger. Images of Contemporary Iceland: Everyday Lives and Global Contexts. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996.

Hjalmarsson, Jon. History of Iceland: From the Settlement to the Present Day. Reykjavik, 1994.

Hreinsdottir, Helga. "Distance Teaching at a Secondary School in Iceland." The Delta, Kappa, Gamma, 61 (Spring 1995), 55-58.

Jonasson, Jon Torfi. A Forecast of Diverse Aspects of Education in Iceland, 1985-2010. Reykjavik, 1990.

Ministry of Culture, Science and Education. "Culture and Education: A Foundation for the Future." Reykjavik, February 1996.

——. "Education and the Making of a New Society." Reykjavik, April 1996.

——. "The Educational System inIceland." Reykjavik, 1998.

Ministry of Culture and Education. "External Assessment of the University of Iceland, University College of Education, and University of Akureyri: Report of the Peer Review Group," March 1998.

Sigurgeirsson, Ingvar. "The Challenge of School Transformation: What Works." A paper circulated in relation to the International Workshop for School Transformation in Berlin (February 1998).

Taylor, Ronald. "Functional Uses of Reading and Shared Literacy Activitiesin Icelandic Homes: a Monograph in Family Literacy." Reading Research Quarterly, 30, (1995), 194-219.


—Priscilla Coleman

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