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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Iceland is a republic with a parliamentary democracy and a president elected for a four-year term by popular vote. The president functions as head of state but remains apolitical except when the two political parties fail to solve governmental crises. The Althing is a legislative body of 63 members elected by popular vote for a term of four years. With authority over finances, the Althing exercises considerable power over the executive branch of the government. The Althing also elects members of key committees and councils within state institutions. Local government is exercised by 162 separate municipalities.

Education in Iceland has historically been public with very few private institutions. Iceland's modern school system dates back to the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. In 1880, an education act required that all children be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and Christianity according to the Lutheran confession. The act stipulated that parents were responsible for teaching their children with supervision provided by the pastors of the Lutheran Church.

The first major education act, a bill establishing the basic objectives and policies to serve as the foundation of educational practices, was passed by the Althing in 1907. With the act, education became compulsory and free of charge for all children between the ages of 10 and 14. In addition, a regional and administrative structure was introduced whereby rural areas, towns, and villages were subdivided into educational districts. Each district was to have a primary school paid for and run by the local authorities with supplementary government funds available based on need. The central Education Office was ultimately responsible for supervising all types of public education, the provision of textbooks and equipment, appointing inspectors, and the administration of final exams. A commissioner of Education was assigned the role of directing and supervising public education for the whole country.

The 1946 education acts divided the school system into four levels (primary, lower-secondary, upper-secondary, and higher), established an entrance exam for upper-secondary education, and introduced a double-track vocational and academic system designed to divert a large number of students into the vocational fields. In 1955, the State assumed full responsibility for the industrial-vocational schools in order to secure the future of this form of education.

In the late 1960s controversy surrounding educational reform became heated and led to the Education Act of 1973, the Primary School Act and the School Systems Act both of 1974, and other reforms during the 1970s. This legislation formed the basis of the contemporary educational system. In addition to providing all citizens the right to free compulsory (primary and lower-secondary), upper-secondary, and higher education, the various laws extended the compulsory education to grade 9, provided for municipalities to develop preschool classes for 5- to 6-year-olds, and enabled the establishment of an experimental comprehensive high school designed to balance the status of the two tracks (general academic and vocational) within one school.

Legislation adopted in 1995 and 1996 requires all compulsory and upper-secondary schools adopt methods for systematically evaluating the following components of educational practice: instruction and administrative practices, internal communication, and external relations. These methods of self-evaluation are examined by the Ministry in five-year cycles. Further, new legislation concerning compulsory schools placed the responsibility of operation with the local municipalities.

Educational discourse in the context of reform movements throughout the past few decades has revolved around topics such as active learning, mixed-ability grouping, hands-on math and science, thematic studies, projects and topic work, group work, peer tutoring, moral and social education programs, the whole language approach, and team teaching. Reform discussions have focused on school-based curriculum development, constructivist teaching and learning, performance-based assessment, teaching for multiple intelligences, learning styles, problem-based learning, life skills programs, inclusion, quality control and school self-evaluation, and information technology.

In 1996 the Ministry published a policy document regarding the role of information technology in education. Among the plans outlined was an extensive integration of information technology into instruction at all educational levels. All students are to have access to computers and high quality software.

Further, in 1998 the Ministry announced an ambitious education initiative with new school policy for compulsory and upper-secondary schools designed to provide Icelandic students with an education that is comparable to the best systems worldwide. The policy represents a concerted effort to create an efficient and flexible system that enables focused attention directed toward meeting the needs of individual students, and increased choices for students, while fostering academic discipline, good working skills, healthy competition, and enhanced student initiative and responsibility.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceIceland - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education