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Iceland

Educational System—overview


Consistent with an overall philosophy of education based on tolerance, Christian values, and democratic-cooperation, perhaps the most fundamental principle embedded in the history of the Icelandic education system is that equal access to education should be granted to all irrespective of sex, economic status, area of residence, religion, physical handicap, cultural or social background. In recent years, carefully considered and articulated general aims of the education system in Iceland have been to encourage and preserve Icelandic culture, history, and language and to ensure that the Icelandic education compares favorably to the education provided by the leading nations in the world. Clear objectives have been specified to focus programs toward achieving these broad goals with the Ministry receiving widespread political and popular support for their efforts.

School attendance is obligatory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16 in Iceland. Those desiring to continue their education beyond the compulsory period attend various specialized schools or upper-secondary schools. Students can enroll in four-year secondary schools at age 16, with graduation entitling the student to admission to a university. There are also a number of technical, vocational, and specialized schools. Approximately 74 percent of the Icelanders under the age of 29 participate in Iceland's formal education system. This includes more than 42,000 young people of compulsory education age (6-16).

The language of instruction is Icelandic, and all educational institutions are publicly funded. Although the majority of schools are fully supported by the State, 6 percent are private grant-aided institutions (operated by nongovernment agencies but receiving a portion of their finance through the public sector). Students with special education needs are most typically integrated into the main stream classrooms, with only .3 percent of the special needs students educated in separate schools.

Preprimary education in Iceland is available on a fee basis and focuses on the developmental and educational needs of children between the ages of 1 and 5. More than 80 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 5 are enrolled in pre-compulsory education.

Children are admitted to compulsory education at age 6, with students usually attending their local school. Parents are permitted to transport their children to a more distant district. In the rural areas, children frequently attend boarding schools. Tuition and textbooks are free of charge at the compulsory level. Students in compulsory education are not grouped according to ability and no formal division is made between primary and lower-secondary education. However, students at the primary level have one teacher; whereas, lower-secondary school students have different teachers for each subject area.

The Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture oversees the curriculum and publishes a National Curriculum Guide. Core subjects include Icelandic (grammar and literature), mathematics, foreign languages, natural science, social science, religious study, arts and crafts, and physical education, with compulsory swimming practice. The curriculum guide also contains recommendations pertaining to assessment, progression, and examinations. Teachers select their own methods of classroom assessment and may adopt preferred instructional methods. The National Centre for Educational Materials publishes and distributes teaching and learning materials to assist compulsory education teachers. The school year runs for 170 days from early September through the end of May, with schools open 5 days per week.

Students who complete compulsory schooling have access to upper-secondary education, regardless of their achievement. Students pay an enrollment fee and may have to purchase books; however, there is no charge for tuition. The most prominent forerunner of the Icelandic upper-secondary schools is the Latin school devoted initially to training boys for the ministry. These schools eventually became more general as young people were trained for university education and civil service. Schools with a strong vocational mission and a classical academic curriculum were transformed into general education institutions. Upper-secondary education is of two forms in Iceland: general academic and vocational or specialized. The length of training varies from 6 months to 4 years depending on the course of study.

The upper-secondary school curriculum is set forth by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture in the National Curriculum Guide. All courses leading to matriculation include Icelandic, foreign languages, social studies, mathematics, computer science, and physical education. Academic education further includes compulsory specialist subjects and student electives. Vocational courses of study consist of the general core in addition to vocational theory and practice classes. Most of the upper-secondary schools award unit credits for individual courses and are flexible in terms of the amount of time students spend on given courses. Upper-secondary general and vocational assessment is based on two yearly examinations and, frequently, coursework. Students who fail to pass an examination are given three opportunities to try again.

Upper-secondary educational assessment had been the domain of the local school; however, national examinations in the general academic track were instituted. General academic training culminates in a General Certificate, which is a prerequisite to entering the higher education system in Iceland. Students completing vocational training are awarded a Journeyman's Certificate. Many schools offer both general academic and vocational training.

Higher education is offered at three universities in Iceland and 11 non-university institutions offering specialized training in areas such as the arts, agriculture, technology, preschool education, and physical education. Admission is dependent upon a matriculation certificate from an Icelandic upper-secondary school or an equivalent from an abroad institution. Instruction at most universities and colleges is conducted in Icelandic with many textbooks frequently written in foreign languages. Because the majority of the schools are financed by the state, tuition is free and students rarely have to pay fees.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceIceland - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education