Preprimary & Primary Education
Preschools are housed in buildings that are physically well-suited for their activities and are always situated in a location that allows for ample outdoor play space (30-40 square meters per child). Indoors, the law requires 7 square meters of space per child. With only one exception, preschool education is co-educational throughout Iceland. Very few preschools will accept children under the age of one, with most children not enrolling until age two. Children attend preschools for 4 to 9 hours daily. In municipalities where there are an insufficient number of spaces available to accommodate the need, preference is given to children of single parents and students. Children are typically divided into separate groups based on age; yet in the smaller communities children of various ages are kept together in a single group.
Icelandic law concerning the conduct of preschool education emphasizes several aims. These aims are provided in abbreviated form below:
- To provide children with a safe and healthy environment in which to play and grow.
- To give children the opportunity to participate in and enjoy group games and activities under the direction of a preschool teacher.
- To encourage the optimal development of each child through cooperation with parents and sensitivity to each child's unique nature, with special emphasis on providing the emotional and physical support children need to enjoy childhood.
- To encourage tolerance and open-mindedness while providing equal developmental and educational opportunities to all children.
- To support Christian ethical development and provide the necessary foundation for children to become independent, conscious, active, and responsible citizens of an ever-changing democratic society.
- To foster the children's creative and expressive abilities in ways that fortify their self-image, sense of security, and ability to solve problems in a non-aggressive manner.
The Ministry issues a preschool program defining the educational and pedagogic role of preschools with policy pertaining to how it should be implemented. The contemporary program is based on a child-centered philosophy emphasizing individuality and childhood as being a distinct stage of life with special qualities. A strong emphasis is placed on play, as it is believed to provide the best medium for fostering learning and socio-emotional development in preschoolers. Several specific educational areas are addressed in the preschool education program: caring and daily routine, play and playing conditions, speech and speech stimulation, visual creativity and expression, music, sound, and movement, nature, and society. Individual schools make decisions regarding the relative emphasis placed on each of these areas and decide how and when to integrate the different educational components. Preschool age children with special needs are accommodated with needed assistance and/or specialized training that is monitored regularly for results.
Preschools are not required by law to formally assess the progress of the individual children. In cases of suspected deviation from normal development, the pre-school staff or specialists do, however, conduct appropriate assessments. The directors of preschools evaluate their programs regularly and the Ministry is responsible for conducting comprehensive assessments.
Icelandic law governing compulsory education renders school attendance obligatory for all children between the ages of 6 to 16. The law sets the length of the academic year, the minimum number of lessons to be given weekly, and identifies required subjects. The law further makes it the duty of parents to register their children and see to it that they attend regularly. The law makes it the domain of the state and local municipalities to insure that education is implemented in accordance with the dictates of the Ministry.
Primary education (grades 1-7) and lower-secondary education (grades 8-10) are considered part of the same general level of education. However, primary teachers instruct one class in most academic subjects; whereas in lower-secondary school, teachers usually teach one or more subjects to several different classes. There are no entrance requirements. Local school districts cover the costs of school construction, teaching, and other personnel-related instructional expenses, as well as the costs of daily operation. In addition, they provide specialist services including pedagogic counseling, counseling related to particular academic subjects, educational counseling, and school psychology services. On the other hand, the state monitors adherence to educational law and National Curriculum Guidelines by evaluating individual schools while also supplying educational materials including textbooks.
Compulsory school in Iceland is divided into 10 grades, many schools housing all ten grades, some schools with grades one though seven, and others with grades eight through ten. The total number of Icelandic compulsory schools is slightly more than 200, and the size of schools varies from from 700 to 800 pupils in the largest schools located in and around the capital city to fewer than 10 students in some remote rural districts. Nearly 50 percent of all compulsory schools in Iceland have fewer than 100 pupils. All compulsory schools enroll both boys and girls. Home-room or advisory teachers offer pupils advice on their studies, with special school counselors employed mainly at the larger schools.
National Curriculum Guidelines developed by the Ministry set parameters with respect to the organization, execution, and evaluation of education within the compulsory schools. The staff at each school must write a school working guide or administrative plan based on the Guidelines with sensitivity to the unique features and circumstances of the institution. The plan, which includes an annual calendar, must detail the organization of teaching, the content and objectives of education provided, student assessment procedures, assessment of school-related work, extra-curricular activities, and various other aspects of school operation.
The Ministry issues guidelines regarding the hours of instruction required for each grade as well as the proportion of total teaching time to be devoted to individual subjects. The number of lessons increases lightly during the 2001-2002 academic year with 30 weekly lessons slated for grades 1 through 4, 35 lessons per week for children in grades 5 through 7, and finally, 37 lessons provided for students in grades 8 through 10. At the conclusion of 10 years of compulsory education, students' time will have been partitioned in the following way: Icelandic, 18 percent; mathematics, 15 percent; arts, crafts, and home economics, 20 percent; modern languages, 9 percent; natural sciences, 6 percent; social studies, 7 percent; religious studies, 3 percent; physical education, 10 percent; and electives and miscellaneous studies, 12 percent. Danish is studied from the sixth through the tenth grades, with English studied during grades 7 through 10.
Children are expected to cover the same material in approximately the same amount of time and the students are not separated into instructional groups based on ability. However, students who experience difficulty are provided with remedial help. Teachers are free to select the methods that they find best suited for their students, the instructional goals, and the teaching conditions. Teachers generally strive to use as much variety as possible in their instruction. Children with special needs are assisted by a remedial teacher within the regular classroom environment or they are brought to another small room for oneon-one help by the remedial teacher. Many schools also have special departments for students with severe learning disabilities.
Examinations and other forms of assessment are designed and administered by individual teachers and schools. Methods for reporting student progress varies considerably across schools. Many compulsory schools assign numerical or letter grades, while others use oral or written comments. All schools issue some form of student progress report at regular intervals throughout the academic year. When students complete compulsory education, they take a nationally coordinated exam in Icelandic, mathematics, English, and Danish. Grades ranging from 1-10 are assigned by the Institute of Educational Research, which is also responsible for designing the test. The results provide information related to the student's relative standing in their group and are used to assist students in choosing a course of study in upper-secondary school. Beginning in 1995, nationally coordinated exams in Icelandic and mathematics have been administered to children in grades 4 and 7. Similar to the requirement for preschools, each compulsory school must undertake extensive periodic self-evaluations that consider teaching, administration, and internal and external communication. Every five years the schools' methods of assessment are evaluated by an external agent and the Ministry regularly evaluates compulsory schools to ensure compliance with the law.
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