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Secondary Education

In Iceland, upper-secondary education is governed by law that was enacted in 1996, with certain provisions having taken effect in stages and becoming fully implemented (2000-2001 school year). The law defines the framework for upper-secondary education outlining aims as well as the role of the state and local municipalities. Further, in accordance with the law, the Ministry issues National Curriculum Guidelines describing the content and objectives of each program of study. Although upper-secondary education is not obligatory, everyone who completes compulsory education has a right to pursue this level of education. Between 87 and 89 percent of students completing compulsory education enroll in upper-secondary programs, but the dropout rate is rather high. All upper-secondary schools are co-educational and free of charge. However, students must pay enrollment fees, cover textbooks, and provide partial costs for materials if in a vocational program. The law allows for different entrance requirements to the different programs depending on the demands of the courses of study. Students not meeting the minimal requirements for a desired program are offered the opportunity to receive remedial training in the core courses.

There are approximately 40 upper-secondary schools varying in size from fewer than 50 to more than 1,500. Four different types of upper-secondary schools are operated in Iceland:

  1. general academic schools that offer four-year academic programs concluding with the matriculation examination that is required for entrance into the higher education programs;
  2. industrial-vocational school offering theoretical and practical programs of study in skilled and some nonskilled trades;
  3. comprehensive schools that provide programs of study comparable to those offered in the general academic and vocational-industrial schools in addition to other specialized vocational training programs; and
  4. vocational schools that offer programs of study designed for specialized employment.

The law stipulates that four general types of programs should be offered at the upper-secondary level. These include vocational programs, fine arts programs, a general academic program that leads to matriculation, as well as a shorter general academic program. Students in vocational programs are given the opportunity to complete additional course work if they are interested in university studies.

General academic education is organized into three subject areas: general subjects that all students are required to enroll in (approximately two-thirds of the curriculum), specialized subjects that fit with the aims of particular programs, and electives. There are three different academic programs leading to matriculation (foreign languages, natural sciences, and social sciences) with possibilities for more focused study within each of these broader programs. A shorter academic program is designed for students who are undecided about what particular course of study to pursue and for those who need additional preparation prior to committing to the longer academic track or a vocational program.

Although the length of vocational programs varies, most are four years with students choosing training in various skilled trades, agriculture, the travel industry, fisheries, food production, health, or commerce. A number of the vocational programs, in addition to those for skilled trades, award legal certification for certain types of employment. For example, certification is provided for nurses' aides and sea captains. The law of 1996 requires vocational councils composed of representatives from employers and employees in each vocation along with one representative from the Ministry to convene regularly for the purpose of defining knowledge and ability needs of each vocation and to make curricular recommendations.

The academic year is divided into autumn and spring terms with students attending 32 to 40 forty-minute lessons per week. Most upper-secondary schools operate under a unit-credit system that allows students to regulate the amount of time it takes to complete their programs. In this type of system each subject is divided into a number of defined course units lasting for one semester.

The objectives of upper-secondary level education, outlined by law, encourage the overall development of students to equip them for active participation in a democratic society, preparing students for employment and further study, and fostering several personal qualities including responsibility, broad-mindedness, initiative, self-confidence, tolerance, discipline, independence, critical thinking, appreciation for cultural values, and the desire to seek lifelong learning. The National Curriculum Guidelines prescribe the framework for individual courses of study including the content, duration, and assessment requirements. As with education at lower levels, students with special needs are provided appropriate instruction and training in the mainstream classrooms to the fullest extent possible.

Regardless of the type of school, upper-secondary schools typically have examinations at the conclusion of each semester, with grades on other course assignments figured into the final grades. For the skilled trades, there are the journeyman's and nationally coordinated subject area exams. Upper-secondary schools are required by law to write School Working Guides describing program offerings, teaching methods employed, and the role of the administration. They must also conduct regularly sequenced self-evaluations addressing teaching, administration, and communication.

Additional topics

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